Taste Seattle Beer & Reinvent the Toilet: A Perfect Match

On Sunday, August 12, I was honored to host an uncommon beer tasting event. It was uncommon in that the guests at this event were from various countries around the globe—not your typical collection of local beer geeks. What’s more, they were visiting Seattle as part of an incredibly important project sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge. Let’s face it, beer and toilets are inevitably related, so the whole thing makes perfect sense.

At first pass, the project sounds comical. Potty talk is always funny. The Reinvent the Toilet Challenge even gave Bill Gates (@billgates) an opportunity to use the word poop in a tweet the other day. Gates told the world via twitter, “4 out of 10 people don’t have a safe way to poop – that’s 2.6 billion!”

It is hard not to giggle but this is a serious issue. The Foundation should be applauded for its initiative in tackling this crappy situation. In developing nations, people suffering from diseases brought on by inadequate, unsafe sanitation occupy half of all hospital beds. Poop is killing people.

The toilet as we know it requires two things that many places in the world do not have: toilets need substantial amounts of water to flush and a massive sewage infrastructure to carry away and safely treat the poop. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation challenged scientists and inventors around the world to come up with a solution: to invent a new kind of toilet that can be easily deployed in places where water is scarce and sewage infrastructure does not exist. The participants converged on Seattle this week for the Reinvent the Toilet Fair.

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There is no shortage of coverage on the internet, just search for reinvent the toilet. You easily can, and should, learn more about the amazing things these inventors are doing. But I want to talk about beer.

A couple months ago, a person from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contacted me. His title: Program Officer for the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group. He explained a bit about the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge, the upcoming Reinvent the Toilet Fair, and asked if I would be interested in organizing and hosting a beer tasting event for the guests. I jumped at the opportunity. He wanted me to speak to the crowd about craft beer and generally put together a fun and interesting sampling of beers. I opted to focus on the Seattle beer scene in particular.

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I figured that these people, 100 of them in all, were coming from around the world and needed an introduction to Seattle through its beer. Everyone knows about the Space Needle, Mount Rainier, and men in orange rubber overalls throwing fish around the market, but too many people fail to recognize that Seattle is one of the world’s great beer cities. Heck, sometimes people who live here fail to recognize it.

My plan was to present eight different beers, from eight different Seattle breweries, in four style categories. Guests would work their way around the room trying two different beers from each style, recognizing the similarities and differences between two beers of the same style. For instance, they could compare Manny’s Pale Ale (Seattle’s most popular pale) to Hale’s American Pale Ale (Seattle’s oldest pale, brewed since 1983). Other styles represented included IPA, Porter, and Wheat Ale. Breweries involved included Pike Brewing, Fremont Brewing, Hale’s Ale Brewery, Georgetown Brewing, Elysian Brewing, Big Time Brewery, Two Beers Brewing and Schooner Exact Brewing.

Knowing that the guests were probably very smart and inquisitive people, I invited some brewery representatives to join me and engage people in conversations about the brewing process and the beer business. That was an especially good call. There were many questions. Actually, probably as many questions from us about the toilets as there were questions from them about the beer. It was fascinating and fun. Everyone learned a lot.

For example, I especially enjoyed my conversation with a very bright and enthusiastic young man named Marcos. We talked about the beer scene in his homeland of Ecuador, which “the big beer companies”  dominate. We talked about a friend of his who is trying to open a craft brewery. Apparently it is very hard to get things like malted barley and hops in Ecuador. His friend is experimenting with non-traditional ingredients as a result. A great conversation!

These people from around the world walked away having learned something about Seattle that they did not expect. I imagine a man sitting in a pub in Scotland telling his friends about Big Time’s Coal Creek Porter. I envision a young woman explaining to her friends in Beijing that she drank a Raspberry Wheat Ale (Schooner Exact’s Seamstress Union). I imagine Marcos telling his friend about a guy in Seattle who wants to follow the progress of his brewery. That makes me happy.

In the end, I owe many thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for letting me share my love of beer with this worldly collection of people. It was an honor. I also owe many thanks to Charles and Rose Ann Finkel (Pike Brewing), Manny Chao and Ingrid Bartels (Georgetown Brewing), Dan Armerding (Two Beers Brewing), and Casey Gish (Fremont Brewing).  I hope they enjoyed it as much as Kim and I did.

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