The project will have major environmental, community and financial benefits.

deschutes brewery
Credit: Courtesy of Deschutes Brewery

It takes a lot water to make a good beer—as much as three times the actual beer you get from it. If you’re Deschutes Brewery in the recreational mecca of Bend, Oregon that means you’re the number one consumer of water in the area, just edging out the local hospital. But the legacy craft beer maker, which will celebrate its 29th anniversary this year, is undertaking a project that will transform the impact they have on everything from the environment to production capacity—an on-site waste water treatment facility.

Until now, the brewery has relied on a few methods to dispose of the approximately 100,000 gallons of waste water the brewing process involves on a daily basis, including paying for the municipal facility to treat the water and shipping so-called high strength waste water (that which includes yeast or even rejected beer) to farmers who use the nutrient-rich liquid to aid their crop growth. But with disposal fees set to rise to the tune of an additional $1 million annually and the area’s rapid development projects converting farmland into housing, the cost of and demand for Deschutes Brewery’s waste water has created what you might call a perfect storm for innovation.

The new treatment plant, set to open in 2018, is an $11.2 million investment that will dramatically effect the cost of doing business. The waste will be used to power generators, millions of gallons of water will be removed from the Bend sewer systems annually saving on those disposal fees, and building with additional capacity in mind would allow for potential income from nearby beer companies. With about 30 fellow breweries in Central Oregon, this project could be not only standard-setting, but a boon to opportunities for the entire industry.

Brewery president Michael LaLonde spoke to Food & Wine about the project and it’s potential impacts.

Food & Wine: How did you come to decide on building an on-site treatment facility versus investing in or shopping it out to a third party?

Michael LaLonde: We’ve been trying to do a treatment facility for a number of years. Deschutes Brewery invested in an outside facility before and it didn’t work, and [building one] didn’t make sense considering the high capital cost of the project. With higher sewer fees, high strength waste to farms in less demand, along with sustainability as a company, it all seemed to align this year. Independent craft brewers work really well together and we learned from others who and done this in the industry where it’s been a success, even looking internationally.

FW: Is this move common as beer companies scale up? Do commercial beer producers treat water on-site?

ML: Some commercial brewers treat their own waste and some don’t. The technology we’re look at Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are using and it’s working really well. There’s a newer membrane technology used around the world that’s much less of a footprint, but used less in the United States. New Belgium has a pilot test facility for that and we’ll use it on our site and see how it works with our beer.

FW: How is waste water created in the beer making process?

ML: We use water to clean tanks and other things a lot, that’s considered lower strength waste. Then we have thing like yeast that go into the high strength stream, or beer that we don’t like the quality of at the time, beer that has more sugar in it, that we like to divert away from the city and famers like to add it as a soil amendment. It takes a load off of the city sewer.

FW: What impact will this have on the city of Bend?

ML: Every time we do any project, the way we approach our business is we have to do the right thing for the community, the environment and the co-owners. Water treatment may give us the opportunity to help other craft brewers and be a career path for our co-owners to pursue. Another program we currently have is leasing water from land owners with water rights who are otherwise not using their water, and instead keeping water in-stream in the Middle Deschutes. We offset four times the water it takes us and our suppliers to create the beer we produce.

FW: Will your new Roanoke, VA brewery have similar capabilities?

ML: We will have to treat the effluent, but we don’t know exactly what that will look like. It’s part of the puzzle we’re trying to figure out with Roanoke, but it takes time to plan out a brewery the ancillary needs it will have.

FW: At what point do you expect to see this $11.2 million investment pay off?

ML: We’re going to put all of our high and low strength waste through the system and generate fifty percent of our electricity. We’re building the facility to a size where could treat the total capacity we could possibly reach in Bend. We’ll have available capacity for other brewers to use it. We haven’t talked to any yet and we’re not sure what the operation costs will be. The other opportunity is to use the treated water for other options including irrigation on things like golf courses. That would be pretty incredible for the community.