It was only a month ago that newspapers and blogs quickly latched on to the news that the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission had approved a proposal from a local home brewing club to turn recycled sewage water into beer. Cue the collective exclamations of disgust and mild intrigue.
We suppose that those same publications haven't heard about the Dutch artist who makes beer out of potatoes, canal water, and snow. Or the Spanish company using seawater in its hangover-free brew. Or Evil Twin brewery's experiments with throwing frozen pizza and filthy money into the mash.
Needless to say, there are as many ways to brew beer as there are to drink it.
That's because beer, at its most basic level, is composed of only a few ingredients; the most important among them, arguably, is water. Just as that "beer in, beer out" T-shirt found on some less-than-scrupulous drinkers helps to illustrate, the cycle of water-to-beer-to-sewage-to-water-beer is a simple one. The human body is merely a pit stop for booze-infused water.
Similarly, the planet's water cycle is rather simple: water on the Earth's surface evaporates, condenses, and falls back to the ground as rain.
As the BBC notes, however, a group of ingenious brewers in Chile's Atacama desert have found a way to intercept that water mid-cycle—in the form of fog—and turn it into beer.
The Atacama desert also happens to be one of the driest places on the planet, with less than 0.004 inches of rainfall per year. The moisture that does occur there accumulates as fog, locally known as "camanchaca."
Back in the 1950s, a scientist there developed a system for capturing water from the fog using tightly woven netting, which traps moisture and funnels it to canals beneath. The fog-catchers cost less than $1,500 apiece, and utilize gravity to transport the collected water to reservoirs below.
In the town of Peña Blanca, a local brewer called Atrapaniebla (or "Fog Catcher") turns some of that water into a golden-amber Scottish ale, which it describes as being "of medium complexity … [with] malt sweetness and light touches of caramel." Drinkers might detect notes of salt and toastiness, too.
And just in case you thought that fog couldn't possibly be that rich of a water source, the brewery manages to turn out 24,000 liters per year.
"The water from the camanchaca is of excellent quality and gives our beer a special quality," Atrapaniebla owner Miguel Carcuro told the BBC.
And we imagine it tastes just a smidge better than beer brewed with treated sewage.