The Californian craft beer brewed from waste water

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By Kristine Wong

A San Francisco brewery is using Nasa technology to make beer with water from sinks and showers, while other brewers are finding new ways to go green.

In autumn of 2014 – three years into California’s devastating drought– architect Russ Drinker became fixated on brewing beer from recycled greywater (that is, water that’s been treated after use in sinks, showers and washing clothes).

He was increasingly frustrated that the media paid little attention to water recycling. “They were focused on conservation instead. But if Californians really want to have an impact on our water use, we have to recycle our freshwater … and get over our psychological resistance to that.”

While some microbrewers have been working hard to get their water usage down – some to three gallons of water for every gallon of beer – the industry has a high water to beer ratio. Despite this, it took Drinker about a year to find a brewer up for the challenge. But when he broached the idea with the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company, a craft brewer located south of San Francisco, owner Lenny Mendonca didn’t hesitate.

Last October the brewery unveiled a version of its regular Mavericks Tunnel Vision IPA made with recycled water after a blind taste test at an urban sustainability conference in the Bay Area.

Made using the same Nasa water recycling technology as astronaut Scott Kelly used during his year long stint on the International Space Station, the tasting panel couldn’t detect which of the two pints was made with recycled water.

“This is the product [where] people think that water is the most important ingredient,” said Mendonca. “So if I can demonstrate to people that not only is [greywater beer] good, but it’s great, then why wouldn’t you use that water for everything else?”

Mendonca has only made the greywater beer available for sampling twice and says commercialising the product isn’t his first priority. California can’t legally directly pump treated recycled water back into the drinking water supply, so it’s currently not practical (shortage of supply) or cost effective. His focus instead is on using the beer as a tool to catch the eye of both policymakers and the public.

Getting the legislation to bring recycled water directly into the drinking water supply, would be the first step for mass application, just as Singapore has done with its recycled water plant.

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