Feature StoriesNews & Opinion

Town Brewing Redefines Sustainability in the Craft Beer Scene

Renew Brew is the first beer brewed in the Carolinas using recycled water

Town Brewing’s head brewer Federico De La Torre packs cans of Renew Brew. (Photo by Juan Ossa)

Any time a locally owned business prepares to release a new product, the branding is important. Any business owner will tell you that the public’s first impression of their product — be it a craft beer, a piece of jewelry, or a T-shirt — should be a positive one. 

Certain products, however, need a more purposeful approach to marketing than others. Take Town Brewing’s Renew Brew, first launched in February during the Queen City Brewers Festival. 

Renew Brew is the first beer in the Carolinas to be brewed with recycled water — more specifically, H2O that’s passed through Charlotte Water’s McDowell Wastewater Treatment Plant. 

For Brandon Stirewalt, director of operations at the Wesley Heights brewery, there was only one chance to get the messaging right around Renew Brew. 

“There is always going to be certain people with certain stigmas, especially in a world where information is not always easy to discern what is true and accurate, and where, unfortunately, people don’t spend enough time to do their homework to understand processes and procedures,” Stirewalt told Queen City Nerve. “I think we’re always going to have to educate people.” 

Stirewalt knew that once people heard the word “wastewater,” they were liable to turn away from the idea of Renew Brew altogether. That was a risk he was willing to take, however, as the idea of presenting a truly sustainable beer in a world where water is becoming more of a valued resource by the year was too important to turn down. 

So far, Stirewalt has only held tastings for the beer, as he plans to do during the 4/20 Fest and Earth Day celebration that Town Brewing will host alongside neighbors Rhino Market and Infinity’s End on April 20. 

Following that event, he will begin preparing for a full public release of Renew Brew in the fall, which brings more pressure in terms of educating customers on the process behind recycling water. 

A portrait of a Town Brewing employee speaking with the Charlotte Water Director.
Brandon Stirewalt talks to Charlotte Water Director Angela Charles. (Photo by Juan Ossa)

“This has not been 100% in the court of public opinion yet,” he explained. “I have been able to control the narrative because I’m able to give my narrative to folks at tastings. That was really the reason we did this in the way that we did; we have to be able to dictate the narrative before we throw it to the wolves. Because if this gets chewed up and spit back at us, we have not served our purpose by what we’re trying to do in showcasing sustainable water usage.” 

So what does this process look like and just how healthy is it? We figured our annual Beer Issue was the best time to take a deeper dive into the local craft beer scene’s newest product. 

Looking at the production process

The idea behind brewing a beer with recycled water was originally borne out by Jeremy Selan with the Charlotte Beer Collective, who approached Charlotte Water and began to seek out a brewery that would make a good partner for the project. 

The first step in the process was to make a water that could pass any test for contaminants that was thrown at it. This led to the creation of QC Water. 

QC Water is a sustainable source of clean water derived from recycled wastewater using state-of-the-art carbon filtering, reverse osmosis, and advanced oxidation — ozone and ultraviolet treatments — of Mecklenburg County’s wastewater. 

What would normally come from that process — highly treated effluent water from the WWTP that gets discharged into a nearby creek — was instead taken one step further to become a water source for beer. A team from the international Xylem Water Solutions & Water Technology company set up its post-plant polishing treatment equipment outside of WWTP to carry out additional treatment operations.  

What resulted, dubbed by the team as QC Water, exceeds all pathogen reduction requirements and the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines through the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The production process is monitored to meet the criteria specified by Charlotte Water based on the SDWA. 

QC Water was thoroughly tested for more than 150 potential contaminants. In fact, according to Stirewalt, the water was almost too pure. 

Town Brewing in Wesley Heights maintaing their equipment.
The town team meets with Xylem reps during the water treatment process. (Photo by Juan Ossa)

“It’s to the point that it was such a blank slate, we had to back-add some mineral content to get the brewing profile that we wanted,” he explained. “So we had to add brewer’s salts. It was so pure.” 

The next step involved deciding what to do with this blank slate. The Town Brewing team decided on a pale ale because it allowed them to showcase the beer as best they could. 

“The reason we chose to go with a pale ale was because pale ale is such a simple, easy beer to showcase great malt, great hops, and how clean and great the water is,” he explained. “Being in the South, if you want to judge a barbecue restaurant, you don’t go in and the first thing is order the ribs or the brisket or all these things, you go in, you get a chopped barbecue sandwich and a side of baked beans … It’s just simple. If you screw that up, I don’t need to know anything else about you. But if that’s great, I’ll try everything you got.

“So we did the same,” he continued. “Pale ales like this, you can really go in and judge an entire brewery by that one beer because if they’re doing that well, they’re probably doing everything well. If they’re doing that bad, they’re probably doing a lot of things bad. We wanted to showcase the beer that we couldn’t hide anything in. There’s no mango puree or anything to cover up the water profile.” 

What resulted is a light, refreshing pale ale that was smooth going down when Queen City Nerve visited Town Brewing for a tasting on a recent Saturday afternoon. In fact, the brew was awarded Best in Show following a double-blind taste test at the Queen City Brewers Festival in February, proving it can hang with any of its peers. 

“That really just solidified and gave concrete purpose to this project,” Stirewalt said. “Not only did we brew a good beer, we brewed a beer that won the festival that we were at.”  

The importance of sustainable efforts

Research shows that it takes anywhere from 4 to 8 gallons of water to brew a single gallon of beer, and water has become more scarce throughout the country in recent years, especially on the West Coast. 

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 18% of the lower 48 states were in a drought as of March 26. 

Changing climate and growing global populations mean water authorities worldwide are looking at treatment options to produce reclaimed water to meet declining freshwater supplies and achieve water security and sustainability. 

a portrait of town brewing's newest beer, Renew brew in front of a green car.
Renew brew will be released publicly later this year. (Photo by Juan Ossa)

“In an industry where the majority of our product is water, and knowing the large amount of it that it takes to make a single pint of beer, it is vastly important to be a part of any sustainability effort that we can – especially an ingredient as important to us as water,” said Federico De La Torre, head brewer at Town Brewing. “Classic beer styles from around the world sprung up because of the water that was available to us brewers. We are lucky to have incredible water for brewing here in Charlotte.” 

Though Renew Brew is the first project of its kind in the Carolinas, similar recycled water beers have been used in other areas of the United States including Oregon, Kentucky, California and Arizona.

Charlotte Water was chosen as a partner for this project due to its award-winning treatment process and high effluent standards. The department hopes to build on the momentum of Renew Brew to try including QC Water in other products, from coffee to cleaning products. 

“At Charlotte Water, we are thrilled to launch in partnership our first beer brewed with recycled water,” said Charlotte Water Director Angela Charles. “This project is a testament to our commitment to a circular economy, innovation, and sustainability, and we are excited to showcase the endless possibilities of recycled water.” 

According to Stirewalt, the project was just one more way to implement sustainability into Town Brewing’s business practices — from the farmers and maltsters they work with to the bartenders’ practices behind the stick. 

“The reason the brewery is named Town is after Charlottetowne, the original old name [of Charlotte] was Charlottetowne,” he said. “How can we be a town center for Charlotte? How can we help build our town? How can we help better our town? That is really what the name Town comes from, so any opportunity to find that, we’re going to take it.” 

SUPPORT OUR WORK: Get better connected and become a member of Queen City Nerve to support local journalism for as little as $5 per month. Our community journalism helps inform you through a range of diverse voices.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *