Here at The Dudes’ Brewing Company, we strive to find and maintain sustainable practices when crafting our beer. Of course, as a Brewery, there are many larger-scale earth friendly products readily available to us, but how can the home brewer do the same?
Let’s start with a few of the earth-friendly things we do at The Dudes’:
We currently network with a farmer who takes our spent grain (a byproduct of the brewing process) and feeds it to his cows! Even when we’re highly efficient, there’s still a small amount of sugar left in the remnants of the brew that we’d otherwise be forced to throw away. By feeding it to cows instead of a dump, we lower the amount of trash that would be going into landfills. We also use cans almost exclusively for our small-packaged beer, which are infinitely recyclable.
Next up, we’ve got a few other big things in mind at Dudes’ that will likely come into play over the next few years such as a CO2 reclamation system would cut down dramatically on our greenhouse gas emissions and placing solar panels on the roof of our production facilities will help lower our electrical demand.
We’re not quite where we’d like to be yet in terms of environmental impact, but we’ve got a good start and are heading in the right direction. Below are some sustainable practice tips for brewing that you can use at home to help you do the same!
Choose Sustainable Equipment: Opt for stainless steel and glass equipment over plastic options, which degrade over time and have a short lifespan. Small abrasions or scratches on plastic buckets can harbor bacteria and spoil a batch of beer, so many brewers go through a lot of buckets. Be sure to recycle them when they’re no longer usable. Before buying equipment, check Craigslist and other used sites for gently used carboys, kettles, coolers, and chillers.
Go Local: Homebrewers have the option to brew with ingredients grown all over the world. For sustainability purposes, domestic usually beats imported, and less packaging is always best.How local can a homebrew be? It depends on the location. Most barley is grown in Montana, Washington, North Dakota, and Idaho. The Pacific Northwest is home to the majority of commercial hops production. However, new local economies are sprouting up to keep pace with the craft beer industry; a hops or barley farm could be nearby.
Grow Your Own: It doesn’t get more local or sustainable than your own backyard. For beer with a truly local flavor, consider growing some ingredients on your own. Gardening enables homebrewers to experiment with unusual ingredients. Growing your own is also a way to remind yourself that, at its heart, beer is an agricultural product. Hops, peppers, and mint are three easy crops to try.
Hops – The cones of this vine give beer its slightly bitter, citrusy flavor, plus it’s relatively easy to grow in sunny climates. Ideally, hops need six to eight hours of full sunshine a day. They grow in most soil conditions, but require fertilization and good drainage. They are heavy nitrogen feeders. A good support system is crucial, because vines grow more than 30 feet high and can weigh up to 20 pounds. A fence, trellis, or the side of a building works well to support the vines. It takes a couple of years for hops to get established. They won’t produce many cones the first couple of years as they focus energy on their root system. After that, it’s important to keep them from taking over the garden: They wrap their spiky tendrils around everything in sight.
Peppers – Green chiles, jalapenos, poblanos, and habaneros can add heat, flavor, or both to a pale ale, IPA, or stout. Many brewers add peppers to the secondary fermentation (like a dry hop) or make a pepper extract and add it just before bottling. Peppers are relatively easy to grow in a home garden, but they are sensitive to cold, so should be planted after the danger of frost has passed. They like plenty of direct sun and fertile, well-drained soil.
Mint – Like hops, mint is easy to grow once it’s established. It tolerates poor drainage and varying amounts of watering, and it does well in partial sunshine. It’s best to contain mint, because it will happily take over an entire yard if allowed. Once mint is harvested, it can be made into mint extract and added to the secondary fermentation. As with peppers, experiment with small batches: A little mint goes a long way.
Consider incorporating other garden crops into the home brew. Hopped beer is a relatively modern invention. Before that, brewers made gruit using herbs in place of hops, such as yarrow, marsh rosemary, juniper berries, ginger, caraway seed, aniseed, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Pumpkin and berries can also make tasty ale additions. Some of the most dedicated DIY homebrewers may want to grow barley. It’s relatively easy to grow, but harvesting and malting are labor-intensive.
Reuse Spent Grains: Once the beer is brewed, a homebrewer has pounds of spent grains. Don’t throw it away! It has all sorts of uses. Add spent grains to garden soil or a compost pile. Feed it to chickens or use it in bread recipes.
Reuse Yeast: Instead of purchasing new yeast each time, a brewer can reuse the same yeast five to ten times. After the first fermentation, save the yeast that settles on the bottom of the bucket or carboy, wash it, store it, and use it within a few weeks for the next batch. If stored yeast sits longer than a few months, make a yeast starter to make sure it’s still viable.
Chill More Efficiently: Chilling the wort from 160 to 80 degrees is often the most wasteful process in homebrewing. Some brewers put the boiling pot of wort in the sink and run cold water to cool it down, which flushes gallons of clean water down the drain. It’s better to do an ice bath. Or fill recycled soda bottles with water, freeze, and use in place of ice. Afterward, return them to the freezer and reuse.
Try this trick when brewing malt kits: Purchase a reusable one-gallon food storage container. Fill it with water and freeze it. Then during the cool down, add the frozen block of ice to the wort in place of a gallon of water. It will help cool the wort quickly. Be careful to lower the ice gently to avoid splashing hot wort.
Reuse Water: No matter the chilling method, there is some wasted water. Water conservation is important, because it takes a lot of energy to treat and deliver. The EPA says, “With the U.S. population doubling over the past 50 years, our thirst for water tripling, and at least 36 states facing water shortages, the need to conserve water is becoming more and more critical.” Don’t flush clean water from the brewing process down the drain. Use it on the garden or house plants, or in the washing machine.
Downsize Container Waste: Most homebrewers reuse bottles, which is more sustainable than throwing store-bought containers in the recycle bin. To cut down on even more waste, use swing-top bottles. A kegging system eliminates packaging altogether. Note: Kegging requires the energy and expense of running a small fridge, so homebrewers should take that into account when deciding which is more sustainable.
Green Cleaning: All equipment used in brewing must be clean and free from soap residue, and all equipment used after the boil must be sanitized. When possible, choose biodegradable, environmentally-friendly cleansers and sanitizers. Use a refillable spray bottle to save water.By abiding by the some of the above practices when and where possible, homebrewers can help celebrate Earth Day everyday!
Resources: EPA.com, Custommade.com, Lincoln Scott – A Dudes’ Dude