Sustainability, Our Environment, and "Green Beer"
If you’ve been to this page before, you’ve probably read that East End Brewing “reclaims heat, water, and CO2 consumed in the brewing process”. Yes, we still do all that, and more – so I decided to put some of the “and more” out here for you to have a look at.
Now first off, you should know that I’m far from an sustainability expert – I’m just a guy trying to make some GOOD BEER and do it in an environmentally responsible way. Eventually, I’ll get some links in here to point you to the REAL EXPERTS in these matters – places I go to educate myself about this stuff. But for now, here’s what I have in mind (and in practice) in the way of “Environmental Sustainability” and East End Brewing…
The Basic Principles:
In the construction and operation of the East End Brewing Company, wherever possible (and sometimes at a greater expense), a specific if not compulsive emphasis was placed on these basic principles of environmental sustainability. These guiding principles lead the way to a brewing operation that puts a much lighter load on the earth’s resources than comparable traditional facilities.
- Buy locally: Making local purchases reduces transportation demands, supports the local business structure, and positively engages the surrounding community. It’s also pretty convenient. While we don’t have fields of barley growing in East Liberty to draw from, I’ve been working with some local organic farmers (www.silverwheelfarm.com) to grow some hops that should be ready to use next year. Of course, drinking locally brewed beer supports this principle too, since among other things, transportation resources are much lesser, though some might say I have a small bias in this area.
- Buy used: An obvious money saver in the short term, buying used equipment completely eliminates material and energy resources associated with the fabrication of new equipment. The long term costs can be higher though. The cost of re-assembly and re-installation of used equipment, and the increased maintenance costs of operating equipment that has already seen some use can be significant. There’s a lot more risk too, as there’s no guarantee that after all your time and money that the stuff will even power up and work as it should. In spite of all this, I think it’s still worth it. With the exception of a new portable pump, a few hoses, and a couple of floor squeegees, just about all of the equipment in here is used.
- Beneficial Re-use (a.k.a. Salvage or junk): One advantage of a microbrewery without a pub is that although the equipment needs to be able to make great beer, it doesn’t need to be super pretty. This opens up the door to reusing salvaged items to meet new needs. From my mismatched quarry tile baseboard to my milling platform that looks remarkably like an old government issue steel desk, it’s been an easy choice to make.
- Reduce/Do without: Some things we think we need, but if we can look at it differently enough, we often find we can do without. For example, there is a belief that people won’t drink a beer that’s not crystal clear. While I’ll agree that there is a slice of the population that’s put off by a hazy beer, filtering beer strips it of flavor and body – both pretty important I’d say. It also takes experience, power, and time to perform well (talk about scarce resources!). So I personally can’t justify the trading off product quality and expending more resources just to make crystal clear beer. Instead of filtering, I’ve selected a yeast strain that is “highly flocculent” – meaning that, given enough time and the right temperature, it will settle out rather nicely, leading to a pretty clear beer - or at least “clear enough” for my tastes, and hopefully yours as well.
- Building: The “brewery disguised in an abandoned building” description isn’t too far off the mark – at least that’s how it was when I first came in here. This old industrial building, formerly occupied by a printing company, was in pretty rough shape, in an “underutilized” section of town. With about a year of work and installation, it’s now a fully functional microbrewery. I still don't have much of a sign out front though.
- Brewing Equipment:
- Used brewhouse, used hot liquor tank, a used mill and grist case, 3 used fermenters, and used bright beer tank – all from local source.
- One new portable transfer pump. (Just couldn’t find the right used one – but it’s on a used cart!)
- Supporting equipment:
- Over 250 empty kegs used by as many as 4 different Pennsylvania breweries – buying locally AND used!
- Used glycol chiller from local source
- Used walk in cooler (had to get this one from Wisconsin)
- Used refrigeration equipment bought from salvage.
- My fancy desk – a roadside pickup.
- Installation materials:
- 300 feet of electrical conduit, mounting struts, hanging hardware, conduit connectors and wire – all reclaimed used/salvage, all local.
- 250 feet of copper glycol piping, fittings, pipe insulation, and mounting hardware – all used/salvage, all local.
- 60 feet of brew kettle ventilation ductwork and stainless steel heat shielding – all used, all local, and supplemented with new material.
(This is where the majority of the “consumption-production-waste” cycle takes place, so it’s the BIG opportunity to do it right.)
- WATCHING MY WASTE: One thing I’m pretty excited about is the fact that this brewery generates hardly any solid waste that goes to a landfill. There is no dumpster at East End Brewing. Instead, I carry a kitchen-sized bag of trash to the curb about once every 3 or 4 weeks. Where does it all go? Well, so far, here’s where I’ve been sending it:
- Spent grain:
By weight, it’s the second biggest product of a brewery, but not nearly as desirable as the first one. Luckily, I’ve found a bunch of ladies who just can’t get enough of it – thanks to a local dairy farmer who brings them this high-protein feed supplement. (They’re his cows in case you haven’t figured that out yet.) No, I don’t charge him anything for it, but since he’s willing to come right to the brewery to haul it away, I’m thrilled with the arrangement. I’m told by a friend of mine that they call this “beneficial reuse” in environmental circles, which in my thinking is a step or two better than sending it to compost, and LOTS better than land filling it. When I tell people this, I’m often been asked if the grain has much nutritional value after I’m through with it. Brewing certainly does remove much of the grain’s starch and carbohydrates by converting it into the sugary liquid that’s used to make beer. But what’s left is, pound for pound, much higher in protein than what I started with. So it actually makes an excellent high-protein feed supplement – or so I am told. (www.cressys.co.uk) Now if after reading this, you think that last carton of milk you opened tastes like a little like Big Hop, don’t blame the cows. It’s just the beneficial reuse talking.
In addition to making beer, breweries also make a fair amount of yeast. Unlike a bakery which kills its yeast each time it’s used, with each batch fermented at the brewery, I get 2 to 4 times as much yeast as I started with. After the first or second batch, that’s more yeast than I need for future brews – LOTS more. Instead of sending all that yeast down the drain (which isn’t such a great idea since live yeast competes for oxygen with the bugs that the water treatment guys put in to treat the water), I’ve been working with folks at The Wood Street Bakery in Wilkinsburg to see if there’s a way they can use it in their bread making. This one is still in the works, but I’m hopeful. Meanwhile, if there are any homebrewers out there who could use some yeast, just drop me a line, or ask me during Growler Hours if there's currently a surplus of yeast in the building, and chances are, if you've got a zipper bag, you can take some with you.
- Spent Hops and Trub:
This is the mucky stuff that’s left in the bottom of the brew kettle after all the liquid has been drained out (think greenish pudding that smells like hops – yum!). There’s not a huge amount of it -maybe 10-20 gallons per batch. As of August 2007, I’ve been giving this to the folks at the Homewood Community Garden, and they compost it. If you’d like some to kick-start your backyard compost bin, again, just let me know and I'll set some aside for you.
- What’s left?
The rest is paper waste, mostly junk mail to be honest. The boxes that I get my hops in, cardboard slip sheets from the pallets of grain, and plastic shrink wrap - unless I can find a use for these around the brewery (as I often do), these all go into recycling. The poly-woven type grain bags, well I usually post them on Craigslist as "free", and they're gone in less than a week. (Pittsburgh must have a HUGE underground sack-race network.) The rest goes to the recycling bins at Construction Junction .
- WATER AND ENERGY CONSERVATION:
The brewing industry average for water consumption is: For every barrel of beer produced, 8 barrels of water are consumed. When I first heard this, I was shocked, so maybe you are too. Where’s does it all go?
- Washing and sanitizing – Someone once told be that brewing is really 80% cleaning and 20% brewing. I think the first number is probably too low – more like 90% cleaning would be my guess – especially when you add a kegging operation into that. Kegs, fermenters, a brew kettle, a mash tun - really anything that touches something that eventually goes into a keg, it all has to be cleaned – and cleaned WELL. And that usually means hot water. It may seem secondary to brewing, but it’s a critical element to making great beer, and though you can do it SMARTER, using less water than the last time, you just can’t do without it.
- Boil off – If I’m brewing a 10 barrel batch, I probably lose about a barrel and a half of water from it during the boil in the form of steam. Again, a necessary part of brewing, and even harder to minimize.
Paper or plastic? – Gas vs. electric, the answer is far from obvious. Gas is a fossil fuel, electricity may actually COME FROM a fossil fuel depending on the source, but probably not. My brewhouse uses natural gas as it’s heat source, a better choice for this application I believe, as it converts into heat energy more efficiently than electricity would, so I use less power. It costs less to operate too, so that helps me stay in business, which helps you have beer to drink.
- Non-contact Cooling Water - After the boil, the batch of unfermented beer (called “wort”) must be cooled down to about 70 degrees or so. This is done using fresh city water and a counterflow heat exchanger, which is actually pretty efficient at getting the job done. At the end, you wind up with the cooled batch of wort and a couple hundred gallons of clean hot water, at about 160 degrees F. A surprisingly large number of breweries choose to run this hot water straight to the drain, wasting not only the water, but the heat (energy) contained within it. In my setup, I capture this water in an insulated tank and use it for the next day’s brewing - or if I’m not brewing the next day, for tank cleaning and sanitizing. With the volume of beer I’m brewing right now (I don’t brew every day), there are some times when I just don’t have a need for that much hot water. So after a few days, it cools off and I need to heat it again when I’m ready to brew. Of course, the more beer you drink, the more often I can put that hot water to use, so have another pint and help save the planet!
Now, after all this, how does East End Brewing rate in water consumed per barrel produced? The answer is, “I really don’t know - YET.” Up until now, I just haven’t been operating at any kind of consistent level to get a decent measurement. And while I pay my water bills, lining up the billing period there with the brewery’s production periods isn’t especially straight forward. Once I’m operation for a year or two, I should get a better sense on how I’ve been doing. Until then, I’ll continue to constantly look at every way I use these important and finite resources.
Lastly, I should probably mention that all the beers are 100% vegetarian, but I suppose they aren't strictly vegan, as in some circles, yeast is considered to be an animal. For more on how OTHER beers may not be vegetarian, have a look here .
So, there you have it. At least now you have SOME of the particulars about the practices I’ve been employing here at East End Brewing, and I’m always looking for new ideas to do it better. Some ideas I’ll be able to use, others I won’t because of the cost verses benefit tradeoff. Let’s face it: If I’m not in business anymore, it won’t really matter what I was doing.
Now, if you’ve got a GOOD IDEA, I’d love to hear it. (Maybe you ARE an expert?) Drop me a line and tell me all about it. Maybe you could help the GOOD BEER even GOODer!
And THANKS…for your interest in craft beer. We at East End Brewing are committed to bringing full flavored beers to Pittsburgh, while at the same time, making the world a better place. And remember, every “better place” should always have something decent on tap.
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