Sunday, 29 June 2008

Sustainable Craft Beer and Brewing Green

From Digg comes a link to a post on "sustainable beer," profiling several craft brewers who are attempting to produce "green" beer. Specifically mentioned are New Belgium, Steam Whistle, Long Trail, Sierra Nevada, and the Brooklyn Brewery. Several points stands out.

First, most if not all of the measures listed seem to make economic sense independent of "green" concerns, even if the author of the post doesn't realize it. For example, the author states "The 'spent mash' from [Steamwhistle's] brewing is sent to area farmers as cow feed" - I would be shocked if they were just "sending" it to the farmers, chances are they're selling it and making money off of it, as they should!

Breweries use incredible amounts of water and electricity to heat it, which in areas with tiered pricing, or strict waste water guidelines can prove expensive. Unsurprisingly, many of the breweries mentioned are recovering their waste water, steam, or powering the breweries through some form of alternative energy.

Furthermore, most of the brewers mentioned are based or distributing in areas in which being green is a selling point for consumers who would read a post titled "Guilt-Free Beer Guzzling" and think of their carbon footprint before their waist line. Again, from the brewer's perspective the bottom line has as much to do with the measures being taken as the "morality" of green.

German brewers have long recaptured the carbon dioxide produced by fermentation to reintroduce to the beer during packaging, while still complying with the Rheinheitsgebot (if it came out of the beer and you simply but it back in, it's not an "added" ingredient), does this count as being "green?" What about Guinness selling its leftover yeast to make Marmite - let's give them some credit for "reusing" their waste products.

I'm also a little bit puzzled by the last line, which gives lambics an honorary mention: "Instead of brewing with an industrial kettle, this beer is crafted by allowing giant barrels of hops to sit outside during the wild yeast season and letting nature take its course. Truly, a naturally-brewed beer." There's so much wrong with this sentence I don't know where to start.
  • Fermentation does not take place in the kettle, and it certainly doesn't take place by fermenting "barrels of hops."
  • Generally, the barrels don't sit outside, but uncovered inside the brewery.
  • I was not aware that there was a "yeast season."
  • Does the fact they're in wooden barrels made from killed trees rather than "industrial kettles" make it any more green?
As far as I know, the fermentation process of yeast going on inside an "industrial" brewery is just as "natural" as that taking place outside. Most lambic breweries have a house yeast which has inhabited their barrels and walls for years, and developed with the brewery, not intrinsically different from the "house yeasts" of other brewers. What makes one more "green" than the other?

That said, if you need to confirm that your beer is "green" before you drink it, go right ahead - but I won't let such concerns keep me from enjoying my beer. I'll save the green beer for St Patrick's Day.

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