Epic OneWater Brew looks like your classic hipster craft beer.
The can has an elegant design with the silhouette of a city skyline and opens with a pleasant hiss. The beer, a Kolsch, has a crisp golden color and a distinctive fruity flavor.
However, there is one big difference: it is made from recycled wastewater.
Epic OneWater Brew, the product of a partnership between a wastewater technology start-up and a Bay Area craft brewery, is made from treated shower and laundry water collected from a luxury high-rise building in San Francisco. And it’s not the only beer of this type.
As water sources, particularly in the western United States, dry up due to overuse, drought and climate change, proponents of direct drinking water reuse — using treated wastewater in the drinking water supply — see it as part of the solution. They’re increasingly turning to beer to get people over the ick factor, which is a hurdle to wider acceptance.
If people are reluctant to drink recycled wastewater, the thought goes, they might be tempted if it’s served to them in the form of an ice-cold drink.
Aaron Tartakovsky, co-founder and chief executive officer of Epic Cleantec, the wastewater technology company that worked with Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company of San Carlos, California, to create Epic OneWater Brew, said he wanted to create the beer to showcase the “untapped potential” of water reuse.
“We live in what we like to call a ‘flush and forget’ society here at Epic,” he said. “We have this innate ick factor when it comes to talking about sewage or sewage and all these other ick factor topics.”
Some western and southwestern cities, struggling to cope with the challenges of population growth and scarce water supplies, have held competitions for craft breweries to create unique beers from recycled wastewater. California, Idaho and Arizona are among the states that have worked with local breweries to raise awareness of the need for water reuse.
Scottsdale, Arizona, which has irrigated nearly two dozen golf courses with reclaimed wastewater since the 1990s, received a state permit in 2019 that allows direct drinking water reuse of its purified recycled water. Scottsdale doesn’t currently direct that water into the drinking water supply, but Brian Biesemeyer, Scottsdale Water’s chief executive officer, said that could change in two or three years.
To introduce the public to the concept of drinking treated wastewater, 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 in 2019. The beer tents were accompanied by an information stand explaining the recycling process.
While people initially balked at the prospect of drinking treated wastewater, many were excited to try the beers after a tutorial on how clean and safe the treated water is, Mr. Biesemeyer said.
“We found the beer event to be a fun way to allay that fear in people,” he said.
The Desert Monks Brewing Company of Gilbert, Arizona, which entered the Scottsdale competition, embraced the concept and brewed two beers using Scottsdale’s treated wastewater. Sonoran Mist, a lager, has quickly become the brewery’s best seller and a Hefeweizen will be added to the range next month.
Two of the brewery owners, Sommer Decker and John Decker, believe Desert Monks is the first brewery in the country to consistently offer beer made from recycled wastewater on tap.
“We’re a small brewery and being able to source this ultra-pure water from a large company provided us with water that was purer than we could get from our own systems at this point,” said Ms. Decker.
Overcome the “ick factor”.
Efforts to encourage the wider use of recycled drinking water suffer from a perception problem, compounded by critics who denounce the process as “the toilet to the faucet.” But researchers at Stanford University found last year that recycled wastewater is safe to drink and also less toxic than other tap water sources because it’s treated more rigorously.
At Scottsdale, this process includes ozone infusion, microfiltration, and reverse osmosis, which forces water through a membrane to remove dissolved minerals and other contaminants. The water is then irradiated with ultraviolet light. Taken together, these measures eliminate “almost everything,” Mr. Biesemeyer said.
“I think the most important thing was that it tasted good,” said Chris Garrett, the owner of Devil’s Canyon, where Epic OneWater Brew was made, pointing out that people have preconceived notions about wastewater. “They’re like, ‘Oh my God, it’s drain water.’ And it’s probably actually cleaner than what comes out of the rivers.”
The epic brew grew out of a 2021 San Francisco ordinance requiring new buildings larger than 100,000 square feet to have on-site water reuse programs. Epic Cleantec has partnered with 1550 Mission Street, a luxury high-rise apartment building, and Devil’s Canyon to turn the building’s gray water — runoff from laundries and showers, not toilets — into beer. Epic OneWater Brew isn’t for sale, but Mr Tartakovsky said he served it at his wedding last month.
When a brewery in Half Moon Bay, California, decided to brew with wastewater, it turned to a neighbor for help: NASA, which was developing its own water recycling technology so its astronauts could drink water in space. Half Moon Bay Brewing Company collected recycled gray water from the space agency’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, and used it to brew a limited-edition India Pale Ale called Tunnel Vision. The beer was served at events for limited periods between 2014 and 2017.
“The water was even more neutral than the water we use here,” said James Costa, Half Moon Bay’s brewmaster. “Nobody could tell the difference.”
Judge water “by its quality, not by its history.”
The Pure Water Brewing Alliance is a coalition of water utilities, breweries, engineering firms and technology companies that share resources, techniques and information on using recycled wastewater to make beer. The goal, said Travis Loop, one of the leaders of the alliance, is that “water be judged by its quality, not its history.”
“We have the technology to purify water, to purify water,” he said. “And as we can see over time, we need to do a lot more of that.”
Boise, Idaho, a fast-growing high desert city, turned to Allianz when it wanted to update its water treatment and distribution system in 2018. Another member, Pima County, Arizona, offered Boise a trailer with technology that could turn wastewater into drinking water. Other members shared the paperwork to obtain permits to use recycled wastewater to brew beer, cutting a process that previously took six months to just six weeks, Mr Loop said. Boise partnered with three breweries and a cider house to host events serving up recycled wastewater drinks in 2018.
Currently, recycled sewage beer is only available in Arizona. Because wastewater isn’t allowed to be consumed in California, breweries there are limited to one-off breweries for specific events. In Idaho, a permit allowing the use of treated wastewater lasted only briefly in 2018, but Boise is developing a comprehensive water recycling program.
Scottsdale is the only Arizona city where the public can take out recycled wastewater. This benefits desert monks, who have benefited from their access to vast amounts of ultrapure water. Mr. Decker, one of the brewery’s co-owners, describes himself as a “big sci-fi nerd” and joked that his goal stretches well beyond Arizona.
“I use the same water processes as astronauts do,” he said. “So if someone goes to Mars, we’ve got the beer for them.”