by Rick Kempen Beer sommelier at Het Bierplein
Sustainable brewingHow is social responsibility in the beer world?
Brewing beer requires the use of raw materials such as grain, hops and water. Not all of these ingredients are endlessly available. Especially water, of which there is a worldwide shortage.
Not only that, but in the brewing process a lot of electricity is used for both cooling and heating. Resources like these should be handled wisely, and increasingly, breweries are beginning to realise that. But how are brewers currently doing this?
A nice example of a brewery with a sustainable agriculture is the Dutch brewery, Gulpener. This brewery has existed for almost 200 years. Based on the conviction that transporting materials from all over the world is irresponsible, they started at the end of the 1990’s with the purchase of raw materials from local farmers only. Their beers are brewed with purified water from their own sources, hops from their own garden and barley, wheat, rye and spelt from local farmers. This is how the brewery reduces their ecological footprint. Some of their beers are certified organic, and this is the only brewery in the Netherlands that is allowed to carry the Environmental Quality Mark, which signifies that the environment is affected as little as possible.
More and more breweries are following this example and are also using raw materials from local farmers as often as possible.
Amsterdam brewery Oedipus is also working on its social responsibility. They use as many organic ingredients as possible, and the bostel (the grain waste) is reused to feed animals - or used for baking bread. Oedipus took a huge step forward by filling the roof with solar panels: a large part of the electricity is generated by the brewery itself.
In America they’ve taken it a little further, in Boonville, California, is brewery Anderson Valley completely solar powered and has a water purification system that gives the wastewater back to the environment, even cleaner than it originally was. This is especially valuable in California, where the sun sometimes seems unmerciful, and water can be scarce.
A bit further to the north of Anderson Valley, Sierra Nevada Brewing makes a difference with solar panels and water purification. And along with Elon Musk's Tesla, they installed a series of environmentally friendly batteries in which electricity is stored. In addition to solar panels, the brewery has windmills on its grounds and all waste that is not reused can be converted into biomass, which can be used for eco-friendly purposes again.
In terms of packaging, improvements are certainly still very necessary. The quality of beer in bottles is very sensitive to sunlight, for example, which affects the taste of the beer. Cans protect the beers much better against light than bottles, but many consumers are still hesitant about this type of beer packaging. It is clear that in addition to the qualitative advantage, cans also offer a sustainability advantage in relation to bottles.
Deposit bottles can be reused many times, but not endlessly. They last about ten times before they have to be replaced. The transport of the deposit bottles is also a major cause of air pollution.Trucks have to transport them, full and empty and have to run up and down for them. This is where cans have an advantage as well, they weight less and are more compact: you can fit almost 50% more cans into one truck.
Rinsing deposit bottles and crates also uses up a lot of water. Disposable bottles do not have that problem, although they are often pre-washed - but for recycling glass, a lot of energy goes to waste. The same applies to cans, although the efficiency is much higher (glass has a recycling percentage of 68% and tin reaches more than 98%). Both are far from ideal, but we do not have better solutions yet.
Casks, actually similar to very large cans, are also endlessly rinsed and reused, and driven up and down full and empty. A lot of energy is used for that. More and more now we’re seeing disposable barrels made of plastic. Manufacturers are making efforts to ensure that these disposable barrels do not end up in the normal garbage but can be collected for reuse. These are initiatives that contribute to making the beer industry worldwide one of the most progressive and successful industries when it comes to sustainability. We should all drink to that!