It was named by the infamous explorer Captain John Smith after the Massachusett tribe of Native Americans, then subsequently renamed by King Charles I of England after himself. As Boston grew, the mighty Charles River proved a vital force behind its expansion, and its long and winding history a reflection of the city’s own.
A British advance down the Charles ignited Paul Revere’s famous ride in 1775. In 1908, Houdini had himself chained and plunged into the frigid icon before a dazzled audience of 10,000. In 1955, its reputation for harboring pollutants began to take hold when an edition of Harper’s Magazine called it “foul and noisome, polluted by offal and industrious wastes, scummy with oil, unlikely to be mistaken for water.”
The city struggled with contamination of its emblematic waterway for decades, its commitment to the battle underscored in 1996 when Governor William Weld jumped into the river fully clothed. While Boston must still fight to keep the Charles clean, 2007 marked the first year the river could host an authorized swimming race in over five decades.
Today, two local organizations are writing a new chapter in the Charles’ history. Boston’s Harpoon Brewery has teamed with Desalitech, based in Newton, MA, to utilize Charles River water and create a limited edition brew.
“This is the first time that we know of that ‘dirty water’ from the Charles River has been used as ingredient water for beer,” said Desalitech executive vice president Rick Stover.
Desalitech has treated 300 gallons of river water for Harpoon, recovering the vast majority for potable use. The company engaged its ReFlex 100 reverse osmosis (RO) solution, which utilizes a closed circuit desalination system.
“Desalitech treated 300 gallons of river water at a recovery rate of 93.95 percent, producing 282 gallons of high-purity permeate with no pretreatment and without fouling or scaling the membranes,” explained Stover. “The average energy use was about .9 kWh per 1,000 gallons, which is about 35 percent less than what would be required by a traditional RO system operating at the same flux and recovery.”
The forthcoming Charles River Pale Ale aims to be “a light-bodied, copper-colored ale with a slightly spicy, fruity hop aroma” weighing in at 5.2 percent alcohol by volume, per a press release submitted to Water Online.
This project is not the first to harness cutting-edge reuse technology for a crowd-pleasing, hoppy application, but it serves as possibly the highest-profile instance of beverage industry potable reuse in a movement that is gaining momentum.
“Over 20,000 desalination plants are currently operating around the world, producing nearly 26 billion gallons of purified water per day,” said Stover. “At the same time, water reclamation is rapidly gaining public acceptance and new, larger facilities are opening every year. By treating the notorious water from the Charles River to the level of quality required by Harpoon, we are demonstrating that nearly any unconventional source of water supply can be made potable and we are having fun in the process.”
Image credit: "Boston skyline by night," Philip Kearney © 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0