There are a lot of things that go into brewing a good pint — the grain, the yeast, the hops — that we often find ourselves studying when it comes to a quality beer. Less so is one of the most essential ingredients: water. Not only is beer about 90-95 percent water, but a lot of agua is used to make the drink, too. For Cody Morris of Mollusk Brewing, reducing water usage in production is a fundamental part of the philosophy.
When Morris opened the brewery in 2015 in Seattle, Mollusk was far from his first endeavor in the craft beer world. Before that, he worked at various businesses related to the industry eventually saving enough to open a one-barrel-system nano-brewery called Epic Ales in Seattle’s SODO neighborhood with a small loan from his grandma in 2009.
After playing around and dabbling in sour beers — then still a relative novelty — Morris upgraded to a three-barrel system opening up Gastropod in the same space. Issues with zoning and the city forced them to close but they then were offered to bring a brewpub into a new space in South Lake Union which evolved into Mollusk Brewing.
“It was a sort of play on words, gastropods are within the phylum of mollusks,” Morris says regarding the name of the brewery.
Last summer Mollusk expanded its kingdom of beer into Magnuson Park with a cafe and brewery, the latter is just now opening after some bumps in the road. The new 15-barrel system at Magnuson Cafe & Brewery will let them focus on some flagships while the South Lake Union brewery will be dedicated to experimental styles which Morris is excited about.
Besides its diverse selection of tasty beers, Mollusk stands out for another reason. Morris estimates that most breweries use two gallons of water for every gallon of beer they produce. Mollusk has it down to 1.1 gallons of water for every gallon of beer.
The brewery is able to reduce its water usage by using a hot liquor tank to heat the water, which allows them to recapture all the water from the heat exchange process. In addition, they have a holding tank which allows them to collect and repurpose the water used when they clean their tanks.
“At the end of the day water is still a finite resource and something that kind of is the basis of all life,” Morris says. “It’s probably pretty important to be mindful of its usage and be a responsible steward of that.”
It may be easy to overlook water in the beer-making process but Morris recalls when the city of Seattle had to tap into a reservoir because of a drought two years ago.
“The water was significantly harder and had higher alkalinity than the standard water we were using and pretty much every brewer in town said they witnessed a loss of efficiency,” Morris says.
The water Mollusk accesses from the city comes from a watershed, and Morris says it is essentially glacier runoff, making it soft and low in minerality similar to the water found in the Czech Republic that allowed the brewery to make its signature pilsner.
Besides the efforts to reduce water usage, Mollusk’s brewery on Dexter Avenue in South Lake Union is powered by electricity, making it a near-zero waste operation. The brewery also often gives its spent grain to local farmers and uses steam to heat and cool water which is the most energy efficient method.
Looking ahead, Morris hopes that they can make the move to cans which are a lot more recyclable and a lot lighter, and he hopes would encourage consumers to be able to transport product easier without a car.
“I think water scarcity will be a big issue to affect craft brewers and really just any beverage production in the next 25-50 years,” Morris says.
Doing this part to lessen the blow of water scarcity in the future, Morris and his team continue to brew unique beers with a heightened focus on the beverage’s key ingredient.
Photo courtesy Mollusk Brewing