Sustainable Brew Day


By Felix Andres Rivas

What does a ‘sustainable’ brew day mean?  For the homebrewer this means efficient use of time, minimizes waste, and conserves resources on brew day. A broad definition of sustainable means using a resource in a way that will not exhaust or deplete it but allow it to be replenished so that it can be used indefinitely. While this may seem a bit overwhelming, it’s helpful to understand sustainability because the beer industry is headed in this direction. To give us some perspective on this, two well-known breweries such as Firestone Walker and New Belgium are implementing sustainable practices, respectively. They both use renewable solar power energy for their electrical power. Recycling waste water is also instituted because of the reality of drought and water shortages in California for example. That is why good management of our fresh water is vital to the production of beer. Without water, there can be no beer! Another practice that Firestone Walker informs on their website is minimizing waste through repurposing spent grain which they donate to local farms to feed livestock. Even though these are large scale breweries, we can look to their model for ideas that will benefit our own brew process. Given this mindset, this article will give practical tips on how a homebrewer can save money, reuse water and grain; resulting in economical and less waste brew days.

How a Homebrewer can save money and practice sustainability

A typical brew day consists of having enough water on hand to mash grain and boil your wort. Usually, going to the local water kiosk to fill up those five gallon water jugs with Reverse Osmosis water is the way to go. However, using a water filter that goes under the sink is a great alternative to frequent trips to the water store. Yes, there is an initial investment but it pays for itself in better tasting water for regular use and for brewing. Currently, the system I use is the Pure Blue H20. It comes with a four gallon capacity water tank, four filters, and the initial cost is around $225.  Approximately, every six months you’ll need replacement filters that cost around $60. Now, here is a caveat of RO systems, a lot of water is wasted in the process of purifying water. According to the EPA’s website, for every gallon of RO, four to five gallons is reject water. That is crazy! I know, but with some creativity one can figure a way to redirect the reject water line permanently to use for any number of things. Below is the reject water line being drip fed into a 3 gallon bucket, and the water filtration system with the reject line connected to the drain.

RO Water system

A second approach on saving water is to stockpile ice for chilling your wort. Instead of going to the store to buy bags of ice; a couple of days before brew day, fill empty water bottles, ice trays, and one gallon jugs with tap water. This alone will save you time, money and energy. In addition, big blocks of ice like a gallon jug will last longer than little cubes of ice. 

Frozen water bottles to cool wort

 And after you have chilled the wort you can reuse the filled bottles or dump the used water into a 32 gallon plastic outdoor trash can or any big empty vessel to water the garden, lawn, trees, etc.

Collecting wort chilling water for use in garden

Being an all grain brewer means you will have used grains from the Mash-tun that you can repurpose instead of throwing it away. Two options are traditional composting and feeding livestock, cows for example will eat the spent grain. Of course, if you don’t have animals, you can give it to someone who does. Otherwise, composting is a great way to repurpose grain along with scraps from the kitchen to make a garden amendment. A quick primer on composting is to use 2/3 of brown carbon rich material to 1/3 of green nitrogen rich material. Browns are dry leaves, twigs, dry grass, pine needles, etc. Greens are spent grains, raw fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds, and manure from chickens, rabbits, etc. Basically mix this material into a concentrated pile and water it once a week. Keep it covered so animals don’t dig it up, also this allows the pile to generate the heat needed to decompose the nitrogen rich material into compost. Rotate it often until everything is broken down. In about two months give or take, the resulting compost will have turned into soil rich in nutrients that can be used in the garden as a soil amendment.

Composting spent grain

Lastly, reuse empty beer bottles! You may reuse them next time you bottle your homebrew. Rinse them out with dish soap and water, put them on a dish rack to dry, and store them in a plastic bin for later use.
These are only a few approaches to home brewing with a resource conscious mindset. And even though there is more we can do to be sustainable homebrewers, for instance, using an electric brew kettle powered by solar panels to boil water, which is perfectly sustainable. As of writing this, I still use propane to heat my boil kettle. I’m not saying we should abandon our current methods and boil water over a wood-fired stove but rather learning new efficient methods is the goal. In time, we can design and construct our own systems according to our own needs and environment. Furthermore, with each successive brew day, doing our best to be water wise and minimize waste are steps forward in brewing sustainably.

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