Breweries Transform Walls into Vertical Gardens
We like to think of small brewers as green, sustainable businesses. Some brewers are making their walls literally green with new slants on an old technology, vertical hydroponic gardens on walls right in the brewery.
Jared Long, the head brewer at Altitude Chophouse & Brewery in Laramie, Wyoming, got approached by Bright Agrotech, a local company that had developed a different way of going at the green wall, vertical units with a lightweight growing matrix inside and a trickle-down watering system. “They wanted to develop their business, and we have this huge south-facing wall,” he says. “They asked if they could showcase the system on the wall. Sure! They talked to the kitchen about growing herbs, and I did a basil beer.”
“It’s ancient, like plants growing out of rocks,” says Chris Michael, co-owner and marketing director at Bright. “But it’s always been ornamental stuff, or with different technology.” The idea with Bright’s Zip Towers is to make it possible to grow high-dollar-value crops like greens and herbs year-round in Wyoming’s climate while maximizing a greenhouse’s space with the vertical grow towers.
Altitude’s installation is right out in the restaurant, but it’s not year-round: the wall’s too cold in the winter. Long notes that the towers are easy to “slap up,” though, and once the water pump’s on, things will start up again in spring.
“There’s nothing stopping the public from walking by and picking herbs,” he says, noting that he takes some of the basil home for pesto himself. “But there’s no vandalism. People thought it was so cool, they left it alone. It’s a functional component and an aesthetic one as well.”
For now, Altitude’s installation is providing herbs and greens for the kitchen, but not the brewery, other than that one batch of basil beer. “Bright experimented with growing hops at their facility,” Long says, “but that’s an experiment.”
Says Michael: “We’d done hops before, but because they’re really tall vines, with very deep root systems, maybe not the best fit for our technology.”
Back East, Caitlin Jewell, marketing director at Somerville Brewing in Massachusetts (makers of the Slumbrew beers), is planning a green wall, as well. “The wall is being added to grow greens and nasturtiums for our salads,” she says. “It faces a number of windows, so we wanted to maximize all of the beautiful light in the brewery. Since we are an urban brewery, a lot of our architecture and planning focuses on building vertically within the high ceiling space.”
The green wall idea is best for a brewpub, one with a commitment to fresh, local ingredients. “It’s worked very well for us,” Long says, “and dovetails with the idea of sustainability and local products. All very good for the small local brewer.”