All drinking water has been consumed by humans (or animals), treated to remove contaminants, and returned to the environment. The concept grosses out some people, but the final product is clean and 100% safe to drink.

That makes treated effluent a sustainable resource. Breweries and the industry’s largest association, the Water Environment Federation, are encouraging utilities to envision and market themselves as resource recovery operations that specialize in a constantly recycled commodity: water.

Art Larrance, owner of Portland-based Cascade Brewing Co. and member of an Oregon wastewater utility’s advisory commission, thinks the best way to start a conversation with the public about water recycling is to use it to brew a tasty beverage.

Portland Loves Beer

According to the Oregon Brewers Guild, beer is a $4.49 billion industry. Residents drank 650,500 barrels in 2015. Portland has the most microbreweries of any city in the world.

Brewers of craft beers are very picky about the water they use. Their commitment to conservation, passion for technological innovation, and ability to brew small batches makes them excellent partners to showcase the use of high-purity water.

In 2015 and 2016, Clean Water Services (CWS) in Hillsboro pitted the state’s breweries against each other with a Sustainable Water Challenge Pure Water Brew competition. The competition is sponsored by the Oregon Brew Crew, one of the nation’s oldest and largest home brewing associations. In 2016, 40 brewers participated.

An inaugural Utility of the Future winner, CWS treats wastewater for more than 570,000 customers. The utility’s Durham facility uses the same purification technique used by premium bottled water companies: reverse osmosis with 0.0005-micron membrane pores.

The effluent meets or beats drinking water standards, making it a truly blank slate for showcasing their creativity. They were allowed to custom-tune the water with selected minerals to modify flavor.

The tastiest brews were selected to compete at WEFTEC’s second Sustainable Beer Smackdown. Although the competition is fierce, it’s not a formal head-to-head competition. When it’s all said and done, the real winner is the environment – and beer drinkers of course!

In a world of increasing droughts and concern over climate change, advancing water recycling technologies is more important now that it has ever been.

“Clean water is closer than you think,” says Ted Assur, first place winner of Oregon’s inaugural Sustainable Beer Challenge.