Drink a Beer and Save the Earth
How green is your beer?
We’re not talking about that St. Patrick’s Day brew you swilled back in March at some faux Irish pub. We’re wondering how environmentally friendly is your beer?
The environment is usually not the first thing we think of when we head to our local pub. But maybe it should be since a typical beer is around 95 percent water. Add to it the fact that it takes quite a bit of energy to brew beer and resources are consumed every step of the way—from harvesting hops and grains to packaging, shipping and chilling beer so it is ready for you to quench your thirst. When you stop and think about it, maybe Your Next Beer should be green.
But just what is a green beer? Like many other consumer products, that depends on a number of factors, including what is important to you. Brewers are increasingly looking at ways to cut energy use, brew using alternative fuels, reduce water consumption, increase recycling rates, reduce packaging and use organic ingredients.
One example of the trend is what is happening at Captured by Porches, a small craft brewery in St. Helens, OR, run by Dylan and Suzanne Goldsmith. The brewery got its name because homebrewer Dylan was banished to brew on the front porch after destroying two kitchen stoves while making beer. The company practices a variety of green brewing measures, including the use of returnable bottles, reusing water for cleaning, turning over spent grain to local farmers for use as livestock feed and sourcing local ingredients. While Captured by Porches Invasive Species IPA does use 100 percent organic materials, it’s more important to the Goldsmiths to buy local ingredients from farmers that practice sustainable agriculture.
We’re a society of waste,” says Suzanne Goldsmith. “It takes extra work to clean and set aside our bottles, but people who think the idea of environmentally responsible brewing is awesome buy our beer.”
Goldsmith notes that returnable bottles save energy and reduce the cost the brewery must charge consumers. “It’s amazing how many bottles do come back,” Goldsmith says. “People don’t realize it, but recycling one bottle takes enough energy to power a standard light bulb for a week. Returnables are more efficient.”
New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, CO, has taken an aggressive stance to reduce the brewery’s carbon footprint since 1999. The brewery uses a cogeneration process in treating wastewater to satisfy part of its energy needs and was the first brewer in the nation to tap into wind energy as a renewable power source, replacing coal-generated electricity. The changes cost the brewery $5 million, but positioned the company at the forefront of the green beer movement.
The move by brewers to alternative energy sources literally stretches from coast to coast. In New York, Brooklyn Brewery gets 100 percent of its electricity needs from wind power, while California’s Sierra Brewery is employing solar energy and fuel cells to cut its need for power from the grid.
Last year, Goose Island Brewing received funding from the city of Chicago and commissioned the Chicago Manufacturing Center to perform an analysis of the carbon footprint of one of its kegs of beer. The study found 44 percent of the carbon footprint comes from the malting of barley, while another 42 percent is the result of the energy used during the brewing process. Twelve percent comes from delivery and refrigeration; the final 2 percent of the carbon footprint comes from wastes and hop growing.
At the start of 2010, Goose Island announced it was working to improve the efficiency of its brewhouse and malting process. The company also launched Green Line Pale Ale, a beer designed to have limited impact on the environment. The beer is sold only on draught to cut down on packaging and only in the Chicago area to reduce transportation. Even the tap handles for the brand are made from wood reclaimed from trees killed by the emerald ash borer in Wilmette, IL.
Larry Chase, brewer at Standing Stone Brewing in Ashland, OR, says he was attracted to the brewery in part because of its reputation for having a focus on sustainable brewing practices. “Customer reaction to our approach has been fabulous,” says Chase. “I came from the Midwest and Oregon is certainly a bit further along in wanting a green, sustainable approach to business, including a reduced carbon footprint.”
Some environmental movements are spurred on by the need to control costs. In the Great Lakes region new rules are causing some water utilities to boost fees by 25 percent, which will have a dramatic impact on both craft brewers and cheesemakers. In March, the first Great Lakes Water Conservation Workshop was held in Rochester, NY, and a second conference is set for October in Wisconsin. The program focuses on water conservation, water auditing, wastewater treatment and recycling in brewhouses.
At Standing Stone Brewing environmentally friendly beer production includes using 95 percent organic ingredients and trading spent grain with a local farmer for eggs and vegetables that are used in the brewpub’s kitchen. Pre-consumer food waste as well as yeast trub are composted. The company even started a commuter bicycle program for employees and tapped into a state grant to purchase bikes for staff that promised to use them to ride to and from work on a regular basis. Chase estimates that the company has 15 to 20 bikes in its fleet and has installed a bike rack at the brewery.
Organic beer is an increasingly visible part of the green beer movement. Wolaver’s in Vermont, Pisgah Brewing in North Carolina, Bison Brewing and Butte Creek Brewing in California, Peak Organic in Maine and Fish Tale Ales in Washington are among the better-known certified domestic organic brewers. Big brewers have also been jumping into the organic category; Anheuser-Busch InBev markets Stone Mill Organic Pale Ale. On the import side, Samuel Smith from England, Brasserie Dupont from Belgium and Pinkus-Muller from Germany are in good distribution in the U.S. There is even a beer festival devoted to the segment. The sixth annual North American Organic Brewers Festival was slated for the end of June in Portland, OR.
We want the Fish Tale Ale brand to be synonymous with organic beer,” says Tony Powell of Fish Brewing in Olympia, WA, noting the brewery has to comply with strict rules about everything from ingredient sourcing to how it cleans its equipment to make certified organic ales.
It takes a bit of education to tell consumers what is organic,” Powell says. “Some people are happy we are doing this. Others think they can ‘taste’ the organic in their beer.”
You will likely not be able to taste it, but Your Next Beer might just be green.
Rick Lyke is a beer writer based in Charlotte, N.C. He writes the Lyke2Drink blog.