It takes a lot of water to make beer, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that enterprising local brewers have been responding to water scarcity by using recycled waste water either to save water and money, or draw attention to the need to recycle water much more widely.
I first learned about this when I read an intriguing story in Reasons to be Cheerful, Purified Wastewater Is the Drink of the Future. Part of the story focused on how companies, cities and some countries are combating the ‘yuck’ factor, and that is where beer enters the picture.
San Francisco began requiring in 2015 that all new commercial buildings larger than 100,000 square feet recycle their wastewater onsite. One water recycling company, Epic Cleantec, brewed the Epic OneWater Brew with purified gray water from its new apartment building to advertise its cleaning technology at Greenbuild, the largest sustainable building conference in the US.
Fifteen Fifty, its luxury 40-story apartment building in San Francisco, has a greywater reuse system designed to recycle 7,500 gallons of water per day, or up to 2.75 million gallons per year. This greywater, collected from laundry and showers, is treated and then reused for flushing toilets and urinals within the building.
Epic transported 2,000 gallons of the recycled water to its brewing partners at Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company to begin its two-week transformation into a crisp Kölsch-style ale. “It ended up being a really great product,” brewery owner Chris Garrett told Sustainable Brands.
But then, I read about a microbrewery in Čížová, South Bohemia, whose craft beer, ERKO, is brewed using recycled wastewater with technical assistance from Veolia, the French water management firm. Veolia recovers wastewater in a treatment plant in Prague and then treats it with its own proprietary mobile membrane water reclamation unit, before transporting the treated water to Čížová microbrewery, where it is used to brew ERKO beer.
In May 2019, 15 hectoliters of lager were produced and ERKO beer was unveiled during an international Water fair VOD-KA 2019 in Prague.“You simply can’t tell the difference between the beer made from recycled water and one produced in the normal way!” said Martin Hrubeš, head brewer at Čížová. The microbrewery is planning to continue its beer production based on recycled wastewater together with VEOLIA under the now renowned brand ERKO.
And when I began looking for more stories, I discovered that this quest to use wastewater to make beer goes back almost a decade in California.
In autumn of 2014, architect Russ Drinker wanted to get the media to focus on water recycling rather than just conservation and became fixated on brewing beer from recycled greywater. Lenny Mendonca of Half Moon Bay Brewing Company took on the challenge and in October 2015, unveiled a version of its regular Mavericks Tunnel Vision IPA made with recycled water. It used the same NASA water recycling technology as astronaut Scott Kelly used during his year on the International Space Station, and a tasting panel doing a blind taste test at an urban sustainability conference couldn’t detect which was made with recycled water.
In 2017, Stone Brewing of San DIego, California, brewed Stone Full CIrcle Pale Ale with reclaimed water exclusively for a Pure Stone event on responsible water usage. The special beer was consumed in a few hours by politicians and VIPs and was not available to the public, despite rumours to the contrary.
“The Stone Full Circle Pale Ale was really, really good. So is the rest of our non-reclaimed-water beer we make,” it said. But while it wasn’t making any more, it made a point of noting how safe and reliable the technology was and that it was intended to replace up to a third of San Diego’s water with recycled water by 2035. “Our neighbors to the north in Orange County, CA are far ahead of us, and currently use a similar system for their everyday drinking water. Bully for them. They’re setting a good standard for responsibility and what can be done when the community pulls their head out of their…well, you know.”
In Arizona in 2019, Scottsdale Water invited 10 breweries to make beer using water from the city’s advanced water treatment plant and serve it at an arts festival. An information booth explained the recycling process and many were eager to sample the beers, the New York TImes reported.
Desert Monks Brewing Company of Gilbert, Ariz., which took part in the Scottsdale challenge, has brewed two beers with Scottsdale’s treated wastewater. Sonoran Mist, a lager, has become a top seller and a Hefeweizen is being added. The brewery believes it is the first in the US to consistently offer beer made with recycled wastewater on tap. According to the New York Times, Arizona is the only state where recycled wastewater beer is available for sale.
In May 2018, Sweden’s first beer brewed with purified wastewater, called PU:REST, was unveiled. The project was a collaboration between New Carnegie Brewery (Nya Carnegiebryggeriet), IVL Swedish Environmental Institute, and Carlsberg Sweden.
The goal was to make people aware that “we already have the technology to recycle water and achieve a result which is just as pure and safe as normal tap water,” said Staffan Filipsson, project manager of water recycling with IVL. “In the end, this is a creative and accessible way of highlighting sustainable water management and the value of clean water.”
The brewery couldn’t resist the challenge, said Chris Thurgeson, brewmaster at Nya Carnegiebryggeriet. “As an environmentally conscious brewery in the food industry, we share the view that both producers and consumers must dare to think differently if we are to successfully take care of Earth’s resources.” It already was incorporating a range of climate-friendly solutions in its operations, such as converting some spent grain into biogas, using green electricity, and sorting food waste in the restaurant.
In 2020, Village Brewery of Calgary teamed up with University of Calgary researchers and US water technology company Xylem to create a limited-edition batch of 1,600 cans of Village Blonde ale. The water from the Pine Creek wastewater treatment plant by the Bow River in southeast Calgary was run through an advanced purification system that involved ultrafiltration, ozone, ultraviolet light and reverse osmosis.
Before being sent to the brewery, the cleaned water was tested to demonstrate that it met rigorous standards outlined by Alberta Health Services’ Safe Healthy Environments for water reuse, including pathogen reduction requirements, as well as Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines.
Project leader Christine O’Grady of Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets says the beer is sure to raise eyebrows and that the yuck factor is real. But she says the goal is to show people that dirty water can be made safe to drink and can help protect dwindling global drinking water supplies.
To draw attention to the climate emergency, Singapore’s Public Utilities Board teamed up with local craft brewery Brewerkz to make NewBrew, which Brewerkz describes as “highly quaffable” with a smooth, toasted honey-like aftertaste. Densely populated Singapore is especially vulnerable to water scarcity, owing to lack of natural water resources and lack of space for storage, so it has invested in rainwater harvesting, seawater desalination and treating wastewater to ensure a sustainable supply.
NEWater – wastewater that has been treated to remove contaminants, bacteria and viruses – passes drinking water guidelines set by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization. It is set to meet 55% of Singapore’s water needs by 2060.
The first batch of NEWBrew has already sold out on tap at Brewerkz restaurants, according to Bloomberg. The company reportedly expects stocks at supermarkets to run out by the end of the month, but will consider making another batch.
Would You Drink Wastewater? What if It Was Beer? New York Times, Jul. 22, 2023
Purified wastewater is the drink of the future. Reasons to be Cheerful, Jul. 25, 2023
Alberta brewery makes beer from cleaned municipal wastewater Global News, Aug. 28, 2020
The Californian craft beer brewed from waste water. Guardian, Mar. 14, 2016
Singapore craft beer uses recycled sewage to highlight water scarcity. Guardian, Jul. 1, 2022
Epic Cleantec’s Recycled Water Beer Project. Epic Cleantec, Dec. 6, 2022
Cover image: Cottonbro Studio, Pexels