How Flint’s Only Brewery Is Dealing With the Water Crisis

Tenacity Brewing doesn't have lead in its water, but there's still a stigma in drinking a beverage from Flint.
Tenacity Brewing doesn't have lead in its water, but there's still a stigma in drinking a beverage from Flint.

The impact on residents has been clear: the number of children with elevated blood lead levels has doubled, and it took a federal state of emergency to provide enough bottled water and water filters to Flint's 99,000 residents. But small businesses that rely on the public's trust in clean water are also suffering, especially at Flint's only brewery, Tenacity Brewing.

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Tenacity wants to be clear about one thing: No lead has made its way into its beer. "As soon as water enters our building, it goes through the filtration systems," says co-owner Janet Van De Winkle. "That includes twin water softeners and a carbon filtration system." Before the water even enters the brewing process, Tenacity brewers also pour a glass for themselves for taste. "A lot of breweries use a filtration system because most tap water has a taste," Van De Winkle says. While you might not notice the nitrates, fluorides, chlorides, sodium, or iron compounds in tap water, they can be concentrated and amplified during brewing and throw off the flavor of the beer.

Tenacity has regularly checked the chemical levels of its water since opening, but it started paying closer attention when the city's water source was switched to the Flint River to ensure its beers tasted the same. Fortunately, its beers like the River Bank Brown and Milk Stout were unchanged in the switch, but that's a small consolation now. To address fears over lead, Tenacity posted its latest lead test on its Facebook page (none was detected). The move has helped ease the minds of local customers, but the brewery still sees some hesitation from people outside the city limits.

The brewery isn't just looking out for itself though. Tenacity set a designated tap in its tasting room where every beer sold leads to a $1 donation to the Flint Child Health and Development Fund. Tenacity is rotating its beers through the donation tap, and the first keg was its Atwood Amber, a copper ale named after the high school stadium a couple blocks away from the brewery. No matter what, Tenacity Brewing will live up to its name and continue moving forward, co-owner Jason Caya says.

"There's no doubt that we're going to continue brewing here," Caya says. "It's never crossed our minds to move anywhere else. We're community-based, we're the first brewery in Flint since anyone can remember, and we all call this our home."

Caya suggests anyone who would like to help the residents of Flint donate to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.

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