A 'Green' beer? Eco Friendly Beer Options

Bryan RAugust 10th, 2007
By:
green-beers.jpg

Pale, blonde, stout and green?

Here in the Northwest, we are exceptionally lucky to have an excellent beer culture. Even in a normal, standard grocery store we can find dozens of different types of beers from all over the world. Now, I am a big fan of beer and while hardly an expert, I have had my fair share of good and bad brews. However, one thing I have not yet tried is a beer that satisfies my environmentalist ideal as well as my palate. Therefore, I was curious to see which brewers were attempting to address issues such as climate change, energy security, and sustainability.

One brewery that’s been generating a lot of word-of-mouth buzz is New Belgium Brewery. It turns out that New Belgium Brewery is a remarkably green brewery, yet they played down this particular fact surprisingly enough. For example, in 1999, the company decided to purchase a ten-year renewable wind energy contract that would fully cover their electrical needs, despite the fact that this would increase their overall costs. Ultimately, this contract has allowed New Belgium Brewery to prevent eight million pounds of coal from being burned to power their business. In doing so, this also saved some 15 million pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere [1].

The effect of this eco-friendly, yet risky, business decision was best described in the words of co-founder Jeff Lebesch when he proposed the wind power initiative to his employees, “There was stone silence in the group as they thought about it [the move to wind power]. But the silence didn’t last long. Within a minute or so we had decided to become the world’s largest single user of wind power.”[2] The rest, as they say, is history and New Belgium Brewery has been happily, and economically, using wind power for the last nine years.

In addition to being aware of its power consumption, New Belgium Brewery was keenly aware of the water waste it produced. Because of its success and popularity, the brewery was producing correspondingly increasing levels of wastewater each year. The city of Fort Collins, home to the brewery, was experiencing an overload at their wastewater treatment plant. The brewery was faced with having to help fund a larger plant when they decided to find a more creative solution.

Rather than funneling their wastewater to an external treatment plant, the company realized that it could actually process the wastewater for a net electrical gain. By tapping into the large amounts of natural organic nutrients left in the water as byproducts of their brewing process, the New Belgium Brewery was able to use an anaerobic digester to turn the organic matter into methane (biogas). Burning the methane provided 290 kW of power (enough to power numerous homes), which in turn increased the efficiency of their digester since the energy could be used to warm up the water. In addition, the brewery’s wastewater system helped them meet their Chicago Climate Exchange goals.

New Belgium Brewery has also used several other cleantech solutions such as intelligent building design, with energy-efficient and eco-friendly goals kept in mind. The company has also incorporated a high level of natural day lighting via “light pipes”, which direct daylight into the lesser-lit regions of the brewery. Another technique the brewery has adopted is to use waste heat from the broiler to melt snow and warms public spaces, and also to turn byproducts such as spent grains and hops into cattle feed. New Belgium Brewery has also embraced organically sourced ingredients for their seasonal beers. Lastly, they have launched a new site (www.followyourfolly.com) that advocates car-free living and resource conservation, among other things.

Although New Belgium Brewery is something of a leader in the green beer world, a handful of other breweries have also taken aggressive steps towards producing “greener” beers. The Fish Brewing Company, located in Olympia, Washington, is well known for its line of organic beers such as Fish Tale Amber, India Pale Ale and Pale Ale. Specifically, the company connects its use of organic ingredients with helping to preserve the state’s local salmon runs.

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Alaskan surfing inspired Alaskan
Brewing’s new IPA beer

The Alaskan Brewing Company is another popular brand in the Seattle market that is also environmentally conscious. In April 1998, Alaskan installed a carbon dioxide recovery system that captures and reuses the gas produced during the beer fermentation process. In addition, one percent of the sales of Alaskan’s new India Pale Ale, inspired by the local Alaskan surf scene, goes towards promoting the health of the Pacific Ocean via their coastal CODE (Clean Oceans Depend on Everyone) Organization.

And yet another option is the beers of the Full Sail Brewing Co. Located on the Hood River, in Oregon, Full Sail has halved their water consumption compared to the industry average, uses local grains and hops almost exclusively, and has also taken out a contract for wind power.

While green breweries may not be abundant, there are choices out there if you’re fancying an environmentally friendly brew. So, next time you’re stepping out to the local store or bar and want to satisfy that environmental thirst as well, you’ve got some selection to choose from!

Links:

New Belgium Brewery:http://www.newbelgium.com/index.php

The Fish Brewing Company: http://www.fishbrewing.com

Alaskan Brewing Company: http://www.alaskanbeer.com

C.O.D.E.:www.coastalcode.org/coastalcode

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