Challenge Accepted

Story | Angela Muñiz
Photography | Mark Lipczynski

If water is a finite resource, does that mean we could one day run out… and live in a world without beer? It’s the kind of deep thought that might come to mind when drinking a pint of brew made from reclaimed wastewater.

The Pure Water Challenge—in which breweries around the state were asked to make beer from purified wastewater—was more than a friendly contest. It was about laughing off the bathroom humor and taking on the bigger conversations about this renewable water source.

Brewers know it’s no joke. Beer is 90 percent water.

Wastewater1Wastewater2“We live in the desert and we need to think more sustainably about our water supplies,” says Julie Meeker, owner of Mother Bunch Brewing in Phoenix.

In Arizona, brewers must first put their water through a filtration process before they even start. Meeker explains that at Mother Bunch, she uses twice as much water for their normal brews than they did with the Pure Water Challenge.

“We used 100 percent of the water they gave us, whereas our nano-filtration uses two gallons of water to produce one gallon of filtered,” she says.

In the challenge, each brewery received highly purified reclaimed water to make the beer of their choice. The four-step process all takes place in a mobile treatment truck.

“The technology is there,” says Danielle McPherson of the Water Now Alliance, the challenge organizers. “But it’s the public perception that is the challenge. This project is what is taking that head on.”

Wastewater4 Wastewater3Every batch of the reclaimed water was tested and approved for potable use before going to the breweries.

“They gave us the water report of the specific water we got. It’s definitely better than any Phoenix tap water that you’ll get,” says Meeker. “It’s almost a little bit cleaner than the filtered water we produce here onsite from Phoenix tap water.”

Twenty-six breweries participated in the challenge, creating everything from IPAs to Saisons. Their brews were both judged in a beer competition and then put on tap at the breweries. Once Meeker had her water for the challenge, the rest was brewing as usually.

Mother Bunch created an Imperial Stout they dubbed Agua Frida. The name is a nod to Mexican artist and activist Frida Kahlo. Meeker describes the flavors as colorful with cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate and just a bit of heat from ancho chilis on the finish.

McPherson says the Pure Water Challenge succeeded in getting Arizona communities talking about water reuse.

“We’ve had a lot of request from trade organizations, cities and companies to have the truck come to events. It’s a great education tool,” she says.

Wastewater6 Wastewater5But beyond the beer and the truck is the next challenge of “now what?” The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will release a review of water reuse rules at the end of the year that is expected to have new regulations on potable reuse. And there’s always the long-term obstacle of cost.

McPherson says the truck alone isn’t cost effective on a large scale, but “if you’re a community that has exhausted sources of water, when comparing the costs versus securing sources from miles away, the transportation, water rights…”

Meeker agrees there is much to consider before beers are made from reclaimed wastewater on a regular basis.

“If we could get it (the treated water) for the same price… theoretically it would save us,” she says. “I would love to see them actually put it in place.”

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