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California brewery making drought friendly craft beer from waste water


Can you tell the difference? The IPA on the left has been brewed with recycled waste water. On the right is the same type of beer brewed with conventional water. (Courtesy Half Moon Bay Brewing Co.)

A San Francisco beer maker is brewing up a solution to California’s water shortage.

Half Moon Bay Brewing Company has been making small batches of its Mavericks Tunnel Vision IPA with recycled waste water—known to environmentalists as gray water. Gray water is treated water that’s been used in sinks, showers, dishwashers or washing machines--but not from toilets.

In 2014, Half Moon Bay Brewing owner Lenny Mendonca was approached by architect Russ Drinker (yes, that’s his real last name) who wanted to use beer's popularity to highlight solutions to California’s ongoing water crisis.

The current focus has been on conservation, with such efforts as making it illegal to refill your water glasses at restaurants unless patrons ask, Drinker told the Guardian. But “if Californians really want to have an impact on our water use, we have to recycle our fresh water ... and get over our psychological resistance to that,” he added.

He found a willing partner in Mendonca who was open to develop something new.

Using NASA water recycling technology that astronaut Scott Kelly employed to treat his pee and sweat during his year aboard the International Space Station, they created gray water IPA.

The beer is slightly darker than the same beer made using conventional Bay Area municipal water, but in a blind taste test, people couldn’t tell the difference between it and a traditional pint of IPA, Mendonca says.

“This is the product [where] people think that water is the most important ingredient,” Mendonca told the Guardian. “So if I can demonstrate to people that not only is [gray water beer] good, but it’s great, then why wouldn’t you use that water for everything else?”

So far the beer has been sampled twice and the brewery has several planned tasting events including one on March 23 at the Silicon Valley Water Conservation Awards event at Google and at the IDEAS conferences in Los Angeles in June.

But don't expect to see it on store shelves soon. 

In California, it’s illegal to directly pump treated recycled water back into the drinking water supply, so it’s currently not practical or cost effective to produce recycled water beer at this stage. 

Mary Oldham, a spokeswoman for the brewery told that though the beer has the potential to be a commercial success, right now Mendonca’s current focus is to use the beer as a tool to educate the public. The brewery has already reached out to California State assemblyman Rich Gordon to address some of the obstacles prohibiting the use of recycled waste water for educational and commercial purposes.

The brewery says getting legislation to bring recycled water directly into the drinking water supply would be a big first step.