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San Diego Breweries Experiment With Recycled Water

Stone and Ballast Point Breweries both created beers made from highly purified waste water

Though the single-run of Full Circle beer is long gone, the message about the importance of water conservation still stands. (Stone Brewing)
smithsonian.com

With over 5,000 breweries now operating in the U.S., it takes a lot to make a beer stand out from the crowd. There’s beer developed and tweaked by artificial intelligence, one made with sriracha sauce and even a beer that was steeped in the sounds of the Wu Tang Clan, constantly playing for six months. But the gimmick behind San Diego’s Stone Brewing’s Full Circle Pale Ale is a little more serious: It’s made from recycled waste water.

In most places, once people have used clean water for washing dishes, taking a shower or, umm, performing other tasks, that water goes through a sewage treatment plant where it is filtered, cleaned and disinfected. That “reclaimed” water is considered non-potable in most places. It is commonly used for things like irrigation or manufacturing, or it is released into streams, lakes or oceans.

But, as Ian Anderson at the San Diego Reader reports, San Diego has been working on a pilot program called Pure Water, with a goal of increasing the local reliance on recycled water. Since 2011, the group has purified 1 million of the 30 million gallons of wastewater the city produces every day, performing frequent quality tests to confirm its drinkability. But the program is still in its early days, and the recycled water does not yet return to the tap.

To help promote the program, Stone brewed five half barrels of Full Circle using some of that reclaimed water for the beer, along with New Zealand hops. It was served at the Pure Stone event on March 16, but was not made available to the public.

Though the beer is long gone, the message behind it still stands. As company writes on their website, "[i]t was a demonstration of responsible water usage in frequently drought-stricken Southern California."

Though you might cringe at the use of recycled water, this water is surprisingly pure. According to the brewery's website, the water was processed so thoroughly that they had to add minerals to ensure it matched the water they typically use. 

“It’s actually a lot better quality in terms of salts, or any other dissolved solids that might be in the water,” Tim Suydam, Stone's senior water operations manager tells Anderson. “The TDS [total dissolved solids] was less than 100 parts per million. Typically we get between 300 and 600 out of the tap.”

Stone wasn’t alone in brewing “Toilet-to-Tap” beers. As Bill Chappell at NPR reports, a home-brew competition using the water was also held and another local brewery, Ballast Point, released Padre Dam Pilsner with water from another recycling facility.

Though Stone Brewing doesn't plan to make any other reclaimed water beers, most beer made in the San Diego area will soon have some recycled water mixed in. Pure Water is currently in the design phases for larger purification facilities with a goal of recycled water entering the public system by 2021, Brent Eidson, deputy director of external affairs for San Diego, tells Anderson. Pure Water's eventual goal is to provide one third of the city's water supply by 2035.

Though impressive, this wouldn’t be the first or the largest water recycling plant in operation in the states. Orange County, California, began recycling water for public consumption in 2008 and is working on a system that will recycle 70 to 100 million gallons per day, which is then mixed into the groundwater.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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