BOSTON — Immortalized by the Standells in their 1966 song “Dirty Water,” Boston’s winding Charles River was once a no-go zone for swimmers, and a national symbol of industrial water pollution.
On the heels of a generation of successful clean-up projects, these once feared waters were just converted into something not only swimmable, but very drinkable — Harpoon Brewery’s limited edition Charles River Pale Ale beer, made with cutting-edge Israeli water technology.
Founded in 1986, Harpoon is Massachusetts’ largest craft brewery, and the 19th-largest overall US brewery. Though most Harpoon product runs are brewed in batches of 120 barrels, the company frequently experiments with smaller, ten-barrel runs, including its new Charles River batch.
“This was a really fun venture for us,” said Nadav Efraty, co-founder and CEO of Desalitech, a water treatment company started in Israel and now headquartered in Newton, outside Boston.
“We have treated much more complicated water than the Charles River,” Efraty told The Times of Israel, “but this is about creating awareness for water sustainability issues,” he said.
First put on tap during a ceremony at Harpoon’s waterfront beer hall on Tuesday, the special run of light-bodied, copper-colored ale started as 300 gallons drawn from the Charles last month, according to Harpoon president Charlie Storey.
“This is the first time we have been innovative with our water source,” Storey told The Times of Israel. “Desalitech approached us with really special technology, and innovation took place in an unexpected area,” he said.
Desalitech’s patented reverse osmosis units help clients recover as much usable water as possible, while using the least amount of energy, according to Efraty.
“We use our technology to eliminate most of the waste in this process, and reduce the energy consumption by one-third,” said Efraty, whose clients include Coca-Cola and other Fortune 500 companies.
“Water prices in Boston and most cities are pretty high, and by being more efficient you can save a lot of money,” added the CEO, who took Desalitech’s helm in 2008.
In purifying a bit of the Charles for Harpoon’s latest ale, Desalitech exceeded the brewery’s stringent water quality requirements, a first step toward the finished product’s “slightly spicy, fruit hop aroma, with a sweet, smooth, hoppy finish.”
According to Storey, the idea of using the Charles to brew beer came from Efraty, who approached the CEO of Harpoon at an Associated Industries of Massachusetts conference. Harpoon leaders recognized the irony of using the once murky river to brew beer, seeing it as “a great way of turning that past on its ear,” said Storey.
For Desalitech’s Efraty, partnering with the beloved New England brewery is part of a long-term strategy to help countries use water resources more efficiently. In the US, Efraty points out, the majority of installations treating water do so at a very low efficiency, wasting large quantities of water and creating excessive waste.
Since founding Desalitech, Efraty has sought to elevate these issues to the status of efforts around energy conservation, such as solar technology. Educating people about the state of dwindling water resources requires perseverance, he said, not to mention gimmicks like the Harpoon partnership.
‘We can’t artificially create water like we can energy’
“We can’t artificially create water like we can energy,” said Efraty. “Water is a huge part of manufacturing almost all products, and of cooling and warming. Even something like microelectronic chips are manufactured in a water environment. Our current practices are not sustainable,” he said.
One of the reasons Efraty moved Desalitech from Israel to Massachusetts, he said, is because of the state’s “very vivid water community.” Mostly clustered around Boston, water technology firms collaborate more freely with each other than in other scientific fields, according to Efraty.
“We are all facing the same challenge of people not getting it about sustainable water resources,” said Efraty. “So we are not really competing,” he said.
Efraty also pointed to trade missions between Massachusetts and Israeli business leaders as a catalyst for Desalitech’s move to the Bay State, where hundreds of Israeli-founded companies generate billions of dollars for the economy each year. By purifying 300 gallons of the Charles River for Harpoon to brew beer, the company hopes to engage more people in the conversation about an essential but threatened resource.
“We are making real partners here to create awareness about water sustainability, and Boston is becoming a powerhouse for water innovation,” said Efraty.