Many craft beer geeks can wax philosophical about different malts, yeast strains and hop varietals, but it’s easy to forget about beer’s fourth ingredient, water. Beer is around 90 percent water, and many brewers throughout the world attribute much of their beer’s flavor to the water with which they brew.
Not only is water a necessary ingredient in brewing beer, but hundreds of gallons of water are also used to sanitize brewing equipment. When all’s said and done, it can take anywhere from 8-24 gallons of water to produce a single pint of beer.
Given this, it’s no surprise that the following breweries are doing their part in helping with water preservation and water conservation where they can.
If you bought a 12-pack of Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale or seasonal beers between August 1 and last Friday, you might have helped save a waterway without knowing it, thanks to Sierra Nevada’s Wild Rivers program. A portion of the proceeds from those beers will be donated by Sierra Nevada to the Western Rivers Conservancy and River Network. Even though this promotion ended last Friday (Sept. 17), there’s a good chance that Sierra Nevada will continue its Wild Rivers campaign. Sierra Nevada first launched this campaign in May of this year.
Sweetwater Brewing of Atlanta, Ga. is also committed to protecting rivers, and one in particular. Since launching the “Save the Hooch” campain in 2006, the brewery has raised more than $150,000 for the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. These funds have been used to support UCR’s water quality and river patrol programs. This summer, Sweetwater raised funds by selling paper fish and t-shirts that read, “I gave of my liver to save the river.” We should all be so giving.
It seems good breweries aren’t often far from the water, and this is especially true of Great Lakes Brewing Co., which is just a stone’s throw from Lake Erie. Great Lakes Brewing established the Burning River Foundation in 2007 as a result of their popular Burning River Fest, which they throw every year. Both the fest and foundation take their name from the “‘watershed moment’ that raised a new level of eco-consciousness—the 1969 burning of the Cuyahoga River.” Proceeds from the festival support the foundation, which in turn “provides resources for the sustainable future of our waterways.”
And Great Lakes Brewing Co. isn’t the only brewery looking out for the Great Lakes. Every year, craft brewers and cheesemakers attend the Great Lakes Craft Brewers and Water Conservation Conference to discuss ways to use less water in their crafts. This is imperative, since any “water-intensive” businesses within the watershed must implement water conservation measures in accordance with the Great Lakes Compact. The conference will include presentations on the following: “water conservation, water auditing, rain water harvesting, wastewater treatment and recycling, water science behind the Great Lakes Compact, waste to energy installations, and CIP processes for both brewers and cheesemakers”.
Stone Brewing’s Bill Sherwood will be among the brewers in attendance at the Great Lakes conference next month. This is not surprising considering that Greg Koch, something of a celeberity in the craft beer industry, is a tap water advocate — so much so that the brewery’s bistro participated in UNICEF’s Tap Project. Through the project, Stone asked its patrons to not only drink tap water, but to make a donation of $1 to UNICEF, which would provide clean drinking water to a child in need for 40 days. While this step may not seem as much about “preservation” as the others, it’s refreshing to see a brewery advocate tap water over bottled, which wastes resources and often depletes natural reservoirs.
It’s not just the smaller, craft breweries that are doing their part to save and protect water. Earlier this year, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced its desire to become the world’s greenest brewer, a goal that the company hopes to achieve by reducing its water consumption by 30 percent by 2012. If the company can do so, it will likely be the most water-efficient brewer in the world. UPDATE: According to their website, Anheuser-Bush has reduced water by 37% in its 12 US breweries since adopting that goal.
Miller Coors (SABMiller)
Not to be outdone by its biggest competitor in Anheuser-Busch, Miller Coors is also taking its own steps to conserve water. The company boasts several breweries with a water-to-beer ratio of less than 4:1 (the industry average is 5:1), and Miller Coors aims to reduce its water usage by 15 percent in 2015. This would put their water-to-beer ratio at 3.5:1.
September has been named Miller Coor’s Water Stewardship Volunteer Month. This is the second year that Miller Coors employees across the nation have spent the month resting water quality and cleaning up rivers and beaches. Like Sierra Nevada, Miller Coors has partnered with River Network, as well as The Nature Conservancy.
Miller Coors also encourages people to conserve water in their own homes with its Water Conservation Challenge.
If you’ve been counting along, you might notice that New Belgium Brewing is No. 7 on our list of six breweries committed to water conservation. I’m ashamed to say I overlooked one of the most environmentally-conscious breweries out there, but fortunately Melani over at TapHunter.com reminded me to check them out.
When I did, I found that New Belgium published a water usage report last year showing a reduction in water usage for the year prior to that (2008). At that time, they were using 3.8 barrels of water for every barrel of beer.
And like many breweries in this post, New Belgium isn’t only interested in conserving the water it uses to brew with. This past summer, they used their appropriately-named Skinny Dip beer to draw attention to the Save the Colorado campaign, of which they are a partner. The Colorado river now runs dry before it reaches the Sea of Cortez, and it faces a myriad of threats, such as climate change, species extinction, invasive species, dams and population growth. If you want to support a brewery that is committed to water conservation and sustainability, you can’t go wrong with New Belgium.