Three cheers for green beer!
I would guess that many of us, even if we aren’t partial to imbibing ourselves, have noticed the skyrocketing number of craft breweries in the past decade. Gone are the days where the options at a restaurant or grocery store were limited to three major distributors, all with at least a few unpronounceable ingredients, and coming from “farms” and “breweries” that resemble factories more than anything else.
Craft breweries, as stated by the American Brewers Association, must be “small, independent and traditional.” This means, respectively, less than 6 million barrels produced per year, less than 25% owned by larger non-craft beer companies, and the majority of their output must use traditional beer brewing techniques (though innovative ingredients are welcome!).
The explosion of interest in craft breweries, besides being a treat for our taste buds, has also been an economic force, with many breweries focusing on using local ingredients, paying living wages or forming employee owned cooperatives, and going green by re-using waste products and using clean energy.
Some of the pioneer craft breweries have become mid-sized nationally-known brands, while continuing to hold close to their sustainable roots. While you may recognize these names from your local grocery store, there are probably hundreds of other breweries closer to you that you haven’t heard of (yet!).
Harpoon Brewing – Started in Boston, MA in 1986, then expanded into another brewery in Windsor, VT. All of the grain used in brewing is donated to farmers afterwards as “spent grain” to supplement animal feed. Also, in 2014 Harpoon became employee owned! They were able to do this with the help of Equal Exchange, a company some if you may be familiar with. Harpoon also uses Equal Exchange’s coffee in one of their beers, continuing to build bridges between companies working for good.
New Belgium – 100% employee owned, they have a strong commitment to renewable energy. Started in Fort Collins, CO, and recently expanded with an LEED-certified east coast brewery in Asheville, NC.
There are also many breweries that are B-Corporation Certified (as we are here at Natural Investments), including New Belgium, HopWorks, Brewery Vivant, Bison Brewing, and Aslan Brewing, among many others.
There are many other fantastic breweries out there doing great things, that might not be able to afford certifications or advertise their sustainability efforts. Ask questions at your local bar, brewpub or brewery!
Natural Investment’s own Hal Brill is a partner of High Wire Hops, a farm in Paonia CO that grows 4 varieties of hops for over 50 local brewers. Breweries in Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado have won awards using hops from High Wire, proving that local sourcing isn’t only better for the earth, but for your palate as well! Hal notes that “the explosive growth of the craft beer industry is creating new opportunities for small-acreage farms who are able to provide high quality ingredients that breweries need to distinguish themselves from the competition.” There is a strong sense of regional pride in Colorado, so beers like Colorado Native, which uses only Colorado-ingredients, are finding that they fit in well with the local food movement. And although the start-up costs for a hops farm are significant (including trellising and expensive processing machinery), Hal says that their customers are happy (or at least willing) to pay a premium price.
While at a home brewing festival this past weekend, I got to chat with people who enjoy brewing as a hobby, not as a job. Learning more about the sourcing of ingredients and experimenting with different combinations can result in some very unique flavors! Regional differences in water can also create differences in flavor, even with the same recipes, so brewers are very aware of water quality and conservation efforts. It takes about 4 gallons of water to create 1 gallon of beer, and reduction of water usage is both economically and environmentally desirable.
Never had a craft beer, or just wanting to experience more of this phenomenon? If you want to support some local brewers, it’s easy! The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a craft brewer, and you’ll find coverage of them in regional alternative weeklies and often in dedicated quarterly or annual beer guides. Try an online search for “craft brewers” and your state to dig deeper into your local creative beer scene.