Untapped Potential: California Craft Brewers Pioneer Recycled Water Use

Brewing is a thirsty business. It takes an average of six to eight gallons of water to create one gallon of beer, and the process produces a considerable amount of wastewater. This is significant as our state endures the most severe drought on record. Lucky for us, California craft brewers are using modern, sustainable techniques to source water and to ensure our favorite IPAs and pale ales will be available as we confront a hotter, drier future.

Californians have been recycling water for more than 100 years, but water reuse has been fairly limited in application, and has primarily been used for landscaping and agriculture. But now California craft brewers, longtime leaders in water and energy efficiency as well as renewable power, are highlighting the virtues of purified water to a whole new audience. Among the pioneers are Lagunitas Brewing Company and Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.

Lagunitas FacilityLagunitas was able to tackle two challenges simultaneously with the construction of a post-brewing water treatment plant on site at its Petaluma brewery. The plant solves the problem of post-brewing water disposal, and reduces the brewery’s reliance on Russian River water by 40 percent. By using purified process water for cleaning bottles, Lagunitas is down to 2.5 gallons of fresh water to produce a gallon of beer. Furthermore, the recycling process produces clean energy to power the brewery.

“We were throwing away money by trucking our post-brewing water to a treatment facility,” said Leon Sharyon, CFO of Lagunitas. “When we learned that we could treat it onsite for reuse and slash our utility costs by capturing the energy in our post-brewing water, we were ecstatic.”

Half Moon Bay Brewing Company has taken recycled water one step further, using it to actually brew beer. Half Moon Bay used wastewater purified with NASA technology to create a version of its popular IPA. Beer aficionados know that the water used to make beer has a strong influence on the flavor of the final product, so Half Moon Bay put their recycled water beer up against the original in a blind taste test. It passed with flying colors—even experts could not tell the difference.
Lagunitas_HMB_Recycled Water“Beer drinkers expect an incredibly high quality, flavorful product, so the taste test of our IPA made with recycled water shows just how delicious gray water can be once it has gone through this high tech purification process, “ said founder and owner of Half Moon Bay Brewing Company Lenny Mendonca.

The drought has done more than just inspire business innovation. It has also shifted public attitudes toward recycled water. Polls from the Bay Area and San Diego show growing support for recycled water, and some communities are already developing water purification facilities. And our government agencies are building on this momentum with new policies and investments. The California Legislature is considering a bill to allow purified recycled water to be bottled for educational purposes, water agencies will begin using purified recycled water to replenish depleted reservoirs, and $625 million from Proposition 1 is dedicated to innovative new water recycling projects.

But we need more recycled water ambassadors if we are going to meet the state’s goal of recycling 2.5 million acre feet by 2030. We recently convened business leaders and elected officials for a tour of the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center. Lagunitas Brewing Company and Half Moon Bay Brewing were there to share their sustainable brews, and to discuss strategies to help more industries and communities to embrace purified water.

Cheers to our Blue Business Council Members for leading the way to tap the potential for water reuse, and to all the California businesses serving up innovation and ingenuity when we need it most.

Sara Aminzadeh is an attorney and advocate who serves as Executive Director of California Coastkeeper Alliance. She directs all Alliance programs, partnerships and initiatives, including its Blue Business Council. The Blue Business Council is a network of more than 100 companies working with Waterkeepers to protect the coast, ocean, bays, rivers, and streams that power California’s economy.

Sara Aminzadeh
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