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Hillsboro's Clean Water Services turns sewage to brewage with yearly competition

COURTESY PHOTO - Hillsboros Clean Water Services approached Oregon Brew Crew members a few months ago with an idea to make beer from post-effluent Tualatin River Water. When asked if those participating in a competition for beer made with purified wastewater see off-color humor in the situation, Brian Haslip gets kind of, well, serious.

"I don't think the crew sees it as humorous or a novelty at all," says Haslip, vice president of the Oregon Brew Crew and Sustainable Water Challenge chairman. "People take it seriously."

Well, he conceded, perhaps now more than early on.

"When it first started, some of the brewers would say 'I'm gonna make sewer beer and call it Buttweiser.' But now, they take it very seriously."

Devotion to the craft of beer-making aside, competitors and judges clearly enjoyed themselves earlier this month, at the annual Sustainable Beer Challenge, an unusual competition of 40 Oregon home brewers, who use water from a wastewater treatment plant run by Hillsboro-based Clean Water Services to brew their beer.

Before it went into the brew kettles, the water went through a high-purity water treatment system that uses many of the same technologies and techniques as premium bottled-water companies.

The purity of the water exceeds the most stringent drinking water standards, noted Mark Jockers, Clean Water Services' public affairs manager.

"We're not really in the beer business at all," he said. "We're just trying to see if we change the conversation about how we get our wastewater fit for use."

The competition, launched in 2014 as a partnership between Portland-based Oregon Brew Crew, which hails itself as "Oregon's Oldest Homebrew Club," Clean Water Services and Carollo Engineers, seeks to initiate a conversation about the nature of water and build awareness that all water is actually "recycled," Jockers said.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: CLEAN WATER SERVICES - Judges try some of the 40 beers for the third-annual Sustainable Water Challenge/Pure Water Brew competition held on Saturday morning at Raccoon Lodge on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. All the brewers had one ingredient in common: purified wastewater from Clean Water Services' Durham treatment facility in Tigard. Representing a variety of styles, the beers shared a common main ingredient: highly purified water from a wastewater treatment plant. The winning beer was an American Cream Ale created by Portland resident Steve Woods.

“The American Cream Ale was super clean, crisp and easy tasting—everything a Cream Ale should be,” said Bill Schneller, master certified beer judge. “Water sustainability is more important today than ever. This is something we need to pursue and take the stigma off recycled water.”

Competitors in the Sustainable Beer Challenge are required to brew one of the "lower-gravity" varieties that brew connoisseurs know can only be made from pure water — like a Saison or Kölsch, a pale ale or pilsner.

"Unlike, say, porters and stouts, these beers can’t be accused of hiding anything," Jockers noted.

Contest winners were announced Sept. 9, following a tasting by judges from the local community, including Washington County Commissioner and Clean Water Services director Roy Rogers, and Dr. Colleen Johnson of the Environmental Quality Commission.

The Best in Show winner received $100, and the other selected winners received $50 each. Every brewer in the competition received $20 to offset the cost of ingredients.

The winning beers will travel to the international Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference in New Orleans, where they’ll be featured alongside beers from Florida and Wisconsin at a Sept. 27, tasting. The event is considered the world’s largest water-quality exhibition.

Patrick McIllece, a West Slope resident who finished fourth with his Belgian-style beer, said that as counterintuitive as it seems, the purified wastewater is a brewer's dream in that it isn't full of treatment additives typical of municipal tap water.

"With Portland water (from the Bull Run Reservoir in Clackamas County), you have to get the water report to know what's in it," he said. "This (purified wastewater) is so clean, it's an absolute blank slate.

"The main appeal is that it's easy to work with," he added. "If it's just H2O, and you start with nothing, and you know it's nothing, it's easy to make additions (to create quality beer)."

Since starting in Oregon in 2014, the Pure Water Brew concept has spread nationwide. Wastewater utilities in Florida, Wisconsin and Arizona have partnered with brewers to create beer with purified water.

For Haslip, the concept behind the competition has implications that surpass the joys of great-tasting brew.

“The population is growing, the climate is changing, and drought is threatening sources of clean water in the west and around the world, but there’s hope in new technologies that purify water safely and efficiently,” he said. “We need to think creatively about water and help people overcome the ‘ick’ factor in wastewater reuse.”

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - Jugs on display at the Sustainable Water Challenge/Pure Water Brew competition on Saturday at Racoon Lodge in Southwest Portland contain water from various sources of treatment and purification, including the 'high purity' water that came from Clean Water Services' Durham Wastewater Plant in Tigard.