For the first time in over a century, the American brewing industry crossed the 3,000 brewery mark – a barrier that hasn’t been crossed since the 1870s. As the industry begins to reach maturity, increased attention is being placed on operations and resource management – making many brewers increasingly water conscious. Despite major improvement in operations, however, water consumption and disposal remain economic and environmental hurdles that directly affect breweries and the brewing process.
During the recent three-day Great Lakes Water Conservation Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, owners, crafters, beer scientists, and other experts were invited to speak on the future of water use and sustainability within the craft brewing market. Dave Engbers, the co-founder of Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, told the crowd: “You can’t brew great beer without great water.”[ii] Mr. Engbers is correct. Beer is made up of approximately 95% water, and much more water than that is required for the full brewing process.
Moreover, water quality is critical for brewers. Craft brewers all over the country spend thousands of dollars in water quality testing to ensure their primary input produces a premium product. Lucy Saunders, a brewery sustainability activist and author of Cooking with Beer, notes that “Sustaining water quality and getting the most out of the water, that’s what is most important” in the craft brewery market.[iii]
According to a study done by the Brewing Association, it takes about seven barrels of water to produce a single barrel of beer. That is, for every single gallon of beer produced, it takes between seven and 12 gallons of water. Water usage within craft brewery industry varies greatly depending on location of the facility as well as type of brewing process. However, “brewers are trying now to use more along the lines of three gallons of water to every one gallon of beer”, says Sanders.[iv]
To conserve, breweries are learning to adapt – especially in water stressed areas. Many are taking the leap to wastewater reuse in order to provide an alternative supply for non-potable or process water applications. Stone Brewing Company, who just announced a new location in Richmond, Virginia, has taken this step by recycling water at their main production facility in Escondido, California. A report by The Daily Aztec quoted Ken Wright, Stone’s tour guide, stating:
“Breweries are required by law to treat their water before discharging it, but we’ve taken it one step beyond that where we’ve treated our water to the point that we’re actually plugging in quite a bit of reclaimed water back into our system as a conservation measure. We’ve actually dramatically reduced our water usage. It’s definitely well below the average of most breweries.”
Stone may be ahead of the game, but many others are starting to catch up. Presenting at the Great Lakes Water Conservation Conference, Autumn Sands, the Sustainability Coordinator for Barfly, summarized the prevailing attitude in the new craft beer movement: “We have a responsibility to ourselves and to our communities to be environmentally aware and to promote responsible business practices.” As a result of the demand for conservation projects, many companies, including Sustainable Water, are stepping up to help brewers, wineries and other food & beverage facilities implement impactful water management projects.
Justin Diamond, co-founder of the Green Brewery Project, was quoted to say, “[now that] the craft beer industry is approaching its teenage years…many breweries are reaching a size where they are beginning to run into issues of how much waste they produce.” Diamond says, “Some of these issues are only happening because the craft beer industry is growing the way it is, and we’re in a stage of growth where the issue needs to be addressed.”[v] While the cause may be debatable, one thing is certain: the resurgence of American craft brewing is far from over, and sustainable growth requires creative solutions for preserving and conserving the industry’s most important resource.
Bart Watson, “U.S. Brewery Count Tops 3,000.” Brewers Association. July 9, 2014. http://www.brewersassociation.org/insights/us-brewery-count-tops-3000/.
[ii] Cameron Vredeveld, “Great Lakes breweries look to conserve region’s water.” Great Lakes Echo. December 2, 2014. http://greatlakesecho.org/2014/12/02/great-lakes-breweries-look-to-conserve-regions-water/.
[iii] Vredeveld, “Great Lakes breweries look to conserve region’s water.” http://greatlakesecho.org/2014/12/02/great-lakes-breweries-look-to-conserve-regions-water/.
[iv] Brewers Association. Water and Wastewater: Treatment/Volume Reduction Manual. http://www.brewersassociation.org/attachments/0001/1517/Sustainability_-_Water_Wastewater.pdf.
[v] Jeremy Martin, “Green practices just make sense for growing number of craft brewers.” Southwest Michigan’s Second Wave. November 13, 2014. http://swmichigan.secondwavemedia.com/features/Green-practices-just-make-sense-for-growing-number-of-craft-brewers01113.aspx.