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Waste not, want not

Highly purified sewer water will be released again to brewers on Friday.

TIMES PHOTO/ RAY PITZ - Mark Jockers of Clean Water Servies holds a high purity water jug containing water that came out of the back of the Forest Grove Wastewater treatment facilty then went through a four-step process that included ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, disinfection/advanced oxidation and meeting all drinking standards. Its the same water that many homebrewers have turned into beer the last couple of years, producing six packs bearing the label of the individual brewer. Let’s be honest — drinking beer made from water that at one time contained sewage might not seem like the most savory thing to talk about.

But Clean Water Services’ Mark Jockers loves to point out that’s exactly what set off a frenzy last year when the agency announced plans to release the treated water to brewers.

Before all was said and done, more than 600 media stories had been written on the subject from various news agencies throughout the world.

“You can’t not do a story about this,” Jockers told a small crowd gathered at Sherwood’s Growler House July 7 during a meeting of Tualatin Riverkeepers’ River Professors Talk. “This one just really took off.”

Jockers said those stories came as a result of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Jan. 20, 2015, web post asking those interested to weigh in on what they thought of using treated sewer water to create beer.

“By the end of the day, we probably had 15 media calls,” Jockers said.

Those included inquiries from several morning television shows, The Guardian newspaper of London and even Al Jazeera, headquartered in Qatar.

It even made the front page of The Wall Street Journal, which reported: “Clean Water Services, a suburban utility, recently announced a challenge to home brewers to craft ales or lagers from highly purified sewer water, creating ‘sewage brewage’ or ‘poo brew,’ as some termed it. The water meets federal safe drinking standards, but its use for brewing still requires state approval before the contest can proceed.”

So, to drive home his point during the recent gathering, Jockers asked, “How many have drank beer that was once sewerage?”

While only a few actually were brave enough to raise their hands, Jockers pointed out that everyone had at one point done so, pointing out that “all water has been consumed before and will be consumed again.”

Jockers said that the agency, which provides stormwater and wastewater services to 570,000 residents in Washington County and surrounding areas, had to jump through many hoops, among them addressing issues related to regulation (getting the OK from the DEQ), the technology to clean the water, and a mindset regarding the quality of the water produced.

“We have the proven technology to clean any type of water to the highest standards,” Jockers pointed out. “Regulation is a little more complicated.”

The mantra that Jockers often repeats, however, is “judge this water on its quality, not its history.

“The issue is the water is perfectly safe but it’s haunted by its history,” he said.

The actual idea of making brew from treated wastewater began in 2014 when the Sustainable Water Challenge was launched by providing several kegs of treated water — comprised of 30 percent effluent from the Tualatin River just downstream from Clean Water’s sewage treatment plant — to the Oregon Brew Crew, the oldest and largest home-brewing club in the nation. The group then turned out several batches of suds.

“They were very interested in getting this water,” said Jockers.

Then, last year, Clean Water Services released water containing 100 percent effluent, which had gone through additional processes to produce a “high purity water;” those included going through a four-step process that included ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, disinfection/advanced oxidation and an assurance it met all drinking standards. At that point, the Oregon Brew Crew got serious as well when 25 brewers requested the water, in turn canning it under their respective brewing labels.

Jockers said members of the Washington County Commission were supportive of the idea since the beginning. Chairman Andy Duyck was “very enthusiastic about this,” said Jockers, and Commissioner Roy Rogers even appeared in a video challenging the city of Milwaukee, Wis., to see if their wastewater facility could make a better tasting beer, also using treated water.

On Friday, Clean Water Services will again release treated wastewater, with about 500 gallons going to about 40 brewers. Jockers said their plans are to create pale ales, pilsner and Belgians.

Jason Barker, a Hillsboro resident who owns Fresh Start Detail Co. of Beaverton, used the treated water for brewing in 2014 when he brewed a kölsch beer that “tasted great, although it didn’t win the competition.”

As education chairman for Oregon Brew Crew, he didn’t get a chance to make beer with the water last year but plans to this year.

“Using this ultra-pure water for brewing is a home-brewer’s dream because it provides the most blank ‘canvas’ for the water, so you can build any water profile you like,” he said.

This year, he plans on brewing a German pilsner beer which “really requires clean, pure water to highlight the crisp, refreshing and thirst-quenching nature of that style and still provide a beautiful golden color with brilliant clarity and still let the wonderfully elegant floral hop aromas take center stage.”

While not a brewer himself, Jockers had fewer adjectives in describing the taste of the beer he sampled last year but did point out it was excellent.

“It was really good,” he said. “Tasted just like beer.”

By Ray Pitz
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