Southern Brew News April/May 2014 : Page 7

www.brewingnews.com 7 By Don Beistle Dear Dr. Brewski, I have been following the East Coast expansion of Sierra Nevada and New Belgium with some interest. Of course, the prospect of drinking brewery fresh Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Ranger IPA in Asheville is enticing but what I am most interested in is their professed commitment to the envi-ronment and sustainability. I am inclined to give them the benefit of a doubt because they make excellent beer, but I worry about falling prey to corporate“greenwashing.” What’s your take on their move here? Make no mistake, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are the real deal when it comes their commitment to sustainability. Their plants in the west and those they are building in North Carolina give ample evi-dence of that commitment. “Greenwashing” is a scam, either a public relations ploy to give a business or product the appearance of being environ-mentally benign or a campaign to capture unwarranted government subsidies or spe-cial treatment. Either way, the “green” in greenwashing is at best superficial if not entirely illusory. New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, by contrast, are green to the core. Admittedly, both firms proudly tout their eco-friendly credentials, but their claims are verifiable and their aims more evangelical than self-promotional. In addition to ultra-high-efficiency bre-whouse, packaging and cellar technologies that trim expenses while saving water and energy, each employs a range of less remu-nerative tactics and technologies to reduce its carbon footprint, energy and resource consumption, dependence on non-biode-gradable synthetics, material and thermal waste, and general unneighborliness (glare, noise, smells, traffic, etc.) Each has one of North America’s largest solar arrays at its home plant, and New Belgium purchases the rest of its electricity from a windfarm in Wyoming. Sierra Nevada generates most of its own energy from natural gas-powered fuel cells, and both brewers continue work-ing toward the day when a significant por-tion of their electrical needs will be supplied by fuel cells powered by methane from on-site waste treatment plants. The problem with mentioning sustain-ability and brewing in the same breath is that the business of brewing as it is prac-ticed today is inherently unsustainable. The issue is not one of deceit so much as a gen-eral failure of imagination and an inability to recognize what’s right before our eyes. No matter how “green” the brewer, modern beer is an energy and resource intensive industrial product unlikely ever to be truly sustainable at current levels of production and consumption. What exactly will happen when fuel and electricity prices soar as stores of fos-sil fuels (including natural gas) become depleted or their delivery interrupted is anybody’s guess. But it will be a mess. Brewing will become increasingly localized as the shipping costs both of raw materials and finished product skyrocket. Likewise, brewing may once again revert to a seasonal business as the costs of chilling wort and refrigerating beer climb. Lagers will become an increasingly rare luxury, especially here in the south. Disposable containers will become prohibitively expensive; draft beer will dominate and reusable bottles again be the norm. And many breweries are sure to fold. The survivors are likely to be either very small or extremely large. Short sup-ply and distribution lines will benefit rustic brewers blessed by a mild climate, proxim-ity to a stable population of beer drinkers, and ready access to raw materials and hydro-, wind-or whatever-power. Extremely large brewers will benefit from economies of scale and may some day achieve near-total self-sufficiency through a combination of a mutually reinforcing suite of alternative energy sources and the proceeds from foods grown on the brewery’s“estate.” To their credit, both Sierra Nevada and New Belgium appear to recognize that inev-itability and, moreover, are helping to create the infrastructure for a post-oil economy. Such forward thinking deserves to embraced in our corner of the country where it is in decidedly short supply. What can a sustainability-minded beer drinker do? Choose draft over bottled or canned beer whenever possible. Favor green brewers and organic brews. Above all, drink local. There are few things better in this world than savoring a hometown brew with friends in your neighborhood pub. As I read that last paragraph, I realize my advice sounds as though it were lifted straight from some pitch from the Greater Asheville Relocation Bureau (if there is such an entity). So be it. Look homeward, beer-drinking angels.

Doctor Brewski Answers All

Don Beistle

Dear Dr. Brewski, <br /> <br /> I have been following the East Coast expansion of Sierra Nevada and New Belgium with some interest. Of course, the prospect of drinking brewery fresh Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Ranger IPA in Asheville is enticing but what I am most interested in is their professed commitment to the environment and sustainability. I am inclined to give them the benefit of a doubt because they make excellent beer, but I worry about falling prey to corporate“greenwashing.” What’s your take on their move here?<br /> <br /> Make no mistake, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are the real deal when it comes their commitment to sustainability. Their plants in the west and those they are building in North Carolina give ample evidence of that commitment.<br /> <br /> “Greenwashing” is a scam, either a public relations ploy to give a business or product the appearance of being environmentally benign or a campaign to capture unwarranted government subsidies or special treatment. Either way, the “green” in greenwashing is at best superficial if not entirely illusory.<br /> <br /> New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, by contrast, are green to the core. Admittedly, both firms proudly tout their eco-friendly credentials, but their claims are verifiable and their aims more evangelical than selfpromotional.<br /> <br /> In addition to ultra-high-efficiency brewhouse, packaging and cellar technologies that trim expenses while saving water and energy, each employs a range of less remunerative tactics and technologies to reduce its carbon footprint, energy and resource consumption, dependence on non-biodegradable synthetics, material and thermal waste, and general unneighborliness (glare, noise, smells, traffic, etc.) Each has one of North America’s largest solar arrays at its home plant, and New Belgium purchases the rest of its electricity from a windfarm in Wyoming. Sierra Nevada generates most of its own energy from natural gas-powered fuel cells, and both brewers continue working toward the day when a significant portion of their electrical needs will be supplied by fuel cells powered by methane from onsite waste treatment plants.<br /> <br /> The problem with mentioning sustainability and brewing in the same breath is that the business of brewing as it is practiced today is inherently unsustainable. The issue is not one of deceit so much as a general failure of imagination and an inability to recognize what’s right before our eyes. No matter how “green” the brewer, modern beer is an energy and resource intensive industrial product unlikely ever to be truly sustainable at current levels of production and consumption.<br /> <br /> What exactly will happen when fuel and electricity prices soar as stores of fossil fuels (including natural gas) become depleted or their delivery interrupted is Anybody’s guess. But it will be a mess. Brewing will become increasingly localized as the shipping costs both of raw materials and finished product skyrocket. Likewise, brewing may once again revert to a seasonal business as the costs of chilling wort and refrigerating beer climb. Lagers will become an increasingly rare luxury, especially here in the south. Disposable containers will become prohibitively expensive; draft beer will dominate and reusable bottles again be the norm. And many breweries are sure to fold.<br /> <br /> The survivors are likely to be either very small or extremely large. Short supply and distribution lines will benefit rustic brewers blessed by a mild climate, proximity to a stable population of beer drinkers, and ready access to raw materials and hydro-, wind- or whatever-power. Extremely large brewers will benefit from economies of scale and may some day achieve neartotal self-sufficiency through a combination of a mutually reinforcing suite of alternative energy sources and the proceeds from foods grown on the brewery’s“estate.”<br /> <br /> To their credit, both Sierra Nevada and New Belgium appear to recognize that inevitability and, moreover, are helping to create the infrastructure for a post-oil economy. Such forward thinking deserves to embraced in our corner of the country where it is in decidedly short supply.<br /> <br /> What can a sustainability-minded beer drinker do? Choose draft over bottled or canned beer whenever possible. Favor green brewers and organic brews. Above all, drink local. There are few things better in this world than savoring a hometown brew with friends in your neighborhood pub.<br /> <br /> As I read that last paragraph, I realize my advice sounds as though it were lifted straight from some pitch from the Greater Asheville Relocation Bureau (if there is such an entity). So be it. Look homeward, beer-drinking angels.

South College

 

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