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“I Break for Beer”

January 20, 2011

Traditionally, Champagne is composed of three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.  While Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are grapes I drink regularly,  on New Year’s Eve alone I must have consumed more Pinot Meunier than I have over the course of my entire life.  Nothing against Pinot Meunier–I thoroughly enjoyed every sip of its acidic fruitiness– but I felt the need to give it a rest for just a little while.

To fill the effervescent hole in my drinking habits I turned to my dear friend, beer.

As regular readers may already know, I am a huge advocate for organics and sustainability.  What you may not realize, however, is that many of the finest and most well-respected beer (and wine) makers have long been practicing organic and/or sustainable methods in the fields, breweries and wineries.  Many breweries are not vocal about their organic status and do not advertise their product as such because there is something of a negative stigma around organics; the concept is that if it’s organic it must taste as bad as the body odor of the hippie that made it.  This attitude that organic=”crunchy” is one we simply can no longer afford.  The benefits to both human health and ecosystem health of organic/sustainable methods are, in my opinion, at this point indisputable and we cannot ignore the threats and dangers of the alternative (conventional agricultural methods) any longer.

Another major reason (apart from image issues) that producers do not certify their products are organic is the high financial cost of the certification itself.  So although practicing organic agriculture may actually save producers money, the cost of becoming certified organic for many producers in many countries is too high to be feasible. At any rate, it is less important  to pay for the certification to say you’re organic than it is to be organic.

But practicing organic agriculture is only one part of a solution to our global environmental woes.  From water use during the brewing process to byproduct and waste management, and from packaging decisions to energy consumption during shipping, the process of making beer alone has countless impacts on the earth’s natural systems.  Brewers all around the world are realizing the power they wield with each action, each choice they make, and are trying to do something positive with  it.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. of Chico, California, for example, was recently honored by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) which named Sierra Nevada the 2010 Green Business of the Year.  Sustainability has long been at the core of Sierra Nevada, a brewery which harnesses much of its required energy from solar panels; “From field to bottle, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company strives to maintain a healthy balance between environmental stewardship, social equity, and economic stability. ”  In this vein, Sierra Nevada established its “Farm with your Brewer” program to encourage small hops farmers to adopt sustainable practices.  Such a program does a lot for the greater good: promotes better agriculture, cuts down on fossil fuel consumption by increasing the availability of local ingredients, supports local farmers and their families while protecting them from hazardous chemicals, and creates products of superior quality.

Brewers must think not only about what goes into making beer, but about what comes out of the process, as well.  Sierra Nevada has implemented a zero-waste policy aimed at eliminating brewing byproducts from the long list of items spending eternity in landfills across America.  Today, the brewery diverts 99.5% of its solid waste from landfills through source reduction, recycling, and composting.  Anything is possible, it just takes a little effort.

Even here on the east coast, far from the Cali scene, sustainable brewing practices are fairly common, though unpublicized.  Harpoon Brewery of Boston (and Vermont) is taking many steps to become a more sustainable company and a more responsible producer.  By recycling paper, glass bottles, and cardboard from packaging; selling spent grain to farms for animal feed; treating brewery wastewater on-site; installing movement-sensing lights to save electricity in brewery; recapturing condensate from kettles to save on heating hot water; installing a new, more energy-efficient chiller; and identifying ways of using less cleaning and sanitizing chemicals, Harpoon is trying to do their part to keep our earth green and our beer clean.

Other breweries in the northeast practice sustainable agriculture, including Wolavers Fine Organic Ales, an offshoot of Otter Creek Brewing in Middlebury, Vermont. Their ingredients are local as well as 100% USDA certified organic, including their hops.  Since the advent of organic certifications for beer in 1997, producers of organic beer haven’t been required to use organic hops.  Organic beer manufacturers had concerns that organic hop growers wouldn’t be able to produce enough hops to meet production needs.  But production has increased significantly since the initial decision was made and in 2013 organic producers will be held to the same standards for hops as malt and barley.

Perhaps to avoid the impression they are simply following the organic or “green” craze, the brewers at Long Trail in Vermont don’t exactly advertise their committment to environmental stewardship (despite their hiker-geared packaging).  With every decision about the brewing process comes an opportunity to do what’s best for the earth, to be environmentally conscious.  To find out more about Long Trail’s dedication to minimize the brewery’s negative impacts on the environment, click here.

The Brooklyn Brewery got some wind in their “ales” when in 2003 they became the first company in New York City to convert to 100% wind-generated energy.

Even MillerCoors, the second largest brewer in the United States, is making changes in its operations as the company and its competitors grow aware of the various sustainability issues involved with beer production. The company recently released its 2010 Sustainability Report, discussing its accomplishments while outlining future goals related to the company’s labor, environmental, and social impacts. “With great beer comes great responsibility.”

Full Sail Brewing Co. in Oregon is doing a lot to improve their relationship to the environment, however they prefer the term “responsible” as opposed to “sustainable.”  The head brewer says his “grandmother said that being responsible was doing the right thing even when no one was looking. Our brewery also has one of the lowest ratios of water to beer production ~3.25 gallons of water are used to make 1 gallon of beer.  A typical brewery uses up to 10 to 1.”  To achieve this level of conservation, Full Sail brewery compresses their work week into four 10-hour shifts, reducing power consumption and water use by 20%.  It’s clever innovations like that which will lead the way to a sustainable America.

Sadly, our hyper-industrial, fast-paced approach here in the United States has put us miles behind the old world in terms of organic and/or sustainable agriculture.  Many breweries in Europe have been in business for centuries producing beer sustainably with organic ingredients.  Many of these breweries are not certified organic although the number of certified beers is on the rise.  The focus in Europe, however, seems to be not on the fact that the beer is organically produced, but rather on the quality of the beer.  From G. Schneider & Sohn to Pinkus Müller, quality is the focus and the reason (aside from traditions passed down through generations of brewers) for the organic practices.  So dedicated to quality is Pinkus that they are the world’s first brewery to brew with only organically grown barley malt and whole hop blossoms.

Samuel Smith of the United Kingdom has been in operation since 1847 and all of the company’s beers are “brewed solely from authentic natural ingredients without any chemical additives, raw material adjuncts, artificial sweeteners,colourings, flavourings or preservatives” simply because that’s the way it has always been made and that’s the way it tastes best.

The States don’t yet have the acceptance of organic or sustainable practices like that of Europe, but we are making progress towards that end.  Sierra Nevada recently released their first certified organic beer: the Estate. Kona Brewing Co. just released Hawaii’s first ever certified organic beer. New Belgium Brewing Co. of Colorado has been wind powered since 1999, and that was just the beginning for this sustainable brewery.

At the core of New Belgium’s mission is “kindling social, environmental and cultural change as a business role model” and “honoring nature at every turn of the business.” I think that if every enterprise would adopt a similar philosophy the world would be a lot better off.


It pays to get involved! Comment on our blog for a chance to win an Andover Liquors Gift Certificate!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristen permalink
    January 24, 2011 12:22 pm

    Interesting stuff! In addition to preferring organic products, I’m trying to transition to a vegan lifestyle. I have heard that most wines are not vegan (due to the materials used in the wine-making process). Do you sell any vegan red wines and, if so, which are your staff’s favorites?

    • Maggie permalink
      January 25, 2011 10:47 am

      Thanks, Kristen, for your thought-provoking question!
      Though it is difficult to determine whether or not a wine is vegan, we do carry a variety of vegan wines at Andover Liquors. Most of the vegan wines we do have are white, however, since egg whites and other animal products (ie derived from fish bladder) are predominantly used in producing red wines to soften the sometimes harsh tannins.
      There are many alternatives to these tannin-fining animal products and I found a site that lists vegan-friendly wines:
      Some of the staff’s favorite vegan wines include Bonterra Chardonnay, Cambria Chardonnay, Peter Lehmann Clancy’s Red, Castle Rock Pinot Noir, Lolonis Ladybug Red and Veuve Cliquot.
      Thanks, again for your comment! 🙂

      • Amanda permalink
        February 12, 2011 8:52 pm

        Thanks for your help today finding a vegan wine. It’s was amazing to find someone who actually new what I was looking for!

  2. Chris permalink
    January 24, 2011 2:45 pm

    I’ve gotta say, the minimalist design of the Full Sail products is nearly as enticing as their commitment to sustainability! Love the box, bottle, label. Very cool.

  3. Maggie permalink
    February 15, 2011 1:35 pm

    Check out this recent article on sustainable brewing: MIT grad’s invention turns brewery waste to fuel:


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