A Convenient Truth: Sustainable Brewing

Sustainable Brewing BillboardAs homebrewers, we spend lots of time thinking about all the ingredients that we put into our beer. But what about the things that come out of our brew day?
Whether you’d like to save some money or shorten your brewing time, there are lots of benefits that can come from taking a more sustainable approach to your homebrew. Even if being an environmental steward isn’t at the top of your list when you brew, consider these steps that can save you in the long run.
The easiest way to stay sustainable from the start is by focusing only on what you need. Don’t buy sensitive items in excess if you’re not going to use them. Grain and hops have eventual shelf lives, so be specific in the amounts you want and when you’ll use them.
It can also be fun to add a touch of personal flair to your beers by using ingredients you grow yourself instead of buying them. In addition to growing hops at home, herbs from backyard gardens can make for great additions. Rosemary, for example, can provide complementary pine aromas to IPAs and basil adds layer of complexity to farmhouse ales, wheat beers, and one of my favorites – honey basil ale.
You can also choose to make lower ABV session beers, which mostly require fewer ingredients, or even harvest and reuse yeast to reduce the amount of ingredients you use.
Water plays such a pivotal role in the beer making process, but while the quality of water is important, I often find myself thinking in terms of quantity. Aside from the water we put into our beer, we use a lot of it for cleaning and cooling.
One way I like to save on water use for sanitizing is by using Star San. The commercial-grade sanitizer only needs 60 seconds of contact time to prepare items for use, but its healthy foaming action also offers additional sanitizing that doesn’t require a ton of water to create. By measuring out the amount of Star San you’ll need – a ratio of one ounce per five gallons – you can properly sanitize your equipment. Try using a spray bottle with of the sanitizer solution and even keep the Star San-water solution to use again later.
When it comes to cooling your wort, many homebrewers like to use an immersion wort chiller to prep their wort for yeast. If you’re hooking your chiller up to an outside hose, consider that the average amount of water that could pass through may average up to 10 gallons per minute. If you’re concerned about wasting water, either opt for an ice bath – you can make the ice in your freezer and store it for brew day – or capture the water running out of the chiller to reuse for laundry, watering the plants or grass, or other household chores.
Here’s a neat project that combines recycling with energy efficiency. If you’ve got some extra sheet metal or aluminum and you brew outside with a propane patio stove or pressure cooker, it’s easy to make a propane fryer outfit much more efficient for boiling your wort.
If you’ve got the tools to manipulate the metal, create a heat reflector that also blocks wind. Make sure it’s tall enough to cover the legs and heat shield of the burner and also bend the material wide enough to place safely around your burner. It can also double as a windscreen to keep your flame burning. Having a heat shield in place will trap heat around the kettle, potentially allowing for faster boil times. For one homebrewer, it was as easy as recycling a galvanized trash can.
*If you create a heat reflector, make sure to only use it outside in properly ventilated areas. Always take care around burning flame and keep a safe distance from anything flammable.
As you prepare for your next homebrew, stop and give some thought to how you can be more sustainable in your actions. You’ll be able to produce the same quality beer you expect, but may find new approaches to make your homebrewing hobby both more efficient and more fun!
Bryan Roth is a beer nerd and homebrewer living in Durham, North Carolina. You can read his thoughts on beer and the beer industry on his blog, This Is Why I’m Drunk, and send him suggestions on how to get his wife to drink craft beer via Twitter at @bryandroth.