Between the barbecues, national holidays and beach vacations, cold beers become a necessity in many households over the summer months. As we pay more attention to the way our food is grown, harvested and transported, perhaps we owe it to the environment to be as vigilant with our beer. But how easy is it to find environmentally-conscientious breweries?
Beer brewing is not the most environmentally-friendly of activities, particularly regarding water usage. On average, six gallons of water are required to brew one gallon of beer – a ratio that must be drastically reduced in dry areas. Wastewater, carbon emissions and huge energy generators also contribute to the environmental sins of the industry.
But more breweries are taking notice of the eating public’s environmental awakening. While the biggest multinational breweries are beginning to make structural changes that promote sustainability, most of the greenest beers are (unsurprisingly) local and regional ones. Microbreweries are great agents of change because they interact with the communities that surround them. Their smaller size and community feeling make them more amenable to change, so it is easier to petition them and request more sustainable practices. Below are the top five eco-minded, North American mid-sized breweries:
1.New Belgium Beer (Distribution: Western U.S.)
This small-scale Colorado brewer takes a multilateral approach to its greening. The brewing kettles trap steam energy during the brewing process and reuse it. The facilities use solar and compressed florescent lighting. Shelving and other building materials are made from trees killed by invasive beetle species rather than virgin wood.
The company has also implemented a wastewater treatment process to reclaim used water. The methane generated from the treatment is then collected and used as an on-site generated alternative energy. In addition to steam and methane energy, New Belgium was the first wind-powered brewery back in 1999. They continue to use wind-powered energy today. As if all of this weren’t enough, New Belgium donates 1% of all revenue to environmental causes.
2.Steamwhistle (Distribution: Canada)
This Canadian brewery wins for recycling and material waste-reduction efforts. Their logo is etched onto the glass bottles, freeing the facility of paper-wasting labels and toxic paper dyes and glosses. All packaging is made from recycled materials and the bottles themselves are recyclable. They can be returned to the facility via drop-offs at beer stores, washed and reused up to 30 times. Even the grains are recycled: spent hops are sent to local farmers to be used as animal feed.
Energy efficiency is also a priority. Steamwhistle uses primarily steam heat and fuels its delivery trucks with 100% biodiesel. They recently built a new brewhouse with 30% more efficiency. Additionally, Steamwhistle participates in an alternative refrigeration method that is specific to the Ontario area: deep lake water cooling. Ice cold water from the bottom of Lake Ontario is piped throughout the facility and then back into the lake, providing enough chill to forgo air conditioning.
3. Long Trail Brewing Company (Distribution: New England and Mid-Atlantic)
Vermont-based Long Trail makes a line called Eco-Brew that is created using a multilateral approach much like Breweries #1 and #2. The “spent mash” from brewing is sent to area farmers as cow feed. The kettle steam is recovered and stored for energy and heating. Wastewater is treated and recycled, reducing water usage. Their on-site vehicles are powered by biodiesel from their pub’s kitchen grease and they invest in local alternative energy cooperative, Cow Power, which – in addition to providing alternative energy – provides financial support to independent dairy farmers who suffer from competition with corporate farms.
4. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (Distribution: U.S.)
Sierra Nevada uses fuel cell technology to power their brewing and has won California’s highest award for waste reduction. In 2006, their website says, they diverted 97% of their total waste from landfills through a combination of waste reduction and creative recycling. Sierra Nevada also recovers both steam heat and carbon dioxide for reuse in the facility. Like the other eco-minded breweries, Sierra Nevada treats and reclaims its wastewater and sends its spent mash to local farms.
5. Brooklyn Brewery (Distribution: Eastern U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Turkey, Japan and Hong Kong)
The Brooklyn Brewery was the first New York City company to convert to 100% wind-powered energy back in 2003. They continue to fuel their brewing with wind.
Honorable Mention: Lambic Beer
Made in the Senne Valley of Belgium during the time of year that wild yeast travels in the wind. Instead of brewing with an industrial kettle only, this beer is crafted by allowing giant barrels of mash to sit outside exposed to the wild yeast and letting nature take its course. Truly, a naturally-fermented beer.