Green Beer From A Brewer’s Perspective (Part 2)

Below is part two of a three-part series from guest writer and my good friend, Melina Lamer. Enjoy!

If you read my last article, you should know the difference between craft (or micro) and macro breweries. More importantly, you learned what beer consumers could do on their end to ensure further overall production of organic and local brews. But what about the brewers – should not they be taking more steps towards sustainable production? Every brewer should be working as hard as, if not harder than, the consumer to ensure an all-around sustainable product. Some microbreweries are making huge efforts to go beyond simply the making of organic and non-organic brews. I am talking about behind the scenes greening of a brewery, because after all, if you can pop out an organic beer unsustainably, good for you bro’ (I mean it, you have taken the first step), but if you can meticulously craft a tasty organic brew through sustainable technology, innovation and reduced carbon footprint…amen brother, amen.

How can a brewery become more sustainable? I made a short list of microbreweries that are currently known for being ridiculously green, along with some samples of their eco-friendly practices. Companies (of all kinds) are becoming aware that sustainability is a catch for crunchy kids, so in order to get us hooked, they promote sustainable initiatives and use descriptive words like “natural” and “green,” but in actuality, they are not doing peanuts for the sustainability movement. There is yet to be an eco certification program for breweries, so it is hard to compare apples to apples, but chances are if the brewery has a “sustainability” link on their front page that guides you down Alice’s rabbit hole of wonder and astonishment, then you may have hooked a winner – unless of course, they hooked you. Dun-dun-dunnn. One thing I did notice, unfortunately, is that organic brews and sustainable production do not typically come hand in hand; the most sustainable craft breweries do not offer organic brews, and vise versa.

I guess I have kept you waiting long enough, so without further adieu: 

Five Ecologically Conscious Breweries

·      Alaskan Brewing Company 

Although Alaskan Brewing Company’s ingredients have to travel a long way by boat to reach Juneau, the brewery works hard to minimize its environmental impact. It was the first craft brewery in the United States to install and operate a carbon dioxide reclamation system. Carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of the brewing process, but without a reclamation system in place, such as this one, the gas – which is a highly marketable product – is unfortunately wasted. Alaskan Brewing also invested in a $1.8 million furnace that kills two birds with one stone (of course, it does not actually kill birds, because that would be called a wind turbine…haha kidding): it burns all of the company’s spent grain, while also generating steam that provides power to the entire facility. The company previously shipped their waste product to farms in the lower 48 states, where the barley and malt was fed to livestock. Side note: Many breweries brag about doing this on their sustainability page, but feeding cattle grain (spent or not) is not a sustainable method of recycling; it is only perpetuating big business agriculture’s disservice to animals, and ultimately humans.

·       Sierra Nevada Brewing Company 

Sierra Nevada has a pretty awesome level of sustainability “brewing” behind the scenes. With a 2-megawatt photovoltaic system and a 1-megawatt fuel cell on site, the brewery creates 60 percent of its own electricity. They also hold a slew of energy efficient strategies, greenhouse gas emissions reductions programs, an on-site wastewater treatment facility and a 97 percent diversion program and composting system that keeps waste out of the landfill. Although their initiatives are sound, companies have various reasons for attempting to go green. Sierra Nevada’s marketing strategy seems to be a little too obviously focused on company efficiency, versus the intrinsic value of lessoning their carbon footprint. Per their website: “Although we have proven to be a leader in environmental sustainability, we are always looking for the next step we can take to be more efficient.” Having read that, I can only presume that Sierra Nevada Brewing Company only bought into the sustainability movement to be more efficient. Maybe that is nitpicky, however, if an honest brewer wants to reach all drinking niches, they need to make an honest effort to do good not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of our planet. And that means more than company efficiency.

·      Bell’s Brewery Inc.

Bell’s was one of the few breweries I found that openly defines sustainability as meaning something more than “green” or “environmentally-friendly.” For example, “we view sustainability as the capacity for our business to thrive in future generations through the practices of environmental stewardship, economic robustness and social integrity.” So, I think what they are saying is that they choose to look at sustainability from a triple bottom line approach, or in other words, a people, planet, and profit approach. A triple bottom line is the most effective way of analyzing a company’s mission statement. As a brewery, their first and foremost mission is to make a profit, as all companies strive to do, but apart from that, they need to realize that their brewery is doing more than geeky mathematics and economics; it is doing human rights and social justice work, it is environmental studies and anthropology. A brewery plays its part in leaving a small impression on the earth and its inhabitants, so it best strive to work for the symbiosis of all three. Apart from this definition, Bell’s has diverted 87 percent of their waste from the landfill, implemented a high efficiency wort heat exchanger, a 16-ton closed-loop geothermal field, and high efficiency lighting. And best of all, they have their own farm nearby where they grow barley for their Midwestern Pale, Christmas and Harvest Ales!

·      Boulevard Brewing Company

In 2009, tired of their glass being tossed in local landfills, Boulevard Brewing Co. started a glass recycling facility in their hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. In 2010, they did away with all waste being shipped to the landfills and now, recycle most of its waste with local companies, from compost materials to plastics and scrap metal. Not wasting any time, they reduced their water usage by 12 percent and began on-site treatment of wastewater in 2011. My favorite sustainable example found at Boulevard Brewing Company is the roof above their heads: their gorgeous green roof reduces heating and cooling loads, reduces rainwater runoff, and absorbs carbon dioxide – hard to hate on a brewery with a green roof. Lastly, Boulevard Brewing Company offers the city’s fifth electric vehicle charging station! How sick is that?

·      New Belgium Brewing Company

New Belgium brewery has a 200-kilowatt photovoltaic system that provides three percent of its power and the other 97 percent of its energy comes entirely from wind farms. The brewery also diverts 94 percent of its waste from the landfill and has a number of impressive programs in place to reduce water usage and greenhouse gas emissions. One thing I found that goes beyond the typical sustainable brewery ideal is New Belgium’s Team Wonderbike. Headed by customers, this team wheels around asking people to pledge to bike more and drive less. This sustainable initiative is a little random, but hey, beer drinkers need to get places too…as long as they do not wobble over their narrow white dividing line.

So, what can we take away from this little endeavor down sustainable microbrewery lane? I think it is fair to say that big and small microbrewers alike are starting to understand that they can save a buck or two by turning their old brew dungeon into a new sustainable brew palace (with just a slightly significant chunk of change). This is a great trend, but when will the majority microbrewers understand the intrinsic quality of sustainable alternatives or that they can also make a profit producing organic beer? Just like how building a sustainable brewery creates a more efficient company, sustainable ingredients brew a better tasting beer. Am I right, folks?

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