A Great Environment for Craft Brewing
Who says sustainability is bad for the bottom line? It was Wisconsin’s own Sen. Gaylord Nelson, most famously known as the founder of Earth Day, who correctly stated, “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.” In other words, if you think big enough, there is only one balance sheet, and that’s the one for the planet as a whole. When one of us supposedly saves money by wasting energy or releasing nutrient-laden water to the local river, the cost is merely shifted rather than truly saved. Someone downwind is paying for wasted energy through their kid’s asthma; fisherman pay when nutrient-rich waters squeeze out fisheries; and so it goes. Robert Kennedy, Jr. put it more eloquently in a forward to Sen. Nelson’s biography, where he wrote, “You show me pollution, and I will show you people who are not paying their own way.”
Well, it seems that craft brewers are showing the rest of us that they want to pay their own way. More and more are incorporating water and energy conservation practices into their small businesses, and still they are thriving. If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely to be in the demographic that is part of the explosive growth in fine beer production and consumption in this country. Craft beer has been experiencing double-digit growth for years, and apparently there is still plenty of room in the marketplace for that growth to continue. As an aside, just recently I was at a fundraiser for a local organization, Pearls for Teen Girls, hosted at the Miller-Coors headquarters only two miles from my home. It was clear to me from chatting with one of the Miller-Coors hosts while drinking a Third Shift Lager that the big boys have their sights on craft (or “crafty” as some would call it) beer.
Many of this new breed of sophisticated specialty brewers see sustainability as a point of personal responsibility. They own their brand, literally and figuratively, and identify closely with their communities. It’s important that they be seen as fully paying their way, so to speak, by operating as sustainably as possible. The Brewers Association provides terrific information for its members through a toolkit that lays out considerations for water, energy and solid waste so that they aren’t starting from scratch. A few dozen brewers, especially those in the Great Lakes region, have joined forces with NRDC to take a clean water pledge, advocate for the Clean Water Act, and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability through their own practices.
Perhaps a real sign that the times are changing is when start-up companies incorporate sustainability practices into their operations from the ground up. Rather than waiting until their first profitable year and incorporating resource efficiency and re-use as add-ons, at least one new brewer is building sustainability from the outset. Old Bust Head Brewing Company took its first sustainability step by recycling buildings. Its home, Vint Hill, is a former Army base just outside of Warrenton, Va., where they have repurposed some fairly challenging buildings into the brewery, offices and taproom. Though they are still a month or so away from commercial sales, they have put in place a number of energy-conserving steps. According to spokesperson Jaimis Huff, the operations include:
- A geothermal system (being installed in the banner photo) that will heat and cool the taproom and offices, preheat the hot water for dishwashing, bathrooms, employee showers, lab, etc., and provide refrigeration for the drive-in and walk-in coolers where the beer is stored. In order to achieve this level of geothermal energy, they are installing 18, 500-foot deep geothermal wells, which are then connected to 12 geothermal heat pumps for heating, cooling and refrigeration throughout the facility. Old Bust Head anticipates about a 60 percent reduction in overall energy use attributable to the geothermal system.Geothermal Wells
- Old Bust Head is also recapturing heat from the boiler exhaust and reusing it to heat water used in the beer-making process. The boiler heats all the water needed for the brewing process. The heat from the exhaust from most boilers is just dissipated into the air, but Old Bust Head will recapture this heat through a special heat exchanger (at right) added to the boiler system, along with the extra piping and pump to deliver the water to the exchanger.
- They are also recapturing heat from the wort, which must be cooled after boiling so that it won’t kill the yeast when it is added for fermentation. Brewers normally cool the hot wort by running cold water through an adjacent coil of pipes. Most brewers just dump this heated water, but Old Bust Head is able to recapture this hot water and put it into the “hot liquor” tank. To do this they’ve installed an extra pump, an extra loop in the heat exchanger (second picture, above), and most importantly, an oversized hot liquor tank where water is stored for the all the various hot water needs in the beer-making process.
When I asked Ike Broaddus, co-founder, why he went the extra mile he told me, “We made these investments because it felt right to us. We want to ensure the natural resources available to us today are available for our great-great grandchildren as well. We believe it is our responsibility as citizens of this planet and this community to do what we can to live sustainably. Investing in sustainability pushes the technology so it will be more affordable for others, it sets an example that others might be willing to follow, and we hope it attracts the kind of employees and customers that share these values.” Of course, he’s my brother so I probably shouldn’t be surprised. But it doesn’t mean I’m not impressed.