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Emily Hutto's picture

Mashing In: Would You Drink Beer Brewed With Wastewater?

Portland Brew Crew brewing with wastewater, Beer Connoisseur

Homebrewers in Portland, Oregon are currently crafting beers out of recycled wastewater for the Pure Water Brew Challenge, and journalists can’t stop talking about it. Naturally, I had to chime in.

So I called Jeremie Landers of the Oregon Brew Crew, the homebrew club that Portland’s wastewater treatment plant Clean Water Services recruited to test its treated wastewater in the brewing process. He’s been recently flushed with inquiries from reporters who want to know about the “poop water.”

Landers sarcastically said this phrase several times throughout our conversation. He wanted to drive home the point that all water on Earth is recycled, that “we’re all drinking poop and pee water somewhere down the line.” In no time he convinced me that this controversial wastewater isn’t so disgusting after all.

“This wastewater is put into a system that applies reverse osmosis the water, and this water is tested rigorously,” Landers said. “It’s used to manufacture electronic components it’s so pure... it’s one step under distillation.”

The water that Oregon Brew Crew is brewing with is so clean, in fact, that Landers says you’d have to add minerals back into it for healthy consumption. Ever notice that bottled water has added sodium, calcium, magnesium, and chlorides? “Our bodies needs some minerals from water,” Landers said. “If you only drank distilled water you’d have to get those minerals elsewhere.”

When Landers first heard about the Pure Water Brew Challenge, he didn’t think about poop water; he thought about beer. “I wanted to know if there were any minerals leftover after purification because the taste of beer can vary depending on the mineral content of   its water.”

As much as I’d like to digress with a full-blown water chemistry lesson here, I’ll just say that the softer (or less mineral-rich) your brewing water is, the more challenging it is to make pale ales, IPAs, and darker beer styles. That’s why so many brewers add salts to their mashes.

So if we’re all already brewing with and drinking poop water (minus a few breweries that source from mountain springs), and this purified water might pose challenges for brewing certain styles of beer, why participate in something like the Pure Water Brew Challenge?

Education, says Landers. “One of the good things about exposing the fact that all these homebrewers are using poop water is changing minds about what our resources are. Let’s get past the fact that this water will make damn good tasting beer— from this process we could maybe make drinking water, and that’s an exciting prospect.”