Theera Ratarasarn, a wastewater engineer in Milwaukee, is one of the last people you’d expect to bring his work home with him. But he’s actually managed to combine his work with his hobby – homebrewing – to create a wastewater beer he’s named “Activated Sludge Wheat Ale.”
Beer is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in the world, dating back to the Middle Ages. A commonly repeated factoid claims that beer was drunk because, as a boiled and fermented beverage, it was inhospitable for unfriendly bacteria and thus safer to drink than water (though some dispute that claim; it’s also possible that beer was simply a calorie-rich liquid to carry around). Regardless, the process of making beer leaves it safe almost by default.
Ratarasarn, though, didn’t leave that to chance. He “chlorinated, dechlorinated, filtered, distilled, tested and added nutrients to the water before beginning to make 5 gallons of Activated Sludge, a wheat ale with 5.15 percent alcohol by volume,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Interestingly, he chose to make a wheat beer due to that variety’s light color – a darker beer, like a porter or stout, was rejected because Ratarasarn thought the opaque hue might remind drinkers of raw sewage.
This isn’t really a project that can be done by anyone; Ratarasarn is, after all, established in the world of wastewater. But his aim was to show how clean wastewater really is, even urban wastewater. The effluent isn’t classified as drinkable in the U.S., but it’s certainly not raw sewage.
Activated Sludge Wheat Ale, though still just a homebrew project, is intriguing enough to have secured a professional tasting with testers from Lakefront Brewery, a renowned local craft brewer. The tasters praised Activated Sludge, which Ratarasarn has cheekily branded with a radiation symbol on its label, giving it a 7 out of 10 for flavor.
Read more about Activated Sludge over at the Journal Sentinel.
Image of a wheat beer (not Activated Sludge) via Flickr user Nicola