Harpoon’s newest brew offers up a taste of the Charles River

Secret ingredient in Harpoon’s new beer? Charles River water
Harpoon Brewery’s senior brewer, Ken Hermann, stood on a metal platform Tuesday morning and peered into a tank with hot water swirling inside that would become part of the company’s latest creation.

Harpoon Brewery’s senior brewer, Ken Hermann, stood on a metal platform Tuesday morning and peered into a tank of swirling hot water destined to become part of the company’s latest creation.

After stepping down from the platform, he turned a spigot and poured some of the water into a large plastic cup and examined it, holding it up to the light shining through the windows. You would never know that the crystal-clear liquid came directly from the Charles River.

Beermakers at Harpoon don’t just want people in Boston to “love that dirty water.” They want them to actually drink it.

A new concoction brewing at the company’s Seaport District headquarters this week will feature 300 gallons of water extracted from the Charles River.


The project will ultimately produce 18 kegs of pale ale. It will be available for a limited time at Harpoon’s beer hall for sampling.

The beer is part of a first-time partnership between Desalitech, a Newton-based water desalination company, and the beermakers.

The water used for the Charles River Pale Ale, as it’s been dubbed, was treated by one of Desalitech’s high-efficiency water treatment systems. It underwent a high-recovery, reverse osmosis process until the water was purified to a degree that, according to the company, rivals traditional tap water, making it ideal for drinking and as an ingredient in food and beverages.

“The Charles River wasn’t that much of a challenge,” Desalitech chief executive Nadav Efraty said. “It was very easy for us to treat it to a level of water product standards.”

Officials from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority said Harpoon didn’t need permission to take the water from the river because it’s not a public water supply and they took less than 100,000 gallons.

Renata von Tscharner, president of the Charles River Conservancy, a nonprofit that works to change public opinion about the Charles, is excited about the product.


“I love the symbolism of using the river water. As the Charles River Conservancy is working on bringing swimming back, to overcome the ‘dirty water’ stigma is crucial,” she said.

The recipe for the new brewski also calls for two-row pale malt, some caramel malt, and a little bit of wheat. Harpoon is also using a hop called “challenger,” from England.

The beer is being made inside Harpoon’s 10-barrel pilot brewery system, which is commonly used when the company experiments with small batches of beer during the research and development process, and to create specialty beers.

Sean Cornelius, who designed the recipe for the pale ale, said he had worked on some strange recipes in his 22 years on the job — but they have all relied on regular drinking water from the city’s supply.

“This is a little strange. The beer style itself isn’t strange, but the fact that we are using water from the Charles River is the strange part, for sure,” he said.

But people Cornelius has told about the new invention have been anticipating the latest creation from the Boston-based beer company, he said.

“A pale ale is a nice beer that’s malty, without being too over-the-top and heavy. It’s not going to be a hop-bomb like some IPAs can be. It should be an easy drinking beer,” Cornelius said. “Hopefully, it will make a delicious beer.”

The idea for Charles River Pale Ale came together fast. Desalitech and Harpoon began talks four weeks ago after both were inspired by the upcoming HUBweek festival that will hit Boston in October.


The innovation-themed festival will focus on emerging technology, education, medicine, and the arts. HUBweek is a joint venture between MIT, Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, and The Boston Globe. Besides taste-testing at Harpoon’s hall, the pale ale will be given out at an event during HUBweek.

Charlie Storey, president of Harpoon, said the company was receptive to the recipe from the start because it tied together a host of things that are important to Harpoon: relying on local water resources, tapping into the community, and partnering with innovative companies.

“It didn’t take a long time to get to yes for this one,” Storey said. “But it’s unique to source the water the way it’s been sourced.”

Storey said people shouldn’t be hesitant to try Charles River Pale Ale. He said for all its products, the company has protocols and quality controls in place to ensure the beverages meet safety standards.

“We wouldn’t put something into a glass with Desalitech’s name on it — or our name [on] it — that would be anything short of a delicious or pure beer,” Storey said. “This will be a safe and delicious beer.”

Harpoon Brewery is making a new beer using water from the Charles River.
Harpoon Brewery is making a new beer using water from the Charles River.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.