Singapore’s national water agency, PUB, has collaborated with the award-winning local craft brewery Brewerkz to launch NEWBrew, a blond ale made with recycled sewage. First unveiled at a water conference in 2018, the beverage finally went on sale in supermarkets and at Brewerkz outlets in April 2022.
The NEWBrew is made of NEWater, the country’s brand of “ultra-clean, high-grade reclaimed water.” It is made by disinfecting sewage with ultraviolet light and passing the liquid through advanced membranes to remove contaminant particles. Initially introduced as a means to cushion Singapore’s water supply against dry weather and move the country towards water sustainability, the process now plays a part in something more controversial, let’s say. In fact, PUB itself says the beer is part of an effort to educate Singaporeans on the importance of sustainable water use and recycling.
And it could potentially prove successful, according to some of the feedback Bloomberg has been reporting from recent customers. “I seriously couldn’t tell this was made of toilet water,” said Chew Wei Lian, 58, who had purchased the beer from a supermarket to try after hearing about it. “I don’t mind having it if it was in the fridge. I mean, it tastes just like beer, and I like beer.”
According to Brewerkz, it is a “highly quaffable beer” that is suitable for Singapore’s tropical climate, “with a smooth, toasted honey-like aftertaste.” 95 per cent of the tropical blonde ale is made out of NEWater, using “the finest ingredients, such as premium German barley malts, aromatic Citra and Calypso hops, as well as kveik, a highly-sought-after strain of farm-house yeast from Norway.” Sounds very hipster-ish if you ask me.
“NEWater perfectly suits brewing because it tastes neutral,” said Mitch Gribov, Brewerkz’s head brewer. “The mineral profile of water plays a key role in chemical reactions during brewing.”
While those behind the one-of-a-kind brew insist that it is a testament that “sustainability can be delicious,” people on social media are not quite so sure. That being said, the idea of processing sewage into drinking water—although once largely resisted—has been gaining support in the past decade as the world’s supply of fresh water has increasingly been under stress.
As stated by Bloomberg, “Advanced economies such as Israel and Singapore that have limited fresh water resources have already incorporated the technology into their supplies. Cities such as Los Angeles and London are examining plans to follow suit.”
And it’s not only Brewerkz that figured out the potential in using one of life’s finest joys to change people’s opinion on sewage water. Stockholm-based Nya Carnegie brewery partnered with Carlsberg and the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute to launch PU:REST, a pilsner made of purified sewage. Meanwhile in Canada, Village Brewery teamed up with researchers from the University of Calgary and water technology company Xylem to roll out its own version.
If you now feel convinced enough that you’d happily try the NEWBrew if you ever went to Singapore, don’t get too excited because the first batch has already sold out on tap at Brewerkz restaurants—with the company expecting stocks at supermarkets to run out by the end of July. The brewer also revealed it will assess the market response before deciding whether to make another batch.
As for you who still gag (and not in a good way) at the idea of drinking beer made from sewage water that was once running in underground pipes, your time will come. Until then, enjoy some of the online reactions shared by your fellow sceptics:
The year is 2021 and one of Sydney’s most popular breweries is decked in fluorescent green tanks. It looks surreal but isn’t born out of mere love for sci-fi movies, but rather out of a commitment to the future in the fight against climate change.
Partnering with scientists from the Climate Change Cluster (C3) at the University of Technology Sydney, Young Henrys, a craft brewery based in Newtown, has found a way to make beer brewing a more carbon-neutral process. Installing 400-litre bioreactors on-grounds, a small corner of their brewery is doused in fluorescent green illuminating out of transparent cylinders that don’t come in contact with any other fermenters. Is it Midori? Absinthe, perhaps? Nope, just algae with the potential of saving our planet one beer at a time.
Despite accounting for only 1/60th of the biomass of plants, algae is credited with producing half of the world’s oxygen via photosynthesis. In this regard, every second breath you take is being powered by the likes of kelp, spirulina and nori. In addition, algae ingests CO2 to multiply—in turn making it an ideal ingredient in food, pharmaceuticals and bio-plastics.
There are two main types of algae: macro-algae, which consists of kelp and seaweeds, and micro-algae (also known as phytoplankton) which are tiny, microscopic plants that can grow both in fresh and saltwater. Young Henrys’ bioreactors contain the latter. Each millilitre of the 400-litre cylinders contain roughly 5 million micro-algae cells or individual organisms. This totals up to 2,400 trillion cells per cylinder—producing the same amount of oxygen as one hectare of Australian forest.
“70 per cent of the planet is water and that’s where the phytoplankton are growing,” said Professor Peter Ralph from the University of Technology Sydney to the BBC. “So one of the things that we can do to address climate change is to actually use algae to capture the CO2.” In the same interview, Oscar McMahon, one of the co-founders of the brewery, explained how Young Henrys taps algae’s potential as a “biochemical factory” to offset carbon emissions that arise as a byproduct of the brewing process to release oxygen instead.
The process can be broken down as follows: brewer’s yeast eats sugar to create alcohol and CO2 as a byproduct. This CO2 is then captured off the top of a beer fermenter and fed through the bioreactors which house micro-algae. “The algae eats CO2 to create more algae and release oxygen,” McMahon said. “So they become these yin and yang organisms that naturally balance each other out.”
Feeding algae one of the deadliest byproducts of the brewing process stops it from being released back into the atmosphere. This is a gamechanger considering how the carbon emissions from fermenting just one pack of beer takes a tree 48 hours to absorb. “That’ll be like knocking down a city block and planting trees and letting them grow for 20 years. And that’s something that can be made in our warehouse within weeks,” McMahon added, stressing its potential of becoming a mindblowing solution for the urban environment.
So what about its other byproduct: more algae? According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Young Henrys plans to use the additional algae to produce food, pharmaceuticals and bio-plastic, with help from folks over at the University of Technology Sydney’s Deep Green Biotech Hub. Doctor Janice McCauley, a research fellow at UTS, said the hub “strongly advocates” the use of algae more effectively than traditional crops. “Algae uses carbon dioxide from the air to create carbohydrates and oxygen, just like plants do, but at the moment, lots of things are really at their limits,” she said to The Sunday Morning Herald. “We’re currently utilising most of our arable land at the moment, but algae can be grown almost anywhere.”
Although micro-algae is already being used in the mussel and oyster industry, McCauley highlighted certain challenges including the dewatering process and the cost of growing them. “They’re microscopic organisms and this comes at a cost and an engineering challenge we need to face,” she added.
Credited as the first innovation towards carbon-neutral beers, McMahon hopes the bioreactors would encourage other breweries to cut their own carbon emissions. “The planet needs our help but the solutions are here now,” Professor Ralph added. “This is just the very, very beginning.”