While St. Patrick’s Day will be filled with Irish pride, corned beef hash, and a leprechaun or two if you’re lucky, there will also be a staple that takes center stage on this and every March 17, green beer.
However, what is a one-day novelty to most, takes another form as a yearlong celebration for the countless craft brewers who take enough pride in their product, customers, and the natural world to make efforts towards sustainable “green” beer.
We often come across (well-deserved) accolades for pioneer craft brewers such as New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, CO, and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, CA, that have made some of the greatest strides in responsible beer. But, it is just as important to recognize the work undertaken by America’s smaller production brewers.
From the very beginning, the ingredients going into the beer make a difference. Since the late 1990s, when Fortuna, CA based Eel River Brewing Company put out its first 100% organic beer, many other breweries have tried their hand at using organic barley and hops cultivated with as little environmental impact to watersheds and local ecosystems as possible.
Further, some brewers are sourcing from closer. Fort George Brewery in Astoria, OR, takes advantage of the ideal growing climate for hops and other ingredients in the Pacific Northwest and uses as many local items as possible. In addition to reducing the effects of long-distance imports, sourcing locally helps support neighboring farmers and their community’s economy.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an infamous greenhouse gas (GHG) and is a natural by-product of brewing. In 1998, Alaskan Brewing Company (right) in Juneau, AK, became the first to install a recovery system that captures and cleans CO2 from the brewing process and uses the gas for packaging beer and purging oxygen from holding tanks. They estimate the system reduces annual CO2 emissions by almost 800,000 lbs.
Spent grain, the leftover ingredients after brewing, is a huge waste stream for brewers. It is becoming more and more common for brewers to divert spent grain from the landfill, and it is commonly donated as feed to livestock farms, which helps with their environmental impact. There are also other options: some complex and some simple.
Magic Hat Brewing Company in South Burlington, VT, has implemented the use of an anaerobic methane digester that extracts energy from the grain to help power brewery operations (in addition to processing the plant’s wastewater). A bit lower-tech, but still ultimately effective, Beaver Creek Brewery in Wibaux, MT, uses spent grain to bake homemade bread for brewery visitors to enjoy with a pint.
Rather than using electricity from fossil fuel-burning power plants, breweries have started to make the switch to renewable energy available in their regions. Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills, NC, has taken advantage of the sea breeze in coastal Carolina by installing a 10 kW wind turbine to supplement energy usage. Though not generating enough electricity to provide power for full operations, it saves an estimated $150 – $200 each month on the energy bill and will offset around 250 tons of GHG in its lifetime.
Across the country in Boonville, CA, there is another renewable resource in large supply: sunlight. Anderson Valley Brewing Company uses rooftop photovoltaic panels to reduce cooling load, thereby reducing electricity demand by around 50 percent.
In order to work harmoniously with the world around it, the buildings that house breweries and brewpubs need be considered. At Boulevard Brewing Company (right) in Kansas City, MO, this takes the form of a green roof. Planting local vegetation on top of the production facility helps control rainwater runoff, reduces the urban heat island effect, and helps to insulate the building, ensuring a more consistent and manageable indoor temperature year-round.
Further north, outside of Kalamazoo, MI, Bell’s Brewery has instituted a way to benefit from the long, cold winters notorious to the Great Lakes State. By channeling outdoor air makeup into its cold storage, Bell’s is able to turn off its refrigeration in the wintertime.
In addition to promoting environmental health, sustainability also concerns social health. Since craft brewers are so intimately linked to their communities, it’s not unusual for many of them to give back in big ways. Ithaca Beer Company in Ithaca, NY, donates to many charitable groups such as Healthy Food for All, Ithaca Youth Bureau, and the Cancer Resource Center of the Finger Lakes.
Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, OH, contributes to The Burning River Foundation for conservation and historical preservation. Even informally promoting responsible communities has fallen into the hands of some craft brewers.
Located in the bike-friendly city of Portland, OR, Hopworks Urban Brewery (top right) makes bicycling a possible/desirable alternative mode of transportation with a bike repair stand at the front door.
On March 17, do your community, your world, and yourself a favor by indulging in a green craft pint that won’t turn your tongue colors. Then, continue the trend year-round. Sláinte!
Leave a comment and let the world know what your favorite craft brewer is doing to create a responsible product.
Matt Gacioch is the current Craft Beer Program Intern at the Brewers Association. Matt has a background in environmental science, having graduated from the University of Michigan in 2010, and has worked as the Sustainability Intern at Left Hand Brewing Co. in Longmont, CO. Though a relatively new addition to the craft brewing world, he plans to continue doing his part in focusing this great industry on a responsible future.
Last Updated: January 16, 2013