Craft Brewers Create Beer From Wastewater Effluent

In Oregon, Clean Water Services sponsored a contest encouraging craft brewers to use river water collected downstream of wastewater treatment plants.
Craft Brewers Create Beer From Wastewater Effluent
Judges rated the microbrews on several criteria, including taste, hue and smoothness.

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Hand a man a beer and you’ve made a friend. But hand a man a homebrewed craft beer made from the finest effluent available, and you’ve created the perfect context for discussing purified wastewater.

That’s the basis of Oregon’s Pure Water Brew Competition, which last September pitted 13 homebrewers in a taste-test contest with one key caveat — all had to start with water from a river downstream of a wastewater treatment plant. The competition was a public/private collaboration of the Oregon Brew Crew, Clean Water Services and Carollo Engineers.

Advice from the “Godfather”

“It really started with a few of us just sitting around the table one evening, spitballing ideas on how to educate the public on our purification process,” says Mark Jockers, government and public affairs manager for Clean Water Services, a water resources management utility that serves 550,000 residents in northwest Oregon. 

The utility operates four wastewater treatment facilities, constructs and maintains flood management and water-quality projects, and manages flow into the Tualatin River. “The long-term supply of potable water in the world is a concern,” says Jockers. “We know we have the technology to make effluent water potable once again, and it’s our job to make sure the public knows it can be done safely.”

Then the “Godfather of Oregon craft brewing,” as Jockers calls him, came up with an idea. Art Larrance, founder of the Oregon Brewers Festival, owner of Cascade Brewing and member of the Clean Water Services Advisory Commission, told Jockers, “If you really want to get people talking about this water, you should brew beer with it.”

The raw material

On June 23 last year, Clean Water Services drew 1,000 gallons of Tualatin River water downstream of the Durham Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility and the Forest Grove Treatment Facility, at a point where 30 percent of the river flow comes from the effluent. They purified the water using ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, advanced oxidation and disinfection before making it available to the registered homebrewers.

The purified water was perfect to a fault: “It was a blank slate, to the point where the brewers actually needed to add minerals that would typically be found in a lot of water systems, to create the proper water profile,” Jockers says. “I’ve worked in the clean-water industry for 20 years and really had no idea that there were different water profiles, and how much science goes into making beer. Brewing hobbyists are certainly an innovative group and are always up for a challenge.”

According to Jockers, each mineral found in water has a flavor of its own. While faint, the minerals mingle with other ingredients and change how a brew tastes. The yeasts used to make beer need certain ingredients in order to ferment properly.

“One participant went to great lengths to replicate the raw water you would find in Belgian water systems,” says Jockers. “A big part of why beers have different tastes around the world is the raw water supply they are brewed from. Missing one simple mineral can completely alter the final flavor.”

The winners

Following an eight-week brewing window, the 13 participants contributed 16 varieties of beer. The brews were judged Sept. 6 after a tasting by local celebrity judges. Ted Assur took Best in Show with his Vox Max Belgian, Jeremie Landers second with his German Pilsner, Mike Marsh third with his Single Grain Saison, and Nick Dahl fourth with his Kolsch German-inspired specialty brew.

Assur received $150, while the other winners took home prizes of $100 each. Every brewer in the competition received $20 to offset ingredient costs. Jockers sampled all the entries and was impressed with the results.

“They were all very distinct and pretty much ran the gamut of beer types,” he says. “No one was really worried about trying it, either. Our regulators were prepared to see some backlash, but it never came. At the end of the day, we were working with the cleanest water on the planet.” 

In addition, the four winning beers were featured at the WateReuse Association’s One Water Innovations gala at WEFTEC 2014 in New Orleans last September. Jockers says it didn’t take a lot of work to get the word out about the event.

“The media coverage was tremendous, and not just from local sources,” he says. “I talked with a reporter from National Public Radio, and they posted the story to their Facebook page. The true measure of success was that it got people talking about the technology, regulations and mindset needed to purify effluent water.”

What’s next?

While the Pure Water Brew Competition is a conversation starter, purifying water to that extent on a municipal scale is not yet economically viable. “We proved to the masses that it can be done,” says Jockers. “The goal now is to find a way to make it an efficient and effective solution.”

There is progress, however. In late January, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality approved the parameters of the 2015 Pure Water Brew Competition. Instead of using river water containing 30 percent effluent, this year’s source water will be 100 percent effluent, directly from the plants. Jockers sees it as a larger opportunity to showcase the purification technology he insists is the future of the industry.

“We’re going to supply enough purified water for 30 brewers to take part this year,” he says. “We’ve taken a lot of calls from other municipalities that are interested in doing their own brew competitions. The truth is, the technology is out there for anyone to do this anywhere they are. At the end of the day, this is about clean water and public health.”   


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