We’ve all seen the headlines meant to shock and awe…”Brewery Making Beer Out of Poop Water,” “Stone Brews Toilet Beer,” and my personal favorite, “New Craft Beer Comes Straight from the Toilet Bowl to the Bar!“ While it’s understandable that news outlets would want to catch people’s attention, their click-bait titles are somewhat off-base when it comes to actual facts.
Recently, the City of San Diego was looking for a way to get some positive press for their Pure Water San Diego program. This program is working to recycle (or upcycle if you want to use a buzzword of the day) wastewater into pure drinking water and aims to provide 1/3 of San Diego’s water need by 2035. The technology is already there and is becoming less expensive each year, but right now, the whole process still faces somewhat of a PR problem. So many people who I discussed this topic with reacted with “Gross!” or “No way!” and “I wonder if it tastes different?”
So what is one way into San Diego’s heart? Craft beer of course! The city put together the Pure Brew San Diego Beer Competition. The 15 brewers were given 10 gallons of the purified water to use to make a pale ale or IPA. Most of the brewers were home brewers with Stone Brewing in there to not only give the competition legitimacy but also because they are pioneers in the craft brewing industry for their sustainable brewing methods. They already use treated water in their brewing process to clean equipment. The water is treated in their own wastewater treatment system which is about to undergo a $1 million upgrade as they aim to use only 3 gallons of water for every gallon of beer produced. According to the Brewers Association, the average is 7 barrels of water to make 1 barrel of beer.
But What Does Recycled Water Taste Like?
For the friendly competition, Stone created a pale ale called Full Circle Pale Ale that was described by tasters as being “outstanding,” “hoppy,” and “delicious.” But is anyone really surprised by this? Why on earth would the city put out water that was going to have any discernable taste? Stone makes great beer and the city was really smart to partner with them on this topic, because treated water is safe to drink, cleaner than your tap water and something we are going to have to get used to in the coming years.
Articles like this from the CW don’t help the PR issue that upcycled water faces. Here are the first few sentences…
“There’s nothing more crappy than bitter beer! But one new brew has made us go from ‘bitter beer face’ to stank face without even tasting it. That’s because Stone Brewing Company’s newest batch of craft beer is made from sewage water! “Toilet to tap” is what the people are calling it. But the makers of the San Diego product are swearing by the sewage that their Full Circle Pale Ale taste’s more like fruit instead of feces.”
As we have learned in the past, people barely read beyond headlines, and the headline for this story was “New Craft Beer Comes Straight From the Toilet Bowl to the Bar.” While the headline is stunningly inaccurate, they do get points for their pure hyperbole.
It’s not just ok, it’s better
Stone is excited about the prospect of using more of the treated water. Pat Teirnan, Stone’s COO, said the water only needed a little salt added to it to make it perfect for brewing. At a time when breweries struggle with changing sources of water and having to tweak recipes to account for that change, the ability to provide a source of a water this pure is a good thing.
So get on board, San Diego! While the water crisis we faced over the last two years seems to have taken a small break, Southern California is likely only going to get dryer over the next 20 years. Also, just a heads up, you already drink “toilet to tap” water. More than half of San Diego’s water supply comes from the Colorado River. Sounds good right? Well, about 400 wastewater plants already dump their treated water in the river and experts estimate that the water coming out of our tap has been recycled 6-8 times before we drink it here in San Diego.