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Don't fear, river beer will be crystal clear

Portland-area beer drinkers rarely bat an eye at the unorthodox flavors dreamed up by local home brewers.

Chocolate Stout? Order up.Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO: CLEAN WATER SERVICES - Shane Richters, a Field Construction/Maintenance technician from Clean Water Services Field Operations division, withdraws water from the Tualatin River just downstream from the Durham Treatment Plant as part of a home-brew competition to show how clean the sewage effluent is after being purified by CWS plants.

Fruit beer? A whole festival is devoted to them.

There’s even coffee beer and Voodoo Doughnut beer.

The Oregon Brew Crew (OBC), the state’s oldest and largest home-brewing club, with 250 members, thought their brewers had seen and sipped it all.

Then in July, the club was approached by Mark Poling of Hillsboro-based Clean Water Services and asked whether members would make beer out of Tualatin River water — specifically, water just downstream from a giant sewage treatment plant.Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO: JASON BARKER - Jason Barker brews beer made from purified sewage effluent mixed with Tualatin River water in his cramped Hillsboro garage, near a refrigerator bearing the bumpersticker I Brew, Therefore I Am.

Yep. Former-sewage beer.

Clean Water Services (CWS), a semi-governmental utility that handles wastewater, stormwater and other water-management services for all Washington County cities, proposed a beer competition in order to demonstrate the purity of its processed water.

More marketably dubbed “Pure Water Brew” by Carollo Engineers — a California-based environmental-engineering firm and the contest sponsor — the 16 beer styles will be tasted Saturday, Sept. 6, by a panel of judges that includes Verboort resident Andy Duyck, who also chairs the Washington County Commission and the CWS board of directors.

The top four brewers will receive $100 each and a Best of Show winner will receive an additional $50. All four beers will be sent to a national clean-water conference in New Orleans.

“It’s a great way to show that former sewer water is clean,” said Art Larrance, the “godfather” of home brewing in Oregon and a CWS board member who used his connections to get the Pure Water Brew project off the ground.Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO: CLEAN WATER SERVICES - Dr. Adrienne Menniti of Clean Water Services operates the high-purity water system at CWS Forest Grove treatment facility, where its research and development team conducts experiments. The system uses several purification technologies, including ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis, advanced oxidation and disinfection to create high-purity water, said CWS spokesman Mark Jockers.

“We have a worldwide water shortage and home brewing can be part of the solution,” Larrance said.

Brewers embrace concept

What did the brewers — with their discerning palates and water puritanism — think of using purified sewage effluent?

“My reaction was sheer excitement to try something completely different that no home-brewing club in the country had an opportunity to try,” said Jason Barker, a Hillsboro home brewer and education chairman for OBC.

“Beer is safer to drink than water because it’s boiled during the making process, killing any harmful organisms,” he added.

That may sound less than reassuring to potential drinkers of “river beer,” as the brewers themselves call it, but this water has plenty of safeguards.

“We wanted to take it directly out of the treatment plant because we produce this effluent that very nearly meets Safe Drinking Water Act standards,” said Mark Jockers, CWS’ manager of government and public affairs.

But regulations from Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality complicated that plan, he said.

So instead, CWS drew the “river beer” water from an area near Tualatin Community Park, immediately downstream from CWS’s Durham treatment plant. At that point, the cleaned effluent accounts for 30 percent of the river’s water, Jockers said.

To meet DEQ’s strict regulations, CWS then ran the water through a special, experimental high-purity system at its Fernhill Road site in Forest Grove.

The result exceeded drinking-water standards, Jockers said.

None of the brewers balked.

“We don’t need a reason to brew another batch of beer,” said Barker, one of 13 brewers who took on the challenge.

Barker is brewing a lager called “California Common,” also known as “steam beer.” It’s amber, with Northern Brewer hops that have what he describes as a “woody, minty characteristic.”

Barker said he’s “ultra-confident in my chances of winning one of the prizes because I’ve made this beer so many times in the past and won several competitions. The only difference is the water.”

Personal best

Jeremie Landers, a home-brewer from the Kenton neighborhood of North Portland, usually uses Bull Run water for his batches of beer.

“Bull Run water has naturally occurring salts,” explained Landers, who has been making his own beer since 2006.

“When I tasted this water, it was different. Very plain. I saw it as a blank slate.” He added Epsom salts, calcium carbonates and gypsum, among other natural minerals and ingredients.

Landers had never made a German Pilsner before and thought the water would suit that style well.

“I went to Bolt Minister — that’s his real name — of Old Town Brewing and asked him for suggestions. He didn’t give me a recipe, but I think what I’ve achieved mimics German Pils, with a beautiful golden color.”

Landers is clearly proud of his creation. “I think my chances are very good,” he said.

However, he says the biggest prize for his German Pils would be “to have Bolt like it” and to see the water source himself.

“I hope I don’t win, so I can drink it myself.”

The project seems to have gained fans from all corners.

“We are geeked-out at the chance to make beer from something no one else has,” said Barker. “To have the winners represent Oregon at a gala event in New Orleans is any home brewer’s dream.

“We’re proud of Portland and Oregon in general and love the friendly rivalry we have with other cities that claim they are more beer-centric, like Asheville, N.C.”

Jockers wants to see the super-purified water continue breaking through boundaries and boldly going where no former sewage effluent has gone before.

“You could use it for anything,” he said, toying with the idea of a tea competition next year.

But for now, may the best beer win.



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