At Tap into Resilience last month in Austin, Summit attendees had the opportunity to participate in a Pure Brew Happy Hour where they learned about the process involved in treating recycled water and sampled beer made from this highly purified recycled water. The Pure Water Brewing Alliance is a group of utilities, brewers, engineering firms, and technology companies involved in brewing beer with recycled water. The Alliance is currently creating a how-to guide on producing pure water brew that will feature case studies as a way to help jumpstart more brewers and utilities to engage in this initiative. WaterNow Alliance caught up with Travis Loop, Director of Communications and Public Outreach at Water Environment Federation, to learn more about the Pure Water Brew Alliance and the potential for direct potable reuse across the country.
When and why did the Pure Brew Alliance form?
The concept of using beer to spread the word about the potential for reclaimed water started up in Oregon when Clean Water Services utility started talking to Cascade Brewing about getting people to engage in conversation about water reuse through the medium of beer.
The first pure water brew was produced in Oregon in 2014 and from there it spread to Hillsborough, FL, Milwaukee, MI, and throughout California, Colorado, Arizona, and most recently, Idaho. The movement gained a lot of momentum when Stone Brewing, one of the largest craft breweries in the country, decided to produce a beer called the Full Circle Pale Ale using the City’s purified reclaimed water. Stone’s beer created a lot of media attention and there were no shortage of jokes about beer made from wastewater like “sewage brewage”.
Then, the Water Environment Federation started having beer tastings at our annual conference and it was a massive hit. As the word has spread, more and more utilities and brewers have expressed interest in getting involved in this. We now have over 50 breweries that have produced Pure Water Brew.
Last year, with all of these different efforts happening, we decided to form the Pure Water Brewing Alliance. This is an informal group of utilities, brewers, water technology and equipment companies, engineering firms and others who’ve been involved in the different Pure Water Brewing efforts around the country. The Alliance collaborates on Pure Water Brew efforts and looks for opportunities to do more. Ultimately, the idea is that one day some communities will be using reclaimed water for their drinking water so we want to breakthrough that “yuck” factor with the public now.
Where does the Pure water come from and how do you treat it to make it safe for drinking? (e.g. WWTPs/reclamation plants, “beer truck,” maybe a high-level explanation of the treatment process, etc.)
The water that’s used is the effluent or discharge that comes from the end of a wastewater treatment plant (or as we like to call them at WEF, a water resource recovery facility). The water used for Pure Water Brew meets or exceeds drinking water standards and has gone through advanced treatment to make sure that it’s clean. Some of the different treatments involved in this are reverse osmosis, ultraviolet light, granular activated carbon, ultrafiltration, and certainly some chlorine disinfection. Different pure water brews from around the country may use all of these steps or just a few treatments but the key thing to remember is that what’s coming out meets or beats drinking water standards.
There’s really no way to taste the difference from a beer brewed with purified wastewater to a beer brewed with regular tap water.
Are the brewers generally on board with the idea of using your Pure water? Do they trust the treatment process used to make Pure water?
Brewers are such a great partner for the water sector because they have a great sustainability mindset already, and water is front and center for their product. Brewers are water chemists and their knowledge about water quality and content is incredible. So they’re naturally attracted to doing something like this. They understand that the ultimate point of this effort is to judge water by its quality and not by its history. We should care about the water in front of us and what’s in it at that time, not where it came from. This is true even with the water that comes out of the faucet, because there’s no new water, all water is recycled. The brewers really care about the water profile.
We had a session at the Craft Brewers conference last year and they had the room set-up for 75 people but there were over 200 people in the room. They definitely understand and trust the treatment process and they want to be part of something that advances sustainability.
I think the one concern they have is on the public relations side of things. How are customers going to feel about this? Will we be jeopardizing our reputation? Fortunately, all of the brewers that have made a pure water beer haven’t relayed to us that they’ve faced any backlash from customers.
How does the Alliance engage with the public?
The Alliance connects with the public through events where people can try the beers and the initiative can gain media and social media coverage. The idea is to expose people as much as possible to the idea of reusing water now because, in the not-so-distant future, some of them will be living in communities where their tap water is reclaimed water.
In general, how have people responded? Are they open to the idea of drinking Pure water or beer made with Pure water?
First, all of our information on this is anecdotal so we’d like to be doing more analysis and research on the perception of water reuse, However, anecdotally, it’s been very well received. Most people are willing to drink the beer, there are some people that still face that “yuck” factor or the psychological hurdle. Interestingly, even at water industry events where we host tastings, there are still a few hold-outs who aren’t comfortable tasting the beer. But the response is generally very positive.
The term “toilet to tap” was coined to dissuade the public from reuse projects. What terms does the Alliance try to use to build trust and acceptance?
Unfortunately, "toilet to tap" is catchy. A key part of the Pure Water Brewing Alliance, alongside the water treatment and regulatory efforts, is communication and messaging. It’s important that we remind people that “all water is recycled” and that the water in the beer is as clean or cleaner than water coming out of the tap.
El Paso, TX is going to be the first direct potable reuse project in the United States which means for the first time the recycled water will be directly distributed to customers through their drinking water systems (instead of being stored in an aquifer first). They’re using the term “direct to distribution”.
Do you think humor can be a useful tool to make people more comfortable with this idea?
It’s definitely been part of the discussion. In the early days, there have been some funny names like “activated sludge” in Milwaukee or James Corden termed a beer on his “I, Pee, A”. The jokes will be there and some element of that humor is okay because if you can laugh about it, it also shows that you have confidence in it. But generally, brewers have been going for more positive, creative names like Stone’s Full Circle Pale Ale.