Growing Craft Brewing Industry Keeps Eye On Sustainability

Schlafly Bottleworks Tasting Room. After a tour of the brewery, Aaron Moore (Left), Jennifer Moore (Middle), and tour guide Sarah Rybicki (Right), taste a variety of beer brewed at Schlafly. All photos by Holly Shanks unless noted.

Environmental Echo, December 20, 2015.

With a strong sense of community, a decades-long tradition of collaboration, and with the belief that beer is communal, the thriving craft brewery industry is moving toward a sustainable future. The small breweries also recognize the need to protect environmental resources.

“Beer itself brings community together and it brings people across the aisle in ways that other products aren’t able to. Inherently, we are a community of brewers that are more likely to sit down and have a beer together, collaborate, and not let our competitive realities get in the way of solving environmental issues that transcend our individual businesses,” said Katie Wallace, founding co-chair of the Brewers Association’s sustainability subcommittee and assistant director of sustainability at New Belgium Brewing Company. “We won’t be successful in achieving a more sustainable future if we don’t work in collaboration.”

The Brewers Association, based in Colorado, is a non-profit national organization with more than 2,800 brewery members. The member-run organization formed a sustainability subcommittee two-and-one-half years ago to address needs of a rapidly growing membership. When sustainability became one of the frequent topics of discussion, the organization felt it warranted a specialized working group to steward the need for accessible information.

The number of U.S. breweries has reached record levels, according to a recently released report by the Brewers Association. The historic high of 4,131 breweries in 1873 has now been toppled. At the end of November 2015, a reported 4,144 breweries are now active in the U.S. and “brewery openings now exceed two a day.”

A previous Brewers Association report in September, showcasing the historical high of 4,  about to be topped, noted that “75 percent of legal drinking age adults live within 10 miles of a local brewery.” Another reason the record-breaking number is significant, is that it shows the rapid growth of breweries in the last few decades. In the 1970s, the report said there were less than 100 breweries in the U.S.

Urban Chestnut Brewery and Bierhall.
Urban Chestnut Brewery and Bierhall.

Sustainability and the environment are issues many brewers have been involved with for a long time, but there was no real beginning point, according to Chuck Skypeck, the Brewers Association’s technical brewing projects coordinator and former brewery owner.

Skypeck opened his first of several breweries in 1992. He said when the pioneers in craft brewing started out, roughly three decades ago, all they had was each other for information sources. Today, that spirit of collaboration remains.

Wallace agreed with Skypeck’s assessment.

“Environmental stewardship was one of our core values even before our New Belgium Brewing Company sold its first bottle of beer in 1991. A lot of people who are starting breweries are artisans – they’re hands-on brewers and are really aware of the water they are putting in the product,” Wallace said. “There is a strong connection to the ingredients and therefore, the home and places these ingredients are born and cultivated. So, it’s a socially and environmentally conscious group.”

John Stier, senior consultant with the Antea Group, an international environmental consulting organization, has worked with the Brewers Association to supply sustainability guidance manuals to help craft brewers. He said he is contracted to supply more manuals next year.

Stier is no stranger to the brewing industry or standards for sustainability. He is the former senior director of corporate environmental affairs for Anheuser-Busch (AB), now ABInBev, in St. Louis. He was with AB for three decades.

Stier said that from working in the craft brewing sector, he sees concern for the environment from the “ownership on down.” Two examples of leaders setting the pace in sustainability practices are the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, Calif., and the New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colo. However, he said there are likely dozens more craft brewers currently doing similar things that are not publicized.

New Belgium Brewing Company was the first wind-powered brewery in the U.S. and its solar array, when first installed, was the largest privately-owned solar array in Colorado. In 2008, when the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, located in Chico, Calif., installed its solar array, it was then largest privately-owned installation in the U.S.

“I love working with craft brewers, not that I don’t like working with the big guys, but these craft brewers are the true definition of the entrepreneur who starts off in his garage and creates something out of nothing,” Stier said. “In general, craft brewers have this incredible environmental ethic – they are just genuinely concerned about trying to do the right thing and to reduce the footprint they have on the earth. It’s right up there with the quality of the beer.”

Schlafly Bottleworks Beer Sampler.
Schlafly Bottleworks Beer Sampler.

At the time of this article, the Brewers Association’s website lists 93 breweries that are operating or in the planning stages of operation in Missouri. Of that total, 37 are in the St. Louis area – 24 operating currently and 13 in the planning stages.

Stier has worked with several local breweries in the St. Louis area, including Schlafly and Urban Chestnut. The Antea Group helps to “benchmark” sustainability efforts. Benchmarking is the process for businesses to find performance indicators, like cost and utility usage rates. This enables the business to locate areas where sustainability efforts can be implemented.




Photo by Holly Shanks.

Schlafly tour guide, Sarah Rybicki, explains elements of the brewing process.
Schlafly tour guide, Sarah Rybicki, explains elements of the brewing process.

Schlafly Brewery has two locations in St. Louis. The Schlafly Taproom opened in 1991 and Schlafly Bottleworks opened in 2002. When the Taproom first opened, it was the “first new brewpub opened in Missouri since Prohibition.” The brewer produces nearly 60,000 barrels of beer annually.

Tom Flood, Schlafly properties and sustainability manager, has been with the company on and off since 1991. He said doing the right thing by minimizing the impact on the environment was on the mind of co-owner, Dan Kopman, for a long time. Flood became the company’s first sustainability manager in 2006.

Flood said he learned about sustainability by doing a lot of reading and from others in the “recycling community.” At that time, universities did not offer sustainability degrees like many offer today. He said it was “learn as you do and learn as you go.”

Efforts started with recycling and more efficient lighting. In 2012, a solar array was installed at the Maplewood facility and provides about two percent of the Bottlework’s power needs. At the time, Ameren offered an incentive providing $50,000 to help with the installation, according to Flood.

Other sustainability efforts include elements, such as a garden on-site that provides some of the produce for their restaurants; a weekly farmers market (seasonal unless posted); recycling and composting; spent grains from the brewing process donated to farmers (spent grain from the Taproom location is free to farmers); work with local suppliers as much as possible, and once a year an organic ale is produced for St. Louis Earth Day.

Schlafly Gardenworks. Photo provided by Schlafly.
Schlafly Gardenworks. Photo provided by Schlafly.

Local schools tour the garden regularly.

“It’s really cool seeing the kids come through (the garden),” Flood said. “Kids who probably won’t eat vegetables will pick something from the garden and eat it right there.”

Schlafly beer pallets ready to ship.
Schlafly beer pallets ready to ship.

Flood said being sustainable is not only the right thing to do for the environment, but it also helps the bottom line. If less electricity and water are used for each barrel of beer produced, that barrel becomes more profitable.

Flood said the craft brewing industry is a harmonious group. He has visited several craft breweries, including the New Belgium Brewing Company, and the sustainability people are open about their efforts and willingly share sustainability information.

“I think we are all in this together,” Flood said. “We see that it makes sense to help each other.”

Water and energy usage, and also maintenance are the brewery’s next area for improvement in sustainability efforts, according to Flood. Schlafly is currently working with the Antea Group to develop a plan.

Photo by Holly Shanks.

Pictured: Alvan Caby.
Pictured: Alvan Caby.

The Urban Chestnut Brewing Company has two locations in St. Louis and one in Germany. The Grove Brewery and Bierhall opened in 2014, the Midtown Brewery and Biergarten opened in 2011, and Hallertauer Brauerei in Germany opened in 2015. The brewer produces over 20,000 barrels of beer annually.

Alvan Caby has been Urban Chestnut’s sustainability coordinator since April of 2015. Along with the sustainability job, he also works as the safety manager and bartends at both St. Louis tasting rooms on weekends.

Caby said sustainability is built into the foundation of Urban Chestnut. The founders are passionate and engaged in ways to be more efficient to reduce their carbon footprint.

When the Grove facility was being redesigned, it was the first brewery in LEED SignMissouri to obtain a LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The certification is for building and operation plans involving elements such as, use of energy-efficient equipment, installation of solar panel array, access to public transportation, along with other sustainability efforts.

Caby said working with the Antea Group was helpful in benchmarking processes and the Ameren BizSavers program was also helpful with insights and incentives for energy-saving elements, such as motion sensors for lighting.

“I think breweries are trying to find innovative ways to integrate sustainability into their business practice. Not only is it the right thing to do, but I know that I like going to places that are locally sourcing their products. I like to know I’m eating healthier and I’m in a place that cares about energy and water usage,” Caby said. “It’s also economics. If you can save money by being more efficient then why wouldn’t you do that?”

Urban Chestnut Brewery and Bierhall.

A few of Urban Chestnut’s sustainability efforts include, partial solar power at both St. Louis locations, local food sources used in the restaurants and working with local suppliers as much as possible. An estimated 600 tons of spent grain was donated to farmers in 2015, and reclaimed wood was used for tables and benches at the Grove Bierhall. Caby estimates that 92 percent of all generated waste material is either recycled, composted, or donated.

Caby said future goals are to start a community-style garden, to implement public sustainability awareness forums for shared learning experiences, and to have some fun doing it.

Caby said he thinks St. Louis has a good brewery community. He said the micro-brewers tend to get along and root for each other to succeed.

“I feel like it’s a good community in beer and St. Louis is a good beer town.”

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