How Green Is Your Brew? Bringing Sustainability to the World of Craft Beer
Dec 31, 2016 04:42PM
● By Mica McCullough
Have you noticed a recent influx in the number of craft breweries popping up in New Jersey? There’s a reason. Beer- and brewery-related legislation in the state has relaxed in the past few years, making it easier for breweries to open and operate. Many local craft breweries are embracing sustainability through their production processes, giving patrons a warm feeling — both from helping the environment and literally after consuming a beer or two.
Throughout the brewing process, there are many opportunities to implement sustainable practices. From sourcing local ingredients to reducing waste, water and energy use, many South Jersey breweries are going above and beyond to ensure that their products don’t put excessive pressure on the environment.
In addition to serving handcrafted, unique and often imaginative local beer, several operations offer creative solutions to the environmental challenges of manufacturing. Before diving into the solutions, here’s a brief introduction to the brewing process:
According to the 500-year-old Reinheitsgebot, a German beer purity law, beer should consist of only four ingredients: water, grain, yeast and hops. While modern brewers have experimented with others to create different flavor profiles, the core backbone of ingredients remains the same.
- Grains such as wheat, barley or rye are cracked in a grain mill to allow access to the complex sugars inside;
- The grain is then soaked in water to extract those sugars, which creates a sweet grain-water known as wort;
- The wort is boiled to concentrate the sugars, and hops (flowers that were originally used for preserving beer) are added at different intervals to add aroma or bitterness.
- The concentrated wort is cooled to a temperature conducive to yeast survival; if the wort is too hot, the yeast will die. Yeast is “pitched” into the cooled wort, where it consumes the sugars from the grain, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. The final product is the carbonated, alcoholic beverage enjoyed worldwide.
- Beer can be ready to consume as soon as three weeks after brewing or it can be aged for months inside stainless steel tanks or oak barrels. It can be stored or “racked” on top of fruits, berries, oak chips or any other ingredient that provides an additional layer of complexity and flavor.
- Finally, beer is served in the taproom of a brewery or packaged and distributed to retail outlets.
Sourcing Local Ingredients
Cape May Brewing Company, in Cape May, New Jersey, recently released Three Plows, a brew that was crafted solely from state ingredients, including Salem County malted barley and hops, water from the brewery’s on-site 2,000-foot well and a yeast strain from a manufacturer in Hillsborough. According to President Ryan Krill, this beer was intended to pay homage to New Jersey’s commitment to agriculture and the brewery’s own commitment to sustainability, which they see as “just doing the right thing.”
For the Exit Series of beers from Flying Fish Brewery, in Somerdale, New Jersey, which features specialty ingredients found at exits along the New Jersey Turnpike, ingredients were sourced locally as often as possible. “For Exit 1, [Bayshore Oyster Stout], I drove down to Bivalve to get oysters which were in the water the day before we brewed. For our upcoming Exit 2 beer, we used barley, hops and rosemary that were grown in New Jersey. We’ve used New Jersey blueberries in Exit 3 [Blueberry Braggot] and New Jersey honey in a couple of the beers. If it’s a New Jersey-grown ingredient, we try to use it in the beer,” claims founder and president Gene Muller. “I’ve always believed in sustainability, even before I knew what sustainability was, and it helps our brewery create the kind of quality beer that our customers want.”
Co-owners and brewmasters at Tomfoolery Brewery, in Hammonton, New Jersey, Shawn Grigus and Gayle D’Abate, have partnered with local grain and hop farmers to utilize more locally grown ingredients, including blueberries in their corresponding beer, which’ll soon carry the Jersey Fresh designation. Tomfoolery also has plans to grow a few hop plants of its own at its location.
Brewing beer is a water-intensive process, often requiring hundreds of gallons to brew just one batch. Through their innovative steam recapture and water recirculation techniques, Flying Fish Brewery estimates that brewing five gallons of beer generates one gallon of hot water, which is used to brew the next batch. According to Muller, Flying Fish is “always looking for pilot programs to improve and continue to fine-tune our operations so we can reduce our footprint even more.” In addition to using less water, it’s also cognizant of the wastewater it produces, which led to the creation of demonstration rain gardens on the property, in partnership with the Rutgers Co-op Extension, the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and the County Soil Conservation District. These native plant gardens serve as a beautiful educational opportunity for brewery visitors.
Three 3’s Brewery, in Hammonton, noticed that its biggest water waster was from cooling the wort to a temperature where yeast can survive, which led to the implementation of a continuously circulating “loop” to recapture all the cooling water, which eliminates wastewater during the cooling process.
Beer production can also be energy-intensive, particularly when heating water and boiling wort for many hours. Flying Fish Brewery gets 10 percent of its energy needs from the 470 solar panels on the building’s roof and have seen a significant reduction in natural gas usage by investing in a high-efficiency boiler. When chilling the wort before pitching yeast, they use a heat exchange system to capture the heat from the cooling wort and use that hot water as steam to sanitize glassware and equipment, rather than using chemical sanitizers.
Cape May Brewing Company has also implemented innovative water saving and heat-exchanging technologies, along with hiring a new Brew Master that’s focused on efficiency. The heat-exchange system used at Cape May allows brewing water to be heated from 130 degrees to the required 180 degrees, instead of starting at the initial temperature of the well water, which is about 50 degrees. Overall energy savings can be extrapolated when multiplied by the 8,000 barrels (about 252,000 gallons) of beer that Cape May produces each year. Cape May recently installed a beer garden on the property, resulting in energy savings simply providing additional square footage without needing to air condition the outdoor space.
Tomfoolery Brewery, whose building previously housed a brewery until the 1990s, didn’t need too much renovation to make the space usable for the current operations. In the near future, Grigus and D’Abate plan to move the tasting room into the previous brewery’s insulated cooling room to reduce energy costs by air conditioning or heating a much smaller space.
Consuming a pint of beer in a tasting room creates less waste because the beer doesn’t have to be packaged, shipped or distributed. Even on the beer that it distributes, however, Spellbound Brewing, in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, has committed to reducing its waste by packaging its beer in cans rather than bottles. Aluminum cans are more easily recycled than glass bottles and they weigh less, allowing them to be transported more economically. Most breweries offer the option of taking home a growler, a 64-ounce container that can be refilled multiple times. In addition, Tomfoolery Brewing has made its beer more beach-friendly by offering unbreakable, reusable and 100 percent recyclable plastic growlers. When Dave Tomasello, owner and brewer at Three 3’s Brewery, purchased the brewery’s building, he made a special effort to repurpose the lumber from demolition to build walls and countertops, and salvaged walk-in coolers from a restaurant that was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. Three 3’s also carefully “washes” its yeast so it can be pitched multiple times, reducing costs for the brewery and ultimately the consumer.
Closing the Cycle
Once the sugars have been extracted from the cracked grain to create wort, “spent grain” is left over, often hundreds of pounds per batch of beer brewed. To prevent wasting this byproduct, many breweries have partnered with local farms to offer additional feed for cattle and other livestock. Spellbound Brewing donates about 200 tons per year to local farms, and both Tomfoolery Brewing and Three 3’s give their spent grain to Rare Courage, a farm in Hammonton that raises cattle, horses, chickens and pigs. Three 3’s also uses some of its spent grain to create dog treats that keep their four-legged brewery friends happy. Cape May Brewing creates no waste when they brew; their spent grain feeds animals or gets composted at several local farms, and local dairy farmers visit Flying Fish Brewery twice a week to pick up the 3,000 pounds of spent grain, centrifuged yeast and hop residue that are produced with each batch of beer.
Most of our breweries encourage patrons to bring food and some offer board games, trivia or other entertainment. New Jersey law requires a tour or educational experience before consuming beer at a brewery, so grab some friends, learn something new and enjoy the unique brews that South Jersey has to offer.
Ultimately, locally crafted beers are more sustainable than national brands due to the reduced distribution costs. The efforts these smaller-scale operations put into implementing creative solutions allows consumers to feel good, knowing they are helping the environment while they sip. Cheers!
Cape May Brewing Co., 1288 Hornet Rd., Cape May, NJ, CapeMayBrewery.com; Flying Fish Brewing Co., 900 Kennedy Blvd. Somerdale, NJ, FlyingFish.com; Spellbound Brewing, 10 Lippincott Ln., Ste. 12, Mt. Holly, NJ, SpellboundBrewing.com; Three 3’s Brewing Co., 50 13th St., Hammonton, NJ; Tomfoolery Brewing Co. 334 Washington St., Hammonton, NJ, TomfooleryBrewing.com.