Renew Brew: Behind Charlotte Water’s Unique Beer Partnership

Published on April 19, 2024

Cheering with Renew Brew cans

By Kayla Chadwick-Schultz

What does it mean to truly innovate? For Charlotte Water, it means more than just discovering new ways to do things better; it means actually doing them. So, when an opportunity presented itself to become the first water department in the Carolinas to turn recycled water into craft beer, Charlotte Water didn't hesitate. They partnered with Town Brewing Company and Xylem, a global water technology provider, to create Renew Brew—a limited edition pale ale.

I recently sat down with a representative from each of the organizations involved in this first-of-its-kind project to learn more about what it is, why it exists, and what it means for the City of Charlotte.

Creating a Sustainable Craft Beer 

Nicole Pennington (Xylem), Jennifer Frost (Charlotte Water), and Brandon Stirewalt (Town Brewing Company) posing with cans of Renew Brew.

Nicole Pennington (Xylem), Jennifer Frost (Charlotte Water), and Brandon Stirewalt (Town Brewing Company) posing with cans of Renew Brew. 

Jeremy Selan of Charlotte Beer Collective was the first to start passing around the idea of a craft beer brewed with recycled water. It had been done before, elsewhere in the United States, but the innovative brewing method had yet to make an appearance in Charlotte. 

“They were looking for sustainable projects within beer,” recalled Brandon Stirewalt, Director of Operations at Town. “They had approached one of the deputy directors at Charlotte Water, and the idea was kind of just tossed around and then really took warp speed once Jennifer got a hold of it.” 

The Jennifer he referred to is Jennifer Frost, Public Affairs Manager at Charlotte Water.

“For me personally, what makes this project so exciting is really the fact that it’s about beer,” said Frost. “At Charlotte Water we talk about, ‘No water, no beer. No water, no coffee.’ You know? Water is definitely the foundation for a lot of what everyone does every single day, and a lot of people take it for granted. But when we can do a project that is also something that’s popular and people want to talk about it, it’s really easy to have those conversations about the value of water.”

If there’s one thing the beer community knows better than most, it’s the value of water. Stirewalt explained that it takes anywhere between four and eight gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer. Water is a staple ingredient in every beer, but a significant amount of it gets left behind over the course of the brewing process. Of course, when it comes to sustainability, nobody wants to watch water disappear. So, what is the solution? How do we continue brewing beer without wasting water? This is where recycled water comes into play.

Frost explained what recycled water actually means when I asked her about misconceptions about Renew Brew’s water source, saying, “All water is recycled, right? The normal process is that water comes to us from the Catawba River. The municipalities using it to the north, they treated it and put it back in the river. We take it out, treat it, send it to our customers. They use it, we treat it, and we put it back in the river. The communities to our south, they do the same thing. So, [the water] is being used. What the beauty of this project is, is that it takes the lifecycle of that water drop and reuses it again, while it’s still here in Charlotte.”

Instead of returning the treated water to the Catawba River, Charlotte Water sends it to Xylem, who runs it through their state-of-the-art water treatment equipment for yet another round of purification.

“I want to emphasize the standards that [Charlotte Water] has for that effluent out of the McDowell treatment plant,” added Xylem’s Strategic Accounts Manager Nicole Pennington. “By the time that water—that effluent—is discharged, it’s a high-quality effluent. Then we took that and were able to, essentially, double treat that water. It went through carbon filtration, reverse osmosis, ozone, UV, and then another round of carbon filtration. By the time it was finished, it met and exceeded all those requirements. It was a really high-quality water product.”

“It’s the closest thing to H2O a person’s going to get,” Frost remarked.

In fact, Stirewalt called the water provided to his brewery a “blank canvas,” which allowed them to “nail exactly what we wanted out of the water profile when we added brewing salts back.”

Town’s head brewer, Federico De La Torre, demonstrates the brewing process.

Town’s head brewer, Federico De La Torre, demonstrates the brewing process. 

That water profile helped Renew Brew become an award-winning beer right out of the gate, when it won Best in Show during a blind taste test at the Queen City Brewers Festival this February. The entire team was shocked. They had only entered Renew Brew on a whim, so winning was “the gravy on top,” according to Stirewalt.

Now, that’s not to say that Town didn’t set out to making an amazing product. The talented brewers at Town know how to make good beer, so that was never really a question. However, that wasn’t their main goal in making Renew Brew. 

“As craft brewers, sustainability is a big focus of ours on so many fronts, whether that’s supporting the farmers that we actually source most of our grain from here in the state of North Carolina, initiatives that we have for clean water, working with local artists and vendors. All those things,” explained Stirewalt. “Sustainability has always been a focus of ours. So, an initiative like this, where we were able to be on the cutting edge in the Carolinas, where this could have such a large impact in the very near future, I think that really excited us—to help be a leader in sustainability in an industry that is already so focused on it.” 

Beyond being leaders in the industry, the brewers at Town are also positioning themselves as leaders in the local craft brewing community, which has become a significant part of Charlotte’s cultural identity over the past decade. Surely, we’ve all heard the jokes about how many breweries we have, and well, that’s fair. We have a lot. However, with a lot of breweries comes a lot of new opportunities to pursue sustainable, innovative practices.

“We’re not the only brewing company that participates in sustainability efforts,” Stirewalt shared. “As a matter of fact, most do, and we’ve become community centers. So, I think Charlotteans should look at their breweries and see what is going on and the efforts that we’re making. We’re not just bars. We definitely want to be active participants in our community in any way possible.”

After all, that’s what this whole project is all about. From the outside, it may seem like just another beer in a city full of countless varieties, but in reality, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all we can do with recycled water. Whether it’s beer or coffee or any other consumable product, Renew Brew is setting a new standard for what can be done and what it means to prioritize sustainability at the community level. 

What Renew Brew Says About the City of Charlotte

Closeup of Renew Brew cans, featuring Charlotte’s skyline.

Closeup of Renew Brew cans, featuring Charlotte’s skyline. 

The City of Charlotte recognizes that protecting our natural resources, promoting conservation, and improving the environment is fundamentally important to quality of life and essential to maintaining a vibrant economy. Renew Brew does all of these things. It helps conserve water, offering a viable solution for a water-intensive industry. It partners a local small business with a global corporation. It adds value to a thriving community culture of craft artisans. Renew Brew is an example of what we can achieve when we work together toward one common goal: a sustainable future.

“The whole project is about sparking conversation,” Frost stated. “City Council’s goals for sustainability, Charlotte Water’s goals for sustainability—a project like this just aligns with those so well. It really speaks to the spirit of the community, the spirit of our elected officials, and even the leadership within Charlotte Water that we want to try to make these opportunities available. The community can learn, we can grow, and we can start to innovate in this area.”

It's no surprise that this project aligns so well with the Office of Sustainability and Resilience’s goals for the City of Charlotte. Charlotte Water is part of the city government, after all. However, I was curious about what it means to people outside of the government umbrella that the city is involved with a project like this. So, I asked Pennington and Stirewalt—not just as partners in Renew Brew but also as residents themselves.

“It’s incredible,” said a beaming Pennington. “Of course, we have worked with Charlotte Water quite a bit throughout the years with our various water and wastewater technologies, but this was just a fun, far-reaching project.”

“Personally, growing up, born and raised in the Charlotte metro area, it’s really cool for me to be working hand in hand on a project like this,” added Stirewalt. “I think the validation from the city to showcase that this is something they believe in as well was huge for us. To know that we’re not just doing this because we think it’s great but because this is something the city wanted to be a part of.”

Stirewalt heading into the brewing facility to meet with De La Torre.

Stirewalt heading into the brewing facility to meet with De La Torre. 

It’s clear that Stirewalt is proud to be a Charlottean, and he is even prouder of what his city has done to affect change in the sustainability space over the past few years. “Charlotte is taking the initiative to really be ahead of the curve. Not every city in America has that opportunity from their local government.” While this is true, he hopes that Renew Brew can be a blueprint for how other municipalities across the country can approach practical sustainability projects. “I think most of the best initiatives in our nation start with local government, right? I mean, that’s where we really start to get things done, and then that grows into something that we can hopefully implement nationally.”

Pennington’s company, Xylem, is hoping to help local organizations do just that with their traveling water treatment equipment. However, she gave a special shoutout to our local team. “It wouldn’t be possible without Charlotte Water. We need the water from them. We need their participation, and they’ve been an incredible steward of all of this. We will jump at any opportunity that we get to work with Charlotte Water, especially on innovative and creative projects like this.”

Now, Renew Brew alone does not make the City of Charlotte a beacon of sustainable innovation, but it is an active way for the public to participate in sustainability efforts once the beer becomes widely available. As Frost puts it, “There are a lot of sustainability projects at the city that people don’t hear about. This is a project where the public actually gets to be actively involved. They get to be involved in the conversation. They get to support it. They get to come to Town and have a great beer. They’re actively in the sustainability project with us.”

Ultimately, Renew Brew reinforces the city’s commitment to environmental sustainability, improved quality of life, and a thriving economy—all in a 16-ounce can (designed by Yellow Duck Marketing).

Just a Taste (For Now)

The bar at Town Brewing Company.

The bar at Town Brewing Company.

Okay, now that you know all about what Renew Brew is and what makes it so special, you might be ready to rush over to Town for a pint. Pump the brakes!

The first batch of Renew Brew was extremely limited. Remember, this had never been done in the Carolinas before. They weren’t 100% sure how it would all turn out. So, as of April 2024, it’s not available for purchase. According to Stirewalt’s interview with Queen City Nerve, the brewery is eyeing a wider release of the beer this fall. Until then, you’ll have to settle for a sample at an upcoming tasting event on Apr. 20.

This event is a perfect way to celebrate Earth Day out on the Town (pun intended). So, be sure to stop by and let them know that the City of Charlotte sent you. After that, you’ll have to wait for Renew Brew like the rest of us, but something tells me this wait is going to be worth it.

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