From: , Global Policy Innovations Program, More from this Affiliate
Published July 2, 2008 09:36 AM

Green Beer

By Agibail Paris.   

Beer is an art form. From wrangling the perfect strain of yeast to pouring the perfect pint, beer aficionados around the world argue about mashing, hopping, fermentation, and filtration. They dispute the material and contour of the bottle, the curve and temperature of the appropriate glass. Each person has a preference for ale or lager, light or dark, but many drinkers these days are developing a taste for beers of a greener hue.

Once reserved for St. Patrick's Day, green beer is now available year round in the form of more ecologically sound beers. Companies across the globe are crafting beers for taste and sustainability. They have found innovative ways to consume less power, conserve water, recycle materials, and utilize brewing byproducts. Although an industry-wide green revolution is still years away, companies are looking to the future for today's perfect brew.

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Colorado, the "Napa Valley of beers," is at the heart of this green revolution. Leading the field of eco-friendly brewing companies is the New Belgium Brewery. In 1999, New Belgium became the first brewery in the nation to subscribe to wind-powered electricity. It is also one of the first breweries to use the methane produced by water treatment processes to "fuel a combined heat and power engine—or co-gen—which creates electricity and heat for the brewery." In addition, this brewery turns old keg caps into tabletops, uses sun tubes to light its warehouse, and turns byproducts like spent grains and hops into cattle feed.

Among the more unique eco-friendly ventures of this company is the Tour de Fat Festival, named after bicycles, weight loss, and New Belgium's most-loved brew: Fat Tire Amber Ale. At each stop along the eleven-city tour, New Belgium corrals one volunteer who promises to live without a car for a year. The devoted individuals sign over their car titles and receive custom-fitted commuter bikes in exchange. Thanks to a solar-powered sound system, decorations made from recycled materials, and beer served in compostable cups, the event's overall waste stream diversion rate has been around 85 percent, with a goal of 98 percent for 2008.

Although New Belgium Brewery is considered a leader in the world of green beer, many other companies are hoisting the flag of environmental sustainability. Colorado has the most breweries per capita in the United States, and two other local companies are developing, producing, and marketing these environmentally conscious brews.

The Odell Brewing Company uses six-pack holders made of recycled paper, and staggers production to avoid energy use during peak demand times. They also employ a device called the "Hot Shot Box." When the local city of Fort Collins experiences peak demand for electricity, a radio signal is sent to the Hot Shot Box to temporarily shut off some of the brewery's chillers. This reduces strain on the city's energy supply and thus the need for additional power plants.

Coors Brewing Company, one of the largest brewers in the world, has been going green for about 50 years. Coors became one the first brewers to use commercially produced aluminum cans in 1959. The company also began offering customers a one-cent-per-can recycling incentive, which helped to launch the recycling revolution.

Coors processes and recycles its own wastewater, and, in addition, that of the entire city of Golden, Colorado. Moreover, the company sells some 600 million pounds of solid material to local farmers as cattle feed, and more than 1.5 million gallons of ethanol to Colorado refineries. Since 1996, Coors has been recycling waste beer (beer lost during packaging or deemed below quality standards) and converting it to alcohol automotive fuel.

On the East Coast at the Brooklyn Brewery, founder Steve Hindy runs his company on 100 percent sustainable wind power, purchased from a wind farm in upstate New York. According to Wired, The Brooklyn Brewery's commitment to green power prevents roughly 335,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, 1,500 pounds of sulfur dioxide, and 500 pounds of nitrogen oxide from being released into the atmosphere annually. Brooklyn Brewery also arranges for the reuse of its organic waste, with all the grains and husks from the brewing process sold to farmers.

In California, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company uses the fuel cell as a way to dramatically lower emissions. According to the company website, four new 250 kW cogeneration fuel cell power units—one of the largest fuel cell installations in the United States—will supply electric power and heat to the brewery, with overall energy efficiency nearly double that of grid-supplied power.

As reported by the Associated Press, Foster Brewing Company of Australia has taken the fuel cell in an even greener direction. Australia's University of Queensland was given a $115,000 state government grant to install a microbial fuel cell at the company. This fuel cell is fundamentally a battery in which bacteria consume water-soluble brewing waste such as sugar, starch, and alcohol. The technology harnesses the chemical energy that the bacteria release from the organic material, converting it into electrical energy.

In Japan, researchers at Asahi Breweries are working to produce "monster cane," a variety of sugarcane that would power automobiles without sacrificing sugar output. Meanwhile, Sapporo Breweries has gotten into the field of promoting biomass fuels in the brewing business.

Another innovation in the world of green beer comes from one of the oldest brewers. Britain's oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame has started to craft its lagers and ales with "wort boiling" technology that reduces energy usage by 10 percent. The PDX Wort Heater fires steam at the wort—the sugar solution that results from soaking the starch in water and enzymes—breaking the liquid into mist droplets, which heat up faster than liquid wort, cutting brewing time in half while using half the energy.

According to the Popular Science website, if the 8,000 major breweries of the world adopted this wort boiling technology, the electricity equivalent of three million tons of coal per year could be saved.

So, grab a cold eco-friendly one this summer and enjoy responsibly because green beer is not just for St. Patrick's Day anymore.

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