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Would You Drink Wastewater? What if It Was Beer?

Epic OneWater Brew looks like your classic hipster craft beer.

The can has a sleek design with the silhouette of a city skyline, and it cracks open with a satisfying hiss. The beer, a Kölsch, has a crisp golden hue and a signature fruity taste.

But there is one big difference: It is made with recycled wastewater.

Epic OneWater Brew, the product of a partnership between a wastewater technology start-up and a Bay Area craft brewery, is made with treated shower and laundry water collected from a luxury high-rise apartment building in San Francisco. And it’s not the only beer of its kind.

As water sources, particularly in the western United States, dry up from overuse, drought and climate change, supporters of direct potable reuse — the use of treated wastewater in the drinking water supply — are pitching it as part of the solution. Increasingly, they are turning to beer as a way of getting people beyond the “ick factor” that has been a hurdle to its broader acceptance.

If people are reluctant to drink recycled wastewater, the thinking goes, perhaps they could be enticed if it were served in the form of a frosty cold one.

Aaron Tartakovsky, the co-founder and chief executive of Epic Cleantec, the wastewater technology company that worked with Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company of San Carlos, Calif., to create Epic OneWater Brew, said he wanted to make the beer to show the “untapped potential” of water reuse.

“We live in what we like to call here at Epic a ‘flush-and-forget’ society,” he said. “We have this innate yuck factor when it comes to talking about wastewater, or sewage, and all of these other sort of yuck-factor topics.”

Some Western and Southwestern cities that are struggling to manage the challenges of population growth and strained water supplies have held competitions for craft breweries to produce signature beers using recycled wastewater. California, Idaho and Arizona are among the states that have worked with local breweries to raise awareness of the need for water reuse.

Scottsdale, Ariz., which has watered nearly two dozen golf courses with treated wastewater since the 1990s, received a state permit in 2019 allowing for direct potable reuse of its purified recycled water. Scottsdale isn’t currently sending that water into the drinking supply, but Brian Biesemeyer, the executive director of Scottsdale Water, said that could change in two or three years.

To help the public get their heads around the concept of drinking treated wastewater, Scottsdale Water invited 10 breweries to make beer using water from the city’s advanced water treatment plant and serve it at an arts festival in 2019. The beer tents were accompanied by an information booth that explained the recycling process.

While people at first went wide-eyed at the prospect of drinking treated wastewater, Mr. Biesemeyer said, many were eager to sample the beers after a tutorial on how clean and safe the treated water is.

“We found the beer event to be a fun way to kind of get people over that fear,” he said.

Desert Monks Brewing Company of Gilbert, Ariz., which took part in the Scottsdale challenge, has embraced the concept and has brewed two beers with Scottsdale’s treated wastewater. Sonoran Mist, a lager, has quickly become the brewery’s top seller, and a Hefeweizen will be added to the lineup next month.

Two of the brewery’s owners, Sommer Decker and John Decker, believe Desert Monks is the first brewery in the country to consistently offer beer made with recycled wastewater on tap.

“We’re a small brewery, so being able to get this ultrapurified water from a large-scale entity gave us water that was more purified than we can get from our own systems at this point,” Ms. Decker said.

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 “toilet to tap.” But researchers at Stanford University found last year that recycled wastewater is safe to drink and also less toxic than other tap water sources because it is more rigorously treated.

In Scottsdale, that process involves ozone infusion, microfiltration and reverse osmosis, in which water is forced across a membrane to remove dissolved minerals and other impurities. The water is then zapped with ultraviolet light. Together, these measures remove “darn near everything,” Mr. Biesemeyer said.

“I think the biggest thing was, it tastes good,” said Chris Garrett, the owner of Devil’s Canyon, where Epic OneWater Brew was made, noting that people have preconceived notions about wastewater. “They assume, ‘Oh my God, it’s sink water.’ And it’s like, well, it’s actually probably cleaner than what’s coming out of the rivers.”

The Epic brew was born out of a 2021 San Francisco ordinance requiring new buildings larger than 100,000 square feet to have on-site water reuse programs. Epic Cleantec partnered with 1550 Mission Street, a luxury high-rise apartment building, and Devil’s Canyon to turn the building’s greywater — runoff from laundry 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, Calif., 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 picked up recycled greywater from the space agency’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., 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,” said James Costa, the brewmaster at Half Moon Bay. “No one could tell the difference.”

The Pure Water Brewing Alliance is a coalition of water utility companies, brewers, engineering firms and tech companies that share resources, techniques and information for using recycled wastewater to make beer. The goal, said Travis Loop, one of the leaders of the alliance, is for “water to be judged by its quality, not its history.”

“We have the technology to clean water, to purify water,” he said. “And as we can see by the times we’re in, we’re going to need to be doing a lot more of that.”

Boise, Idaho, a rapidly growing city in the high desert, turned to the alliance when it was looking to update its water treatment and distribution system in 2018. A fellow member, Pima County, Ariz., offered Boise a trailer with technology that could turn wastewater into drinkable water. Other members shared paperwork they had used to get permits to use recycled wastewater for brewing beer, condensing a process that had previously taken six months to just six weeks, Mr. Loop said. Boise teamed up with three breweries and a cidery, and hosted events in 2018 where the recycled wastewater drinks were served.

For now, recycled wastewater beer is available for sale only in Arizona. Since wastewater can’t be consumed in California, breweries there have been limited to one-off brews for specific events. In Idaho, a permit that allowed the consumption of reclaimed wastewater was valid only briefly, in 2018, but Boise is developing a full-scale water recycling program.

Scottsdale is the only city in Arizona that lets the public sample recycled wastewater. That works to the advantage of Desert Monks, which has capitalized on its access to large quantities of ultrapure water. A self-professed “huge science fiction nerd,” Mr. Decker, one of the brewery’s co-owners, joked that he has set his sights far beyond Arizona.

“I’m using the same water processes that astronauts use,” he said. “So if anyone’s going to Mars, we have the beer for them.”

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Mohammad SHiblu

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