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Brewery hopes to tap creative minds to deal with drought

Brewery hopes to tap creative minds to deal with drought
Jake Kirsch, vice president of Shock Top Brewing Co., shows a rubber Drop-A-Brick, the first of the inventions that the brewery will fund every month. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

It's a new approach to an old-school solution for a state gripped by severe drought: Place a brick in a toilet tank to conserve water with every flush.

The new version, dubbed Drop-A-Brick 2.0, will be unveiled Thursday as part of an unusual effort to stimulate water-saving inventions through crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. The odd mix of participants includes beer companies (big water users) and water conservation programs (big water scolds).

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"We are looking for low-cost to no-cost drought solutions and innovations to help deal with the drought problem," said Jake Kirsch, vice president of Shock Top Brewing Co., which is helming the program, called Shock the Drought, along with parent Anheuser-Busch and crowdfunding giant Indiegogo.

Also involved are California's and L.A.'s official water conservation programs, called Save Our Water and Save the Drop, respectively.

Drop-A-Brick, which is made of rubber, is the first of the inventions that Shock Top will fund every month this year through Indiegogo. Shock the Drought will "identify, fund and distribute water-saving innovations that have the potential to make a real impact on reducing water usage in the state," according to Thursday's announcement.

Although Shock Top is based in St. Louis, "as a brand, we have deep roots in the state and saw a big opportunity to use this as a platform to get people engaged in this issue," Kirsch said, adding that 1 in 4 beers Shock Top brews is sold in California. The company has breweries in Los Angeles and Fairfield, Calif.

Shock Top and Anheuser-Busch are also motivated by younger consumers who want to know that the brands they use are doing their part to help solve environmental problems. And beer, as a water-intensive manufacturing process, needs to be seen as playing its part.

Save Our Water spokeswoman Jennifer Persike said the campaign is important because it can offer solutions to Californians who want to assist with the state's dire water problems.

"Public awareness about the drought and the seriousness of it is high," Persike said, "but sometimes the disconnect is 'What can I do to help?' This will help show people another step they can take to reduce water use."

Christian Busch, head of marketing for Indiegogo, said the site will "throw all of our marketing to get this in front of all of our people. The crowd will vote with their dollars, but we will also be working with Shock Top to select the best ideas."

The rubber brick idea came about a year ago, said Ian Montgomery, co-founder of Project Drop-A-Brick 2.0, when he remembered a family gathering he participated in as a child in his native Australia, a country with a long history of droughts.

"We would pick which brick would go into which toilet," Montgomery said, "but the problem with using real bricks is that they eventually break down and damage the toilets."

Montgomery said the first challenge was coming up with an eco-friendly brick, made of rubber "that could be filled with water and sink to the bottom of the tank." The brick also bends and "can fit in parts of the tank where it doesn't interfere with its function."

Right now, the bricks are hand-made in San Francisco, Montgomery said. The $100,000 in funding from Shock Top will be used to reduce manufacturing costs, he said. At this point, there has been no decision on how much the bricks will cost the public, although thousands will be distributed free initially by nonprofits.

Each Drop-A-Brick saves about 50 gallons a week; placing them in 30,000 toilets will save enough water for nearly half a million people to drink water for an entire year, Shock Top said.

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