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Science and Innovations

Eats and Beats: Flagstaff Brewery Competes in Challenge to Turn Wastewater into Beer

Melissa Sevigny

It takes good ingredients to make good beer—grain, yeast, hops, a dash of honey or a squeeze of fresh cherries to add subtle flavor. This month more than two dozen breweries in Arizona tried out a new ingredient: purified wastewater. The Pure Water Brew Challenge raised awareness about water reuse and also inspired some tasty new beers. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny went to local Flagstaff brewery Wanderlust, for our segment Eats and Beats: stories about food and music. 

I’m Nathan Freidman, the owner here at Wanderlust Brewing Company, and we’re currently standing in the production facility and taproom here at Wanderlust.

The Pure Water Challenge, we were approached almost a year ago now, by an organization, they have this water purification system that fits on the back of a semi-truck. That system is advanced enough they can take wastewater and treat it, and the output at the end is reverse osmosis distilled water that has zero contaminations, zero minerals, in it, about as pure as you can get when it comes to water.

What’s fun about this—you know, brewing is a very water intensive process. On average most breweries use between 5 and10 times the amount of water as they get final beer. The issue of water usage is very near and dear to a lot of breweries, because that’s something we think about every day.

There’s always a couple of people who say, Oh, I can’t believe you’re making beer with wastewater, but I also like to point out that as far back as the Middle Ages the process of beer brewing was used to purify water. You didn’t want to drink the water back then because you’d get sick, but brewing as a process, because it involves boiling and because it involves these low pH kind of processes, and alcohol, it’s very difficult if not impossible to create a beer that has any sort of pathogen in it that’s going to make you sick.

One of the other really cool things about working with this water, is the City of Flagstaff water does have some mineral content in it. Those minerals aren’t necessarily bad but they can affect the flavor. We were given the opportunity to start with something that had zero minerals in it, so that we can then selectively add back in the minerals we want. So we were excited to brew something light, because that could showcase this clean, pure profile of the water coming in.

We got about 450 gallons of water and we used that to brew a Belgian-style Tripel, which is a golden ale that is very light but fruity. I would say stone-fruit flavors like peach and apricot that are very subtle. It also has a bit of clove spice to the back end, to clear your palate. The aroma is very fruity, almost a pear like aroma with a bit of banana to it. We do serve it in smaller glasses because it’s nine percent alcohol so it’s a good beer to sip on. I think we’re going to have a lot of people who are really going to enjoy it. I’ve tasted the beer already and it’s pretty delicious.

Wanderlust, Historic and Dark Sky Brewing participated in the Pure Water Brew Challenge in Flagstaff, along with Oak Creek in Sedona and Granite Mountain in Prescott.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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