- Brewing beer requires a significant amount of resources, including water, and creates waste.
- The Brewers Association offers sustainability tools to breweries to improve the process all around.
- Breweries using the tools have reduced carbon emissions and water consumption and saved money.
- This article is part of a series called “Partners for a Sustainable Future,” describing innovative alliances that are driving real progress in sustainability.
Protecting the environment is a high priority for many independent beer brewers. Yet, it’s no secret that brewing beer uses significant resources and creates waste.
It may take up to seven barrels of water to make a barrel of beer. Beer also requires a significant amount of heat during the brewing process and refrigeration soon after it is made, which contributes to wasted energy – not to mention that the process of making beer produces a lot of waste water and grain residues.
Over the past six years, however, brewers have taken advantage of the sustainability tools created by the Brewers Associationwhich represents approximately 5,400 small independent brewer members, or about half of the approximately 8,764 craft breweries in the United States.
Brewers who have used the tool for four or five years have consistently reduced their carbon emissions and water consumption and also saved money, Chuck Skypeck, brewing technical projects manager at the company, told Insider. BA. Breweries that submitted five consecutive years of data showed consistent improvement in natural resource efficiency of 1-2% per year, he said.
Horse & Dragon Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado, is one of the breweries working with the BA to become more sustainable by using a benchmarking tool developed by the BA to help breweries measure their energy consumption and consumption. water, their carbon emissions and disposal costs. waste water and used grains.
“We’re trying to reduce that in a modest way,” Carol Cochran, co-owner of Horse & Dragon and a member of BA’s sustainability subcommittee, told Insider. Simply measuring usage helps breweries use less energy and resources, she said.
Knowing your water usage per barrel of beer compared to a similar sized brewery gives owners a starting point for change. “If you’re way above it, you can dig in and find out why or check out other breweries your size and in your area,” she said.
A sustainability challenge for small breweries
For smaller breweries like Horse & Dragon, which will produce less than 3,000 barrels of beer this year, it can be difficult to achieve the level of sustainability that larger, more efficient breweries can achieve.
For example, not all breweries can install large solar panels to offset energy consumption, Skypeck said. Small breweries like Horse & Dragon instead typically focus on using LEDs or installing a more efficient compressor to reduce energy consumption.
“About 7,500 of the BA members are brewing tiny amounts of beer with little money,” Cochran said. “We don’t have the bandwidth to do the type of research funded by the BA.”
BA membership also gives brewers like Cochran access to lessons learned from larger brewers such as New Belgium Brewing, also in Fort Collins, which brews more than 800,000 barrels of beer each year. New Belgium is an industry leader in sustainability, claiming its Fat Tire beer is the only certified carbon neutral beer.
Large brewers can capture the emissions and reuse them to carbonate beer or during the canning or bottling process, but systems designed for small-scale capture do not yet exist, and available technology would require small brewers to use too much energy, Skypeck mentioned.
“We’ve learned that every brewery has individual challenges and if every brewer can start measuring what they’re doing, they can identify where to make incremental changes,” Skypeck said.
He admitted that some of the BA’s recommendations are simple, like putting brewery lights on a timer to avoid using power when no one is around or finding a local farm to use the gain used from the brewery for composting and livestock feed. But for brewers like Horse & Dragon, these small, incremental changes add up over time.
Embrace water conservation
With help from the BA, Horse & Dragon reduced its water usage by 36.46%, Cochran said.
“Water is our main focus right now, although it’s the cheapest, just because of the shortages we’re seeing and hearing about in the West,” Cochran said. “We are constantly looking for affordable ways to conserve, reuse and boost the health of our watershed.”
The western United States is experiencing a historic drought, and in August the US government declared a water shortage on the Colorado River, impacting water supplies in Nevada and Arizona . The city of Fort Collins is even under a water shortage monitoring.
Water is the main ingredient in beer, accounting for up to 95% of its content. Additionally, water is used throughout the brewing process for cleaning, cooling, and packaging.
Rather than just sending water down the drain, the BA teaches breweries to collect clean water and find other uses for it.
When Cochran and her husband Tim built the brewery, they consulted with a larger member of the BA and were advised to purchase an oversized hot liquor tank to capture and reuse all the water used in the cooling process. . That water goes through a heat exchanger to the hot liquor tank and is ready to use when brewing the next batch or cleaning the tanks, she said. The brewery also collects clean water from a steam drip line on the hot liquor tank and uses it to water the trees on the property.
Skypeck also wants brewers to consider the quality of the water they use. The Fort Collins watershed has seen two major wildfires, and when runoff hits burned areas, it can affect water quality, he said.
Cheval & Dragon is a member of BreWater15 Fort Collins breweries focused on local water issues, including teaching the local community how to protect the local watershed.
Reduce energy consumption beyond LED lights
In addition to installing LED lights, Horse & Dragon has been offsetting 100% of its energy consumption since 2016 by purchasing wind power from Might of Arcadia. The brewery has also reduced its energy footprint by committing to using locally sourced malt and barley, eliminating the need to truck in supplies from other regions.
Yet, despite these efforts, the more the brewery’s production increased, the more its energy consumption increased. “Our average monthly energy use has increased by 10%, and we’re looking at other ways to reduce it both environmentally and financially — it’s our most expensive utility,” Cochran said.
The goal is for all of its beers to be made with 100% local ingredients, but Cochran admitted that’s a tough financial calculation. While some sustainability efforts, like using less water or generating less waste, save the brewery money, other efforts, like buying malt and barley from a local producer, cost 50-60% more than bulk grain from major suppliers.
“Unless every brewer is required to do the same, it’s a tough financial decision to make,” Cochran said. “We still sell our product at a similar price to other breweries that don’t do these things.”
Most brewers are reluctant to promote their sustainability efforts to consumers. “I think you run the risk of exposing yourself to legitimate criticism if you brag about the kinds of incremental changes you’ve made,” Cochran said.
Don’t get me wrong, Skypeck said, these small incremental changes are important. “The most sustainable way to drink a beer is from a glass that you use, wash and reuse,” he said. In fact, he says, more than 65% of BA members don’t package their beer; they just sell beer on site in their bar.