Today is Blog Action Day. Bloggers all over the world are writing about water with the hope of enlightening others and sparking discussion and action. At first when I heard the topic was water, I didn’t think I had anything to add to the conversation. Then I thought about one of my favorite industries – craft beer.
Bartender, there’s water in my beer!
Almost every brewery tour that I’ve been on goes something like this. We’re led into the brewhouse and the guide begins the tour by asking us to identify the four main ingredients of beer. One by one we answer: malt, hops, yeast and water. As the talk goes on, samples of malt, hops and yeast are passed around. Many have never seen or smelled these ingredients before, but we all know water.
Long ago beer was often safer to drink than water. Boiling during the brewing process killed the bacteria usually found in water. Beer was a daily beverage for all ages. So if you ran out, that was trouble. Beer geeks love this quote from the diary of a Mayflower passenger, explaining their landing at Plymouth: “We could not now take time for further search…our victuals being much spent, especially our beer…”
Before the days of water treatment plants, some European regions became associated with styles of beer that were influenced by the minerals in the local water. Minerals affect the taste and mouthfeel of beer. Today’s brewers can treat their water with minerals to mimic these original styles.
In London and Dublin the water is higher in chlorides that enhance the sweetness and provide a fuller texture to their most famous beers — porters and stouts. The lightness and softness of pilsners from Bohemia and Bavaria is due in part to the soft water (low percentage of salts). Calcium sulfate in the harder water of Burton-upon-Trent in England led to its renown as the home of clear dry pale ales, like Bass Ale. As boring as it may be, water gives beer character.
Did you know that, on average, 37 gallons of water are used to produce one pint of beer? Most of that water is used in the production of barley (malt) – a key ingredient of beer. In the brewery it takes anywhere from five to seven pints of water to make one pint of beer. Many breweries are limiting their water usage by installing green technology.
Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico CA
A few years ago I visited the Sierra Nevada brewery, one of my meccas. Sierra Nevada is not only known as one of the nation’s oldest and most respected craft brewers, they have a long record as being stewards of the environment. Their water usage is nearly half that of most American breweries. An on-site treatment plant reprocesses and purifies all the water produced from their brewing operations. That means no brewing wastewater goes into the city’s treatment facility. In addition to reducing their water needs, all the methane generated from this treatment process is captured and used to fuel their boiler instead of being released into the atmosphere.
I attended a New Belgium beer tasting years ago at the Brickskellar in Washington, DC. The brewery’s owner, Jeff Lebesch, guided us through a tasting of their delicious beers and told us how they saved and produced energy. I had always loved their beers but had no idea how much they focused on being environmentally responsible.
New Belgium describes itself as “alternatively empowered.” Like Sierra Nevada, they treat their wastewater, reducing the load on their local plant. The resulting methane is used to fuel a generator that provides electricity and heat for their brewery, sometimes covering up to 15% of their electrical needs – wind and other sources provide the rest.
Mother Earth Brewing, Kinston NC
With a name like that, they better be green, right? Closer to my home in North Carolina, Mother Earth is barely a year old. When designing their brewery, the owners, Stephen Hill and Trent Mooring, aimed to build a “low-impact brewery.” They use a tankless water heater that works on demand, rather than burning energy to keep water constantly heated. Green toilet valves and faucets also help to reduce their water usage. They’re not yet finished with their efforts to keep Mother Earth happy; they plan to implement more green technologies in the future.
I’m sure there are many other craft breweries doing their part to conserve water. Find out what your local brewers are doing. Next time you’re buying beer in the supermarket, liquor store or bar, make the choice to support your local green brewer.