Green Breweries Make it Easy to Drink Away Your Carbon Footprint

brewery exterior

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is just one of the many U.S. craft breweries who are shrinking their carbon footprint by brewing with a closed-loop system.

There was once a time when drinking green beer was reserved only for St. Patrick’s Day – that amateur night of a holiday where the young (and young-livered) line the streets and pack the bars drinking lukewarm, light-bodied pilsners dyed green by the pitcher. Ah, memories.

As an admitted craft beer geek, I usually turn my nose away from all variations of green beer. Over the past few years though, a new type of ‘green’ beer has been brewing and it is growing in popularity. Instead of being bland in taste and artificially colored, these new, sustainably brewed lagers and ales are full bodied, big on flavor and can be drunk almost guilt-free. This new style of beer is brewed at energy efficient, closed-loop breweries by environmentally-conscious brewmasters doing everything they can to reduce their products’ carbon footprint. From decreasing the amount of cardboard in packaging and powering their facilities with wind energy to generating their own biofuels for heating the boilers, breweries across the United States are making it easier for consumers to reach for a six-pack without creating a larger carbon footprint in the process.

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Perhaps one of the best examples of one of these sustainable breweries would be New Belgium Brewing, makers of Fat Tire, 1554 and La Folie. In 2010, New Belgium partnered with the City of Fort Collins, Colorado State University and other energy-focused companies in a grant from the Department of Energy to demonstrate 20% to 30% peak electric load reduction. Using the grant funds, New Belgium commissioned a 200 kW photovoltaic array on top of their packing hall. At the time it was installed, it produced close to 264,000 kWh each year, more than 3% of the brewery’s total electricity. New Belgium also gets an additional 14% of its electricity from processing their own waste. At its on-site process water treatment plant, New Belgium uses microbes to clean all of its production wastewater. Methane gas is then harvested and piped back to the brewery, where it powers a 292 kW combined-heat-andpower engine.

Down in New Orleans, Abita Brewing Co. also runs a highly efficient operation. Abita was the first brewery in the United States to install the Merlin system. This energy-efficient brewing system reduces boiling time and carbon dioxide emissions, and uses 70% less energy than traditional brewing methods. A vapor condenser captures and reuses steam from the process. The brewery also operates its own industrial wastewater treatment plant to generate fuel for its kettle boilers. Abita even has its sales force drive gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles.

There are a dozen more examples around the country. Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, Michigan is LEED-certified. The brewery purchases renewable energy credits for the energy it consumes. On the west coast, one hundred percent of the spent grain and yeast recovered at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is used as a protein-rich supplement for cattle and dairy lots within 50 miles of the Chico, California brewery. Brooklyn Brewery in Brooklyn, New York, was one of the first companies in the state to use 100% wind power to run its facility. Brooklyn’s tasting room even serves samples of Pennant Ale, Brooklyn Lager and its other brews out of compostable cups.

Still feeling guilty about downing that pint of certified organic, locally produced porter? Then by all means checkout Bison Brewing Co. in Berkeley, California. Along with brewing delicious organic ales, Bison Brewing has partnered with and has created a way for drinkers to calculate their carbon footprint, and then completely offset it by making a monetary donation to an environmentally beneficial project of their choice.

If that seems a little extreme, remember that the easiest way to drink green is to drink local. Drinking locally produced craft beer not only gives you a smaller carbon footprint, but you’re also helping some hard-working neighbors continue to practice a craft they love. We can all drink to that. Cheers!

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