Words & Deeds

It was toilet wastewater. Now it’s beer. Can you swallow this new Boise brewery trend?

Three awesome gifts for the beer lover on your list.
Three awesome gifts for the beer lover on your list. Flickr

The biggest challenge about making beer from recycled wastewater isn’t the purification process. Or the actual brewing.

It’s coming up with a name.

“Brown Trout — presumably for a brown ale,” suggests Jerry Larson, co-owner and head brewer at Mad Swede Brewing Co. “That kind of has a turd connotation.”

“Deja Brew,” Mother Earth Brew Co. founder and president Daniel Love says. “Or Wasted Pale Ale.”

Chime in. They’re open to ideas.

Whatever Treasure Valley breweries decide to call their toilet-to-tap brewskies in October, know this. They’ll probably need to nudge Boise beer drinkers past “the ick factor, right?” Larson says. “The idea that you’re drinking sewage.”

Think about the burps. Will Idahoans buy beer that once fermented in clogged shower drains?

“It’ll be a crapshoot,” Larson says.

See what he did there?

Don’t hold your nose. Open your eyes. The special brews hitting local taps this fall will meet the same standards as any other beverage from Mad Swede, Mother Earth, Barbarian and Lost Grove breweries, and from Longdrop Cider Co.

Recycled wastewater is scientifically scrubbed into liquid nothingness. Brewers will need to add calcium and potentially other minerals back into it. It’s cleaner than the liquid pouring from your kitchen tap.

“Absolutely it is,” says David Keil, president of the Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association (PNCWA), a nonprofit made up of members of the clean water industry.

Mother Earth is brewing its recycled-water beer in partnership with the association, which should attract about 1,000 people to its annual conference Oct. 22-24 at the Boise Centre. The other breweries and cidery are participating in a municipal pilot project called Pure Water Brew Boise. (The public is welcome to attend a kickoff event from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Lander Street Water Renewal Facility, 790 N. Lander St.)

Mother Earth’s recycled water will come from Simplot’s potato processing plant in Caldwell, which has an on-site reverse-osmosis system. Pure Water Brew Boise is using treated water from the Lander Street operation, which normally would be pumped into the Boise River. To make it drinking-water quality, a mobile purification truck from Arizona is putting the water through extra steps.

Recycled-water beer is an Earth-first marketing opportunity for Idaho breweries. “It fits with our ethos,” Larson says.

It’s also a smart conversation starter for the city of Boise. Residents need to come to grips with this long-term sustainability issue.

“Water is king,” Larson says. “So the more water we save, the better off we are.”

Mother Earth will give some of its beer to the conference. Monetary donations will be funneled directly to two places, Keil says: A scholarship fund, which helps educate the next generation of water-treatment workers, engineers, and scientists; and Water for People, a nonprofit that provides clean water and sanitation in underdeveloped countries.

Keil calls it a “meaningful, life-changing effort by Mother Earth.”

Will the taste of these recycled-water beers change your own life?

Brewers hope so. Mad Swede is making 24 half barrels, or enough to fill 24 full-size kegs. Mother Earth is doing 40.

What they still haven’t figured out are those names.

Larson says Brown Trout got the thumbs-down from the city of Boise, which, somewhat understandably, want to keep things positive.

“That was one of the ones I thought was pretty damn funny,” he admits. “But I could see where that would be a challenge.”

Love likes Wasted Pale Ale, a suggestion from a PNCWA member. It makes sense. Mother Earth is probably going to brew “a pretty aggressive and pretty highly hopped pale ale,” Love says.

On the other hand, nobody from the city of Boise is telling him what to do. “We definitely want to have fun with the name,” Love says.

How about Boo Koo Poo, a play on Mother Earth’s popular Boo Koo IPA?

Maybe not. There’s a fine line between crass and gross.

“Altruistic as this may sound,” Love says with a laugh, “I gotta get rid of the beer! It is a business.”

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