Epic OneWater Brew looks like a classic hipster craft beer.
The can has a sleek design depicting the silhouette of the city skyline and crackles open with a soothing whooshing sound. Kölsch beer has a refreshing golden color and a characteristic fruity taste.
But there is one big difference. That means it is made from recycled wastewater.
Epic OneWater Brew is the result of a partnership between a wastewater technology startup and a Bay Area craft brewery, and is made using treated shower and wash water collected from luxury high-rise apartment buildings in San Francisco. And this is not the only beer of this kind.
Proponents of direct drinking water reuse, or using treated wastewater as a drinking water supply, are proposing it as part of the solution, especially as water sources are depleted by overuse, drought and climate change, especially in the western United States. They are increasingly looking to beer as a way to get people over the “unpleasant factor” that has been a barrier to beer’s widespread acceptance.
The idea holds that if people are reluctant to drink recycled wastewater, perhaps they might be tempted if it is offered in the form of a icy cold drink.
Aaron Tartakovsky, co-founder and CEO of Epic Cleantech, a sewage technology company that developed Epic OneWater Brew in partnership with Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company in San Carlos, Calif., said he wanted to create the beer to demonstrate the “untapped potential” of water reuse.
“We live in what we call a ‘flash and forget’ society here at Epic,” he said. “We have an innate nasty factor when we talk about wastewater and sewage and all sorts of other nasty topics.”
Some cities in the West and Southwest, struggling to cope with the challenges of population growth and tight water supplies, are hosting competitions for craft breweries to recycle wastewater into signature beers. California, Idaho, and Arizona are among the states that are working with local breweries to raise awareness of the need for water recycling.
Scottsdale, Arizona, which has supplied nearly 20 golf courses with treated wastewater since the 1990s, received a state permit in 2019 to allow the reuse of purified recycled water directly for drinking. The city of Scottsdale does not currently supply its water for drinking, but Scottsdale Water executive director Brian Beesmeier said the situation could change in the next few years.
To educate the public about the concept of drinking treated wastewater, Scottsdale Water invited 10 breweries to use water from the city’s advanced water treatment plant to brew beer and serve it at the Arts Festival in 2019. The beer tent had an information booth explaining the recycling process.
Wiesmeier said people were initially skeptical about the prospect of being able to drink the treated wastewater, but after a tutorial on how clean and safe the treated water was, many became keen to sample the beer.
“We’ve found beer events to be a fun way to get people out of that fear,” he said.
Desert Monks Brewing Company of Gilbert, Arizona, who joined the Scottsdale challenge, embraced the concept and brewed two beers using Scottsdale’s treated wastewater. The lager beer Sonora Mist has quickly become the brewery’s top seller, and Hefeweizen is set to join the line-up next month.
Two brewery owners, Somer and John Decker, believe Desert Monks is the first brewery in the country to consistently offer beer made from recycled sewage.
“As a small brewery, having access to this ultra-purified water from a larger entity has given us even more purified water than is currently available from our own system,” Decker said.
Overcome the “disease factor”
Efforts to promote widespread use of recycled drinking water have been plagued by perception problems, further amplified by detractors who denounce the process as “toilet to tap.” But researchers at Stanford University last year found that recycled wastewater is safe to drink. Less toxic than other tap water sources because they are treated more rigorously.
At Scottsdale, that process includes ozone injection, microfiltration and reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis forces water through a membrane to remove dissolved minerals and other impurities. Next, the water is exposed to UV light. Biesemeier said the measures combined would eliminate “almost everything”.
Chris Garrett, owner of Devil’s Canyon, where the Epic OneWater Brew is made, said people have preconceptions about wastewater. “I think the biggest thing is that it tastes good.” “They think, ‘Oh my god, that’s sink water,’ and it’s actually kind of cleaner than what’s probably coming out of the river.”
Epic Beer comes out of San Francisco in 2021. ordinance New buildings over 100,000 square feet should have an on-site water reclamation program. Epic Cleantech partnered with 1550 Mission Street, a luxury high-rise condominium, Devil’s Canyon, to turn the building’s gray water (runoff from laundry and showers, not toilets) into beer. The Epic One Water Brew is not for sale, but Tartakovsky said he served it at his wedding last month.
When a brewery in Half Moon Bay, California, decided to use wastewater to brew beer, it turned to nearby businesses for help. NASA has developed its own water recycling technology so astronauts can drink water in space. Half Moon Bay Brewing Company has collected recycled gray water from the Space Agency’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, and used it to make a limited edition India Pale Ale called Tunnel Vision. This beer was served at events for a limited time from 2014 to 2017.
“The water was even more neutral than the water we use here,” said Half Moon Bay head brewer James Costa. “No one could tell the difference.”
Judge water by its quality, not its history
of Purewater Brewing Alliance is a coalition of water utilities, breweries, engineering companies and technology companies that share resources, technology and information to recycle wastewater into beer. Travis Roop, one of the alliance’s leaders, said the goal was for “water to become judged by its quality, not its history.”
“We have the technology to clean the water and purify the water,” he said. “And as you can see from the situation we are in, we will need to do more.”
Boise, Idaho, a fast-growing high desert city, turned to the alliance in 2018 when it was looking to upgrade its water treatment and distribution system. Fellow Pima County, Arizona, provided Boise with a trailer equipped with technology that turns wastewater into potable water. Other members shared the paperwork they used to get permission to recycle and use wastewater in beer brewing, said Loup, condensing a process that used to take six months into just six weeks. Boise partnered with three of his breweries and one of his cideries to host an event in 2018 where recycled wastewater beverages were served.
For now, recycled wastewater beer is sold only in Arizona. California breweries have been limited to one-off brews for certain events, as wastewater cannot be consumed in California. In Idaho, a permit allowing reclaimed wastewater consumption was only in effect for a short time in 2018, but Boise is developing a full-scale water recycling program.
Scottsdale is the only city in Arizona that allows general sampling of recycled wastewater. This works in favor of Desert Monks, which takes advantage of the availability of large quantities of ultrapure water. One of the brewery’s co-owners, Decker, a self-described “big sci-fi nerd,” joked that he’s looking far beyond Arizona.
“I use the same water treatment process that astronauts use,” he said. “So if anyone goes to Mars, we have beer ready for them.”