Breweries Turn Toilet Water Into Beer—And it Sells!

As a sustainability measure, breweries are experimenting with using reclaimed water to brew beer and cider.

 City Raw by Lost Grove Brewing, courtesy Lost Grove

City Raw by Lost Grove Brewing, courtesy Lost Grove

The City of Boise, Idaho for years has cleaned millions of gallons of used water each day from its residents’ homes and businesses—only to send it downstream into the Boise River. But with water being an increasingly precious resource, this high-desert city wanted to test consumer demand for the recycled liquid that had been cleaned after flowing through toilets, sinks and drains. So this summer, the Idaho Capital city recruited three breweries and a cidery to use 3,000 gallons of water that went through the city’s wastewater treatment plant and turn it into beer and cider.

In mid-October, the first results were in from the initiative called Pure Water Brew Boise. “We’ve been blown away by the interest,” said Colin Hickman, spokesman for the city. Hundreds of people came out to an event showcasing the tasty (no, really!) new drinks, and breweries report strong sales in their tasting rooms.

“Everyone that tries it likes it,” said Kylie Bolland, tap room manager at Lost Grove Brewing, which used the “toilet water” to make a special Kolsch-style brew called City RAW. Other beers made include an Oreo Ice Cream Ale from Barbarian Brewing, a Mimisbrunnr Hazy IPA from Mad Swede Brewing and Full Cycle Cider from Longdrop Cider.

The more you know…

The beers and cider are being sold at the local tap rooms and area restaurants where potential consumers are informed via placards that the beer and cider come from recycled water that been specially cleaned. “Using proven -step water purification technology, the Pure Water Brew Boise project transformed recycled community wastewater into PURE water, which we used to create a delicious new brew,” say the signs. The signs also say the cleaned water exceeds drinking water standards and is more pure than your average bottled water.

City water officials and the breweries say the recycled water is cleaner than that coming out of resident’s sinks. As part of the Pure Water Brew Boise initiative, wastewater for these brews is filtered extensively, in part by a process called reverse osmosis, which removes all, contaminates.  

In addition to having the water cleaned through the city’s regular treatment system, the water in the initiative also went through an additional filtration system on a special purification truck.  The  truck utilizes a five-step purification process including ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, an ultraviolet light advanced oxidation process, and granular activated carbon for hydrogen peroxide quenching to produce safe, high-quality drinking water.

The treated water was brought to each brewery and cidery in August and brewed in September.

Public response

 Lost Grove tap room manager Kylie Bolland, photo by Phil Galewitz

Lost Grove tap room manager Kylie Bolland, photo by Phil Galewitz

While there is no shortage of water in Boise, the city cares about sustainability and only using the limited amount of natural resources it needs, Hickman said. The city is using this project to see how the community responds to different kinds of water efficiency options. Hickman said the city collects 30 million gallons of water each day and cleans it to a high level. “We wanted to see if we could use that water in a beneficial way,” he said. “We want to get the most out of every drop.”

Boise officials saw how other communities such as Pima County, Az. and in Oregon had made beer with recycled water. “We wanted to take a crack at it,” Hickman said. Unlike other cities, Boise had no trouble getting breweries to volunteer. “The breweries were enthusiastic about the project, which says a lot about the sustainability values of Boise,” Hickman said. “Beer brings people together. We wanted to get people over the ‘ick’ factor and beer is a nice way to do that.”

But how does it taste?

The beers have tasted great. Hickman’s favorite was the IPA from Mad Swede. “The beers taste like they were made with high quality water,” he said. In fact, the recycled water was so clean, several breweries had to add nutrients back into it to make it similar to their usual brewing water.

Jerry Larson, owner of Made Swede Brewing and former engineer at Hewlett Packard, said participating in the Pure Boise experiment was a no brainer. Being environmentally-conscious “is part of our identity,” he said. “We live in the intermountain west …and we are cognizant that we need to be aware of water consumption in the brewing process and to recycle everything we can.”

The Mímisbrunnr IPA name comes from Norse mythology which means from the well under the Tree of Life. Larson said some people will be “weirded out” about drinking beer made from toilet water. “But I am also an engineer and this is an engineered process and if we can reuse water, it benefits everyone.” Asked about the safety of the water, Larson points out that all brewers boil water. “Nothing lives after that,” he said.

Sitting in the tap room at Lost Grove Brewing near Boise State University, Bolland said the Pure Water initiative is perfect for the city since it always looking for the next way to preserve the environment including miles of bike and walking paths, LED street lights and many LEED-certified buildings.

 photo by Phil Galewitz

photo by Phil Galewitz

Lost Grove received about 800 gallons of the recycled water to make its Kolsch. Even after the water was treated at the city treatment plan then cleaned again on a mobile purification truck with special filtration system, the city did additional testing on the water before was released to the public in mid-October.

Bolland said she wouldn’t have guessed the Kolsch was made with recycled water. “You can’t tell the difference,” she said. She hopes the one-year old brewery can one day recycle its own water. “Brewing is not a very sustainable practice and we do go through a lot of water,” she said.

In Nampa, Idaho, a Boise suburb, Mother Earth Brewing this fall also brewed a beer with recycled water in collaboration with the Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association.. But instead of city water, Mother Earth re-used water from the Simplot potato processing plant in Caldwell, Idaho. That water was cleaned through a reverse osmosis system.  The brewery named its special pale ale beer—Wasted Ale.

“Pure water lets our brewers truly start from scratch and dial-in desired flavors and aroma.  Using such pure water, we are confident that none of this ale will be wasted!,” said Daniel Love, co-founder of Mother Earth.