Green Beer: The Buzz on Sustainable Drinking

You may be familiar with green beer in the context of St. Paddy’s Day, but have you considered how environmentally “green” your beer is every other day of the year? Some breweries, be they large or small, have adopted more earth-friendly brewing practices than others. (By the way, we at GreenJoyment don’t exactly advise drinking beer that’s been dyed green. FD&C Green No. 3 is an artificial coloring used in many dyed-green foods. Like other artificial color additives, it has been known to cause allergic reactions.)

Mmmm.... beer

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user Moe_

Roll Out the Barrel:

Beer, made from materials like hops, wheat, grain, barley and large amounts of water, is a beverage closely tied to the earth’s bounty. Sustainability practices in brewing directly relate to the responsible sourcing, conservation and correct disposal of these materials.

Brian Schaeffer of Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, CO, was kind enough to answer my questions about green brewing with some information about the sustainability measures practiced at Oskar Blues. Ro Guenzel, head brewer at Left Hand Brewery, also in Longmont, weighed in about their sustainability initiatives as well. The folks at both of these breweries have been working to become greener.

“We are committed to decreasing our impact on the environment as much as possible while still making a great product,” Shaeffer wrote in an email. He mentioned that Oskar Blues was the first microbrewery to distribute their beer in 100% recyclable cans. Besides being recyclable, the cans stack better during transportation, which makes for more efficient shipping.

Left Hand has a committee called Left Hand Green, which is a small group of concerned employees that meets monthly. “The group discusses ways to improve operational efficiency, reduce water use and waste streams and make changes towards sustainability in company culture,” said Guenzel. LH has also installed bike racks to encourage employees and customers to choose low-impact forms of transportation. This brewery donates spent grain to a livestock farm and emphasizes recycling whenever possible.

Don’t Worry, Be Hoppy:

On the national level, a report published by the American Organic Hop Grower Association stated that organic hop production rose from 70,700 lbs in 2011 in to a whopping 218,000 lbs in 2012, demonstrating an increased interest and demand for organic hops. OB even owns their own sustainable hop farm called Hops and Heifers. “We feed black Angus cattle and Berkshire hogs our spent grain from the brewery,” wrote Shaeffer. “The cows and hogs provide fertilizer for the hops and farm [and] table meat for our restaurants. We use the hops that the farm produces in specialty beers.”

Energy:

According to Shaeffer, all three OB breweries are located in repurposed buildings, rather than new constructions. The buildings use updated LED, t5 fluorescent and CFL lighting, high efficiency pumps and motors and VFD compressed air systems. Two of their locations were just updated with high efficiency, brewery-specific chilling systems.

LH has kitted their boiler with a flash steam recovery system which recaptures 356,805 BTU of energy that would otherwise be lost, while simultaneously heating water used for brewing and cleaning. “We installed a 4.8 kW photovoltaic solar array that can provide enough energy to power our tasting room, offices, and retail coolers, or one of our air compressors,” added Guenzel. LH has also increased the efficiency of their boiler by adding a Honeywell controller.

Water:

Many breweries, including OB and also larger-scale breweries, perhaps most notably MillerCoors, are trying to cut back on how much water they use to make beer. The industry average water-to-beer ratio is around 5:1. OB currently operates at 3.36:1 and is looking for more ways to reduce water and energy consumption.

Over the past few years, LH has decreased their water consumption by 21.58%. According to Guenzel, they’ve accomplished this by focusing on employee training and through submetering. They’ve also become involved with their local water conservation group to help raise public awareness.

Drink Responsibly:

Show your support for sustainable brewing by drinking greener beer (like beers from Left Hand, Oskar Blues or other sustainability-conscious breweries like Sierra Nevada or New Belgium!) this St. Paddy’s Day. Another way to drink environmentally is to choose booze that’s been produced within 100 miles of wherever you live. Maybe even make it greener (and safer) by bicycling or walking or taking public transportation to your local St. Paddy’s festivities. Remember to drink responsibly and sustainably!

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