Beer, the worlds third most popular drink. It’s a beverage that has a rich history too, spanning over 5000 years. And during the many millenniums beer has evolved into many forms; stouts, pale ales, belgians, sours, wheats, browns, porters, ambers, bocks, pale lagers, dark lagers… just to name a few.
With time brewing technologies may have developed one thing hasn’t changed much thats the 4 ingredients that make up beers; grains, hops, yeast and water.
And the brewing operation is relatively simple in its most basic form. Grains are first milled, water is added and the mixture is then heated in a mash tun, breaking down starches into sugars. After which the sweet liquor is extracted, and the beer like concoction is then boiled, then the hops are added. The mix is close to being beer, but needs to be cooled ready for fermentation, and this is where yeast is added. Finally, the brew can be matured, and after all that it can either be filtered or carbonated.
The upside, beer is the final product! The down side?
Unfortunately there are a few downsides to beer production. Water use and energy consumption are some of the larger issues that pose problems for future beer production.
Firstly, brewing beer uses a lot of the water. Large amounts of wet stuff are used not only for the production of beer, as beer is 90 – 95% water, but the cleaning and sterilising of equipment after each batch uses even more. For a little perspective, it can take up to 7 litres of water to make 1 litre of beer!
Secondly, the brewing operation is very energy intensive, even a well run brewery can use anywhere between 8 and 12 kWh’s for each 100 litres of beer produced. That means every litre of beer has the equivalent energy use of running a 5W LED for about 3 days!
The above outlines some of the sustainability challenges that the brewing industry faces. However, the truth is, things are changing; from the biggest multinational breweries to the smallest craft beer producers, there are a plethora of sustainability schemes and initiatives already existing within the beer industry as a whole.
So, you’re buying your next beer, what can you do to make it more sustainable? The following will help ensure your next pint is low impact.
- You might want to consider craft beers: Craft beer production for many years has had strong links with sustainability. From reducing waste water and energy consumption to cutting solid waste and harmful emissions. Craft beer producers have been on a sustainability mission without compromising the quality of beer.
- Learn what the larger breweries are up to! In the past years, pressure on large multinational companies to clean up their act has meant the larger more mainstream breweries have been willing to invest heavily in carbon reduction and clean energy.An example big beer investing in sustainability is the Göss Brewery in Austria, one of Europe’s largest breweries. Operations are now fully carbon-neutral! The energy supply for the brewery is 100% renewable energy achieved by hydropower, and a massive solar array of 1500m² as well as energy from the newly built beer grain fermentation plant. Nearly 40% of the brewery’s heat requirement comes from waste heat discharged from the neighbouring sawmill. The brewery is an exemplar for other large producers.
So its not all doom and gloom if your looking to reduce the impact of your next six pack.
It’s all good-and-well knowing that beer producers are making an effort to make their product more sustainable. However, more often than not you’ll never know if your favourite pint is or isn’t sustainable! Now, some beers might have some information on their labels, but its not very common. In addition, if you’re having a beer at your local bar or pub you’ll have no clue if that ale you’re sipping has a minimal environmental impact.
Luckily, finding out if your favourite larger is low carbon is simple. If breweries do subscribe to sustainability initiatives they’ll make this information available. In just a few clicks I found out what one of the largest breweries in the world is doing to reduce its impact on the environment. And on the flip side, I now know my local craft beer producer supports community events and sources its ingredients locally.
So whether your getting a six pack in the super market or a pint down the pub, making an informed choice of which beer to drink can go a long way to making your lifestyle more sustainable.
For more on a better beer, check out my video “A Better Beer.”: