Burton Snatch is a term, now somewhat antiquated, for the whiff of sulfur on a freshly poured beer. The aroma is particularly associated with beers originally brewed in Burton-on-Trent, England. See burton-on-trent. The sulfur smell comes from the presence of sulfate ions in Burton’s natural water supply. The water in Burton rises up through a sandstone aquifer, which has a high content of calcium sulfate, more commonly known as gypsum. See calcium sulfate. The high levels of sulfate in Burton waters (up to 800 ppm) bring a hard dry mineral edge to the bitterness of beers brewed from it, and this makes the water ideal for the production of pale ales.

The characteristic of Burton’s water is a happy accident, but a well-suited water supply was once one of the main considerations for situating a brewery, a clear example of “terroir” in beer. In the 19th century, Burton’s brewing heyday, sulfate hardness made the water perfect for brewing crisp, clear pale beers. Burton eventually specialized in pale beers, whereas London, where water was naturally hardened by calcium carbonate, specialized in dark porter beer. See porter. With the beginnings of scientific investigation toward the end of 18th century, the presence of the Burton salts was recognized, but it wasn’t until late in the 19th century that London brewers learned how to treat water, or “Burtonize” it, to increase its sulfate hardness and make it better-suited to the production of pale ales.

The practice of Burtonizing water became widespread in the British Isles and has now spread worldwide. That said, brewers rarely add enough salts to emulate the sulfurous “Burton snatch” aromatic, which remains part of the aroma profile of Burton-brewed Marston’s Pedigree, though some aficionados say it is not nearly so pungent as it once was.