The history and art of brewing beer dates back toward the ancient Egyptians. It’s no exaggeration to say that beer was of central importance to their society, regularly consumed by both adults and children. Now a days, craft beer is just as central in society to an ever growing number of people. As craft beer continues to grow in popularity, production is increasing substantially. New breweries are popping up virtually all over the country. Breweries have become a destination. People go to extreme lengths to seek out certain beers that are very rare or highly rated. As breweries increase production, there are many things to consider. Sustainability should be close to the top of that list.
Brewing beer sustainably is a growing challenge faced by brewers around the world. Farms must grow the right amount of ingredients, water must be replenish-able, waste must be managed, and utility consumption should be minimized. Sustainable brewing practices are typically performed at some level or another with almost every brewery. Probably the most common form of sustainability is the use of spent grains. Brewers spent grains (previously barley used in the brewing process) still contains a lot of nutritional value that can be beneficial to certain animals. Therefore, most brewers donate their spent grains to local farms to be used as livestock feed. This is waste for the brewery and helps the local farmer offset their feed cost. Spent grain and other brewery waste can also be used in a wide variety of other sustainable processes.
Some of the larger breweries have employed a variety of different processes to deal with brewery waste. One of the most intriguing methods is the use of a waste decomposition facility. Some of these brewers pump their waste into giant storage containers and introduce bacteria that decomposes the waste, generates heat along with methane gas. They are then collecting this methane gas and using it to fire their boilers they use to heat their tanks in the brewery. Others use restaurant oil and turn it into bio-diesel to run heating equipment. Another form of gas collection is CO2 collection. The primary activity in a brewery is fermentation where yeast is consuming sugars and producing CO2 and alcohol. Most breweries are not able to collect this CO2 however some are. CO2 is the most regularly used gas in brewing. It is used for transferring liquids from tank to tank, in the canning/bottling process, as well as for carbonation of the beverages themselves. Since breweries are suing a lot of CO2 as well as producing a lot of CO2, it only makes sense to capture what you produce so you can re-use it. Unfortunately CO2 capturing equipment is extremely expensive, yet it is a great method of sustainability and helps reduce greenhouse gasses.
Some other options for brewers on a smaller scale include recycling, solar power, wind power, as well as overall utility reduction. One method we at Southbound Brewing Co. just switched to is recycled cans. Our new can manufacturer, Evercan, produced a can that is made from over 90% recycled aluminum. Being able to use recycled materials was extremely important to us. To date we have sold almost 400,000+ cans this year. Being able to use recycled cans going forward drastically reduces the usage of mined materials and overall promotes sustainability. Another avenue is solar power. There are available options now that make solar power much more affordable. Some breweries such as New Belgium and Sierra Nevada are entirely powered by solar power and are completely off the grid. This is an amazing and impressive accomplishment, one that should not be overlooked. We at Southbound are currently assessing different solar options but we do think it is a viable solution to reduce our large daily power consumption.
Sustainable practices, processes, and equipment are become easier to employ and more readily accessible for breweries throughout the world. Beer is a product of nature which is guided by humans. When it comes down to the science, beer is a natural product made with ingredients from the Earth. Therefore, it should be sustainably produced and responsibly enjoyed. Next time you go to your local brewery, ask them about their sustainable practices. I’m sure you will be surprised to find out just how sustainable they actually are. Cheers to the sustainable brew you'll hopefully soon enjoy!