Patent No. 409056A: Water Coil Boiler

Today in 1889, US Patent 409056 A was issued, an invention of Everett D. Moore, for his “Water Coil Boiler.” There’s no Abstract, although in the description it includes these claims:

The object of my invention is to provide an effective and convenient means for steaming, flushing, and thoroughly cleansing the pipes that are frequently employed for conducting stood that I do not confine myself to a burner beer, wines, and other liquids from a keg, of any particular form of construction. barrel, or other source from a keg, barrel, or other source to the tap or faucet of a beverage-drawing apparatus, which pipes are liable to become fouled and internally coated with sediment from the liquors or beverages passed through them, especially when standing therein over night. The impurities that are thus deposited in the pipes of a beverage-drawing apparatus are liable to taint a series of perforations 12 for the exit of gas. the liquor and are often injurious to health.

Heretofore the pipes of a beverage-drawing apparatus have been cleansed to some extent by forcing through them solutions of potash, lime, and other substances, which, however, are liable themselves to form injurious compounds in the pipes. My invention obviates these difficulties by providing a means for thoroughly cleansing the pipes with steam and hot water, as hereinafter described.


From Sewer To Brewer: Making Beer From Urine

If that headline surprised you, it really shouldn’t have. But like the beer made from John’s beard, or the chicha Dogfish Head made using human spit, it just sounds unappetizing. Until you remember that it’s all sterilized and boiled so the finished product is as sanitary as any other beer.

So when I saw the headline from Reuters, “Belgian scientists make novel water-from-urine machine,” and another, First We Feast, “Scientists Have Finally Discovered a Way to Turn Human Urine Into Beer,” my first thought was “sure, why not.” The story, it turns out, is about a team of researchers at Ghent University who have invented a “machine that turns urine into drinkable water and fertilizer using solar energy, a technique which could be applied in rural areas and developing countries.” The explanation of how it works, from Reuters:

While there are other options for treating waste water, the system applied at the University of Ghent uses a special membrane, is said to be energy-efficient and to be applicable in areas off the electricity grid.

“We’re able to recover fertilizer and drinking water from urine using just a simple process and solar energy,” said University of Ghent researcher Sebastiaan Derese.

The urine is collected in a big tank, heated in a solar-powered boiler before passing through the membrane where the water is recovered and nutrients such as potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus are separated.


First We Feast added:

The scientists recently put their invention to the test during a 10-day festival in Ghent. Using the hashtag #PeeForScience, the team encouraged festival-goers to stop by their stand and donate to the cause by relieving themselves. The researchers ended up collecting a whopping 1,000 liters of pee from everyone who participated.

The team believe its machine will have its biggest impact in rural areas, wherever water is scarce and throughout the third world. But apparently as in other projects the Ghent team was involved in, they’ll use some of the water collected to make beer. Program director Derese called this part of the plan “from sewer to brewer.”

There’s many old jokes about American beer being horse piss, so maybe now it really can be. If it reduces costs even a little, you know the megabrewers would be willing to give it a try.


The California Drought: Almonds, Water (And Beer)

You probably noticed that California is living under severe drought conditions, especially since governor Jerry Brown recently imposed restrictions on our water use. One of the frequent industries to bear the brunt of blame is, of course, agriculture, which uses a lot of water to feed the country. But more specifically, a lot of blame has come down on almonds with stories in the Chronicle, the Guardian and even Slate declaring 10 Percent of California’s Water Goes to Almond Farming, among many others. I haven’t paid too much attention to that, mostly for the selfish reason that I’m not much of a fan of almonds, and couldn’t care less if they stopped growing them.

Gizmodo has an interesting article suggesting that all that stuff about almonds was hooey entitled Seriously, Stop Demonizing Almonds. In a persuasive piece, it’s revealed that “Almonds might take 10 percent of the state’s water, but as the same report notes, they’re generating about 15 percent of the state’s total farming value and almost 25 percent of the agricultural exports from the state.” Of course, I’m no expert on these things, but I encourage you to read it and decide for yourself.

But I actually bring this up for wholly non-almond related reasons. Something in the article caught my attention, which is the chart below. It’s an infographic which originally was published in the L.A. Times, which the Gizmodo author, Alissa Walker, characterizes as a “very misguided infographic of “water-hungry foods.” The title indicates it shows the relative amount of water used to make the finished product, “Gallons of water per ounce of food.”


But look where beer is on the chart. Beverages are in blue. Soymilk looks like it uses the most, but apparently there was an error that’s now been corrected, and it’s actually pineapple juice that’s the biggest water hog, using 6.36 gallons per ounce of juice. Compared to all the drinks listed, beer looks to be the most efficient, and the interactive portions of the chart on the L.A. Times website indicates that beer uses 1.96 gallons to produce one ounce of beer. But even that seems high.

A bunch of years ago I wrote a feature article for All About Beer entitled It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green: The Greening of America’s Breweries, that examined the steps breweries were taking to lighten their burden on the planet, not just with water, but all sorts of things. One thing I learned was that brewing used roughly a 10-to-1 ratio of water, meaning they use 10 gallons for every gallon of beer. At that time, I also found. “Examining smart ways to conserve water, several breweries have reduced that ratio to four or five-to-one and Uinta Brewery from Utah has gotten it down to 3-to-1.” More recently, the Brewers Association’s Water and Wastewater: Treatment/Volume Reduction Manual claims that the average is now more like 7-to-1 gallons, with a few breweries actually below 3-to-1. Two years ago, Environmental Leader reported that MillerCoors managed to get their ratio of water use down to “3.82 barrels of water per barrel of beer.”

But even staying with a ratio of 10-to-1 for ease of math, this seems egregiously high. Converting the L.A. Times figure of 1.96 gallons to 1 ounce figure to ounces, it becomes 250.88 ounces of water per ounce of beer, or a 251-to-1 ratio, or 25 times reality, and undoubtedly more.

So where did this figure come from? All the Times reveals about its methodology is this. “Totals were converted to U.S. gallons per ounce (weight). Beverage values were additionally converted into fluid ounces using the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.” But that doesn’t really tell us where they got the numbers they’re basing this on. It doesn’t really tell us anything. But one thing seems clear, breweries are relatively efficient in their water use, much more so than is being reported during the California drought. And that brings us back to a statement U.S. Davis professor Charlie Bamforth recently made, which seems even more relevant in light of this. “When in drought, drink more beer.”

A Beer Bestiary

A Bestiary is an old-fashioned idea, from the Middles Ages, where various animals and other creatures, often fanciful, mythical and fictitious, were illustrated, and then there was a detailed description of each beast, usually accompanied by an allegorical story with a moral or religious teaching. You can see examples of many of these imaginary creatures at the Medieval Bestiary. A Los Angeles illustrator and graphic designer, Ian O’Phelan, has created a modern version, which he calls a “Beer Bestiary.” With just four mythical creatures in his bestiary, his fantastic four you’ll likely recognize, if not individually, at least for what they can become as a superhero team, your next beer.

Barley Beast
Virginal Hops
Water Bear
Cockatrice d’Yeast

Brewers For Clean Water

There was interesting article a couple of days ago on Newsweek, entitled Craft Beer Brewers Team Up to Improve Water Standard about a group of breweries partnering with the “Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a New York–based environmental group, to support stricter regulations on water pollution.” At least forty breweries are currently signed on as “Brewers for Clean Water,” including Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada Breweries.

According to Newsweek:

The NRDC and the brewers, including the California-based Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada brewing companies, are asking citizens to write to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finalize a proposed rule that would give federal government more latitude to enforce the Clean Water Act. The agency is currently considering public comments until November 14, before putting the finishing touches on the fine text of the rule, known as the “Waters of the United States.”

The NRDC also created a video about the issue of water.


The California Drought & Brewing

Climate Progress, the section of the website Think Progress devoted to the issue of climate change and related topics, had an interesting piece about the recent California drought and how it will effect the water needs of breweries. Entitled California’s Water Crisis Is Becoming A Beer Crisis, if you care about whether California’s breweries will make it through the coming drought, give it a read.


So You Want To Save Water?

Since today is World Water Day, our infographic for the day is So You Want To Save Water? Though it’s not strictly about brewing or beer, it seems relevant since water is the biggest ingredient used in brewing beer. Two interesting mentions of beer are in the poster. The first is that it takes 19.81 gallons to produce a glass of beer. I’m not sure about the exact number, but I do know many brewers are aware of their own water ratio and work hard to lower it. The second is that you can save 15,582 gallons of water per year if you switched from a daily glass of milk to a daily glass of beer. Now that’s conservation I can get behind.

Click here to see the infographic full size.