Epic OneWater Brew looks like your classic hipster craft beer.
The can has a sleek design with the silhouette of a city skyline and bursts open with a satisfying hiss. The beer, a Kölsch, has a crisp golden hue and a distinctive fruity flavour.
But there is one big difference: it is made with recycled waste water.
Epic OneWater Brew, the product of a collaboration between a wastewater technology start-up and a Bay Area craft brewery, is made with treated shower and wash water collected from a luxury San Francisco high-rise apartment building. And it’s not the only beer of its kind.
As water resources, particularly in the western United States, are drying up due to overuse, drought and climate change, advocates are advocating direct potable reuse—the use of treated wastewater in the drinking water supply—as part of the solution. Increasingly, they are turning to beer as a way to get people past the “ick factor” that has been a hurdle to its wider adoption.
If people are reluctant to drink recycled wastewater, the thinking goes, they might be tempted if it were served in the form of ice-cold water.
Aaron Tartakovsky, the co-founder and chief executive of Epic Cleantec, the wastewater technology company that partnered 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 an innate yuck factor when it comes to talking about waste water, or sewage, and all these other kinds of yuck factor topics.”
Some Western and Southwestern cities grappling with the challenges of population growth and strained water resources have held competitions for craft breweries to produce signature beers using recycled wastewater. California, Idaho and Arizona are among the states that have partnered with local breweries to raise awareness of the need to reuse water.
Scottsdale, Ariz., which has watered nearly two dozen golf courses with treated wastewater since the 1990s, received a state permit in 2019 allowing the treated recycled water to be reused directly as drinking water. Scottsdale doesn’t currently send that water to the drinking water supply, but Brian Biesemeyer, Scottsdale Water’s executive director, said that could change in two or three years.
To help the public understand the concept of drinking treated wastewater, Scottsdale Water invited 10 breweries to make beer using water from the city’s state-of-the-art water treatment plant and serve it at an arts festival in 2019. The beer tents were accompanied by an information booth explaining the recycling process.
While people initially glared at the prospect of drinking treated wastewater, Mr. Biesemeyer, many were excited to taste the beers after a tutorial on how clean and safe the treated water is.
“We thought the beer event was a fun way to get people over that fear,” he said.
Desert Monks Brewing Company of Gilbert, Ariz., which participated in the Scottsdale Challenge, embraced the concept and brewed two beers using Scottsdale’s treated wastewater. Sonoran Mist, a lager, has quickly become the brewery’s bestseller and a Hefeweizen will be added to the lineup next month.
Two of the brewery’s owners, Sommer Decker and John Decker, believe that Desert Monks is the first brewery in the country to consistently offer beer made with recycled tap water.
“We’re a small brewery, so being able to get this ultra-purified water from a large-scale entity gave us water that was more purified than we can currently get from our own systems,” said Ms. Decker.
Overcoming the ‘ick factor’
Efforts to promote the wider use of recycled drinking water have suffered from a perception problem, amplified by detractors who have denounced the process as “from toilet to tap”. But researchers at Stanford University found last year that recycled wastewater is safe to drink and also less toxic than other sources of tap water because it is treated more rigorously.
In Scottsdale, that process includes ozone infusion, microfiltration and reverse osmosis, which forces water through a membrane to remove dissolved minerals and other impurities. The water is then zapped with ultraviolet light. Together, these measures “take away almost everything,” said Mr. Biesemeyer.
“I think the most important thing was that it tastes good,” says Chris Garrett, the owner of Devil’s Canyon, where Epic OneWater Brew was made, noting that people have preconceptions about wastewater. “They assume, ‘Oh my God, it’s sink water.’ And it’s like it’s probably cleaner than what comes out of the rivers.”
The Epic brew originated from a 2021 San Francisco ordinance requiring new buildings over 100,000 square feet to have on-site water reuse programs. Epic Cleantec teamed up with 1550 Mission Street, a luxury high-rise condominium, and Devil’s Canyon to turn the building’s gray water — laundry drains and showers, not toilets — into beer. Epic OneWater Brew is not for sale, but Mr. Tartakovsky said he served it at his wedding last month.
When a brewery in Half Moon Bay, California, decided to try brewing with wastewater, it turned to a neighbor for help: NASA, which developed its own water-recycling technology so its astronauts could drink water in space. The Half Moon Bay Brewing Company pulled 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. 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,” says James Costa, Half Moon Bay’s brewmaster. “Nobody could tell the difference.”
Judging water ‘by its quality, not by its history’
The Pure Water Brewing Alliance is a coalition of water companies, brewers, engineering firms and technology companies that share resources, techniques and information for using recycled wastewater to make beer. The goal, said Travis Loop, one of the alliance’s leaders, is that “water is judged by its quality, not its history.”
“We have the technology to clean water, to purify water,” he said. “And as we can see from the times we’re in, we’re going to have to do a lot more of that.”
Boise, Idaho, a fast-growing high desert city, turned to the alliance when it sought an update to its water treatment and distribution system in 2018. A fellow member, Pima County, Arizona, offered Boise a trailer with technology that could turn wastewater into potable water. Other members shared paperwork they used to get permits to use recycled wastewater for brewing beer, condensing a process that previously took six months to just six weeks, said Mr. Walk. Boise partnered with three breweries and a cidery and hosted events in 2018 serving the recycled wastewater drinks.
For now, recycled wastewater beer is only for sale in Arizona. Since wastewater in California cannot be consumed, breweries there are limited to one-off brews for specific events. In Idaho, a permit allowing the use of reclaimed wastewater was only valid for a short time, in 2018, but Boise is developing a full water recycling program.
Scottsdale is the only city in Arizona where the public can taste recycled sewage. That works to the advantage of Desert Monks, who have benefited from their access to large amounts of ultrapure water. A self-proclaimed “massive science fiction nerd,” Mr. Decker, one of the brewery’s co-owners, joked that he had set his sights far beyond Arizona.
“I use the same water processes that astronauts use,” he said. “So if someone goes to Mars, we’ve got the beer for them.”