Harpoon Brewery teamed up with Desalitech, water treatment company, to produce a special edition beer made from Boston's Charles River. Harpoon Brewery teamed up with Desalitech, water treatment company, to produce a special edition beer made from Boston's Charles River. Harpoon Brewery teamed up with Desalitech, water treatment company, to produce a special edition beer made from Boston's Charles River. (Photo: row4food/Flickr)

How Boston's Harpoon Brewery is turning polluted water into beer

Charles River Pale Ale is the product of a groundbreaking purification system.

Boston-based Harpoon Brewery wanted to concoct something special for this year's HUBWeek, an annual arts and ideas festival in its hometown that runs through Oct. 10. The powers-that-be there, including Harpoon's president Charles Storey and his team of brewers, wanted it to be a symbolic beer, in line with the festival's theme of innovation and activism. They decided a local water source, purified with a process that greatly reduced the typical amount of water needed to make a barrel of beer, would do the trick.

Fortunately, Desalitech, a nearby water treatment company, was willing to help Harpoon realize its vision. The two companies quickly decided to take water from the city's polluted Charles River to make the beer – Charles River Pale Ale.

Desalitech was founded in Israel, a country known for its leadership around the world for its desalination work. The company recently relocated to the Boston area and was able to accomplish the Harpoon project through the use of its own patented technology. Whereas a standard reverse osmosis process is typically done by pumping water through several filters at very high pressure, Desalitech runs the water through one set of filters over and over again, making the system considerably more efficient.

Desalitech recovered water from the Charles River at a rate of 94%, meaning for every 100 gallons of water taken from the river, 94 gallons were purified adequately enough to be sent along to Harpoon to be used to make beer. The brewery was able to get about 31 gallons of water for every barrel of beer. The average American brewery uses about five or six times that much water to produce one barrel of beer.

So far the feedback has been positive: people like the stuff.

And they can feel good about drinking it too, even if a day of doing that might make them feel a little less so.

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