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Manitoba is home to 30 breweries that together brew over 60 types of beer. Local craft breweries are packed on any given weekend, telling you that Manitobans love craft beers, the friendly brewery atmosphere, or maybe just the people slinging pints. Whatever the reason, the craft beer industry is booming in Manitoba and beyond. The process, however, has its consequences. Brewing beer is not eco-friendly, and the demand for craft beer has increased significantly over the last two decades. In 2005, 150 craft breweries were operating in Canada. Today that number has increased to a whopping 1100 as of December 2022 — an increase of 21.8 per cent between 2017 and 2018 alone.
So, what makes craft beer different than a pack of Budweiser? The Brewers Association says a brewery needs to be small, independent, and certified to be considered “craft.” “Small” means the brewery produces six million barrels of beer or less per year and “independent” means “less than 25 per cent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.”
Small yields and fancy brews are what make craft beer special, but also what makes it less environmentally friendly than larger breweries. Larger breweries typically produce fewer types of beer and use more efficient equipment. The smaller yield makes it difficult for craft breweries to invest more efficient equipment since it is expensive. But expensive equipment is only one of many challenges craft breweries face regarding sustainability.
Water usage is a significant concern in the brewing process; the average brewery uses seven gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer, while less efficient breweries use up to 10 gallons per gallon of beer. Wastewater is another by-product of the brewing process. Contaminants such as spent grain, hops, yeast, and other materials can pollute the environment if not treated correctly.
Brewer’s spent grain — the solid waste left over from the brewing process — is another by-product. Brewer’s spent grain typically consists of malted barley; however, it sometimes contains other grains such as millet, rice, buckwheat, and corn, depending on the beer. According to the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, each gallon of beer creates about 1.7 pounds of brewer’s spent grain. In 2019, Canadian breweries produced over one billion pounds of brewer’s spent grain. The good news is that it’s often sold or donated to farmers as animal feed.
With high levels of fibre and protein, brewer’s spent grain is also a healthy ingredient to use in baking. The Spent Goods Company is passionate about minimizing waste and combatting climate change. They use brewer’s spent grain to make “beer bread,” and their loaves keep 16 million kilos of brewer’s spent grain from Ontario landfills each year. Unfortunately, many urban craft breweries dump their spent grain into landfills, where it breaks down into methane, a gas that has 25 times more of an atmospheric impact than carbon dioxide.
This process, and every other aspect of brewing beer, uses a lot of energy. Craft breweries often use more energy per barrel because they make a smaller amount of beer, so offsetting the energy used to brew that beer is tricky. According to a study by the Brewer’s Association, it takes approximately 50-60 kilowatt hours to brew one barrel of beer. To put this into perspective, the average electric furnace uses 26 kilowatt hours per day to operate, which means you could heat a house for more than two days with the energy it takes to brew a 31-gallon barrel of beer.
So, is there a way for craft beer enthusiasts who care about the environment to enjoy delicious craft beers without compromising their commitment to sustainability?
North American Efforts
Many brewers in North America have recognized the effects brewing beer has on the environment and have made efforts to prioritize sustainability. Many breweries are setting the stage for a more environmentally friendly industry by incorporating solar-operated machinery, locally sourced ingredients, emission-recapturing systems, and more into their practices.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Founded in Chico, California in 1980, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has always had eco-conscious craft brewing practices, but they haven’t always been able to afford to invest in expensive, highly efficient equipment. In 2004, Sierra Nevada had the funds to install hydrogen fuel cells, which significantly offset the brewery’s energy consumption. In 2007, they installed the first of many solar panels, powering around 20 per cent of the brewery’s energy. In 2015, Sierra Nevada became the first craft brewery in the U.S. to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum Certification, the highest-level certification from one of the world’s most well-known green building certifiers.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. isn’t just a leader in energy-efficient brewing; they compost 99.8 per cent of their solid waste from landfills and sell 95.3 per cent of their spent grain locally as animal feed. They also grow their hops, barley, and other brewing ingredients on estate farms located at their breweries in Chico, California and Mills River, North Carolina. They even use converted vegetable oil as biodiesel to power their farm equipment and capture biogas emissions to power the brewery’s boilers, which offsets the need to purchase fuel. Brewery wastewater is often difficult to treat in municipal wastewater treatment plants because of the high levels of organic solids, so Sierra Nevada pre-treats it onsite at their breweries.
Roadhouse Brewing Co.
Nestled in the Central Rocky Mountains is Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This tiny town with a population of just over 10,000 is home to one of the most innovative and eco-friendly craft breweries in the world: Roadhouse Brewing Co. In 2022, Roadhouse Brewing Co. was named one of the world’s most environmentally friendly companies and recognized as a “Best for the World™” B Corp by B Lab, a non-profit organization that certifies “B Corporations,” or “companies that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.”
The Wyoming brewery recaptures CO2 from fermenting tanks and uses it to carbonate beer and purge cans. This is an important process that helps reduce the amount of oxygen left in a can as it’s filled, which can harm the flavour of the beer over time. They also recapture steam and recycle it into hot water, which reduces heat released into the atmosphere. Among the brewery’s most unique eco-friendly ventures is its louvre system, which is linked to a thermostat and uses Jackson Hole’s cold winter air to keep their beer storage coolers cold. This system keeps the beer at ideal temperatures for seven to nine months of the year, significantly reducing the need for power-sucking commercial coolers.
Manitoba breweries are also taking initiative to become more eco-friendly. Agriculture is one of Manitoba’s top industries, so there’s no reason for any spent grain to end up in landfills instead of in local farmers’ feed troughs.
In 2022, the Manitoba government awarded $1.5 million from the Conservation and Climate Fund to help subsidize the cost of 14 projects that aim to protect the environment, specifically focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change.
One of the recipients was Winnipeg’s own Little Brown Jug Brewing Company (LBJ), an open-concept brewery producing craft beers in the heart of the Exchange District since 2016.
Little Brown Jug
LBJ received $150,000 from the Conservation and Climate Fund to make their newest green initiative possible. In spring 2023, LBJ will start recapturing carbon dioxide that’s been released during the brewing process. Typically, CO2 recapturing systems are built for breweries that produce at least 100,000 hectolitres of beer per year. For LBJ’s production rate of 7,000 to 10,000 hectolitres per year, it didn’t seem feasible. To put that measurement into perspective, a hectolitre equals 100 litres or 26 gallons, meaning LBJ could fill over 250,000 1-gallon milk jugs with beer each year.
Tyler Ganes, a brewer and lab technician at LBJ, proposed the large-scale system be adapted to fit the Winnipeg craft brewery’s smaller-scale needs.
He researched what other Canadian companies, like Sleeman Breweries, were doing and realized that even their smallest-scale CO2 recapturing systems were for large-scale brewing.
“I finally found this (CO2 recapturing system) company in the States that had just started up and was advertising towards smaller craft breweries,” Ganes explained.
Before LBJ installed this system, the carbon dioxide created during the brewing process would be vented off due to impurities in the gas and lack of proper equipment to filter and recapture the CO2. As a result, the craft brewery would continuously have to buy CO2 from a distributor and get it shipped here. This new system will allow them to capture clean CO2 and reuse it in the brewing process and in LBJ’s canned flavoured sparkling water product: brite water.
LBJ will be the second craft brewery in Canada — after Blindman Brewing, a craft brewery in Alberta that began recapturing carbon dioxide in 2021 — to recapture and reuse otherwise wasted carbon dioxide.
Like many breweries, LBJ gives their brewer’s spent grain to a local farmer. Ganes thinks this is one of the easiest, low-cost sustainability practices a brewery can do.
Ganes said another way LBJ maximizes efficiency is by using a centrifuge to clarify its beer. Before filtration, beer has sediment and impurities like yeast, hop particles, and proteins floating in it. Using a filter or centrifuge ensures the beer is smooth and clear.
Centrifuges spin unfiltered liquid quickly, which makes the heavier particles gravitate to the sides of the machine while the pure liquid stays in the middle. The ability to reuse a centrifuge indefinitely makes it a much eco-friendlier option than other filtration methods.
Many other breweries in the city use a filter system with cartridges that need replacing once they’ve been saturated.
“We used to go through eight of those huge filter cartridges a week, and you can’t recycle them because there are proteins and other particles in them,” explains Ganes. “They just go straight to the landfill.”
Smaller breweries typically use the traditional filter system because centrifuges, like CO2 recapturing systems, are built for commercial filtration. When LBJ invested in a centrifuge, the one they purchased was the smallest on the market, and they still weren’t using it at full capacity.
“It was an investment in our future,” says Ganes. “We knew where we wanted to be and built it for a bigger production rate than we were actually doing at the time.”
LBJ is among the few local craft breweries that can afford expensive eco-friendly equipment. The brewery opened in 2016 and has become enormously popular in the last seven years. The sale of LBJ’s top-notch quality beer and the business’s fast growth combined with the government funding they’ve received, have allowed the Winnipeg brewery to invest in the efficient equipment they use now.
Ganes says there are four main hurdles breweries face regarding sustainability, and the initial cost of equipment is one of them.
“Start-up cost is a huge hurdle for many craft breweries. We were lucky to get some funding from the government to help reduce that hurdle, but for many, it’s just not possible,” says Ganes.
The cost of maintaining efficient equipment is another challenge craft breweries face. Maintaining those machines takes time, labour, and additional expertise, which are all significant costs.
The third main hurdle Ganes mentioned is the limited options breweries have.
“Although more sustainable actions may exist for craft breweries, that doesn’t mean that those options are available to us,” Ganes says. “The CO2 recapture system, for instance, has existed for many years, but companies weren’t making systems designed for craft breweries until recently, so that wasn’t always an option.”
Ganes says the final challenge lies in the eye of the beholder. Craft beer consumers are not always interested in the more environmentally friendly options. Ganes thinks that has to do with craft beer consumers not educating themselves on the sustainability practices of breweries. If consumers push for better sustainability practices, breweries like LBJ will listen.
LBJ’s namesake is the small brown growler that holds a litre or two of beer. They’re airtight, made of glass, and help preserve the beer’s flavour. What makes growlers so environmentally friendly is that they can be washed and refilled, so they rarely get thrown into landfills.
“I think it’s a great way to reduce the environmental impact of your beer because there’s very minimal waste when using growlers,” says Ganes.
At LBJ, you can pay an upfront deposit for a growler and get a discount each time you bring it back to fill it. But, despite growlers being a cost-efficient and eco-friendly container system, cans are still more popular.
“It seems like a lot of people prefer cans over growlers these days, and while cans are recyclable, they’re the least environmentally friendly way to drink beer because they often end up in landfills,” Ganes says. “If customers prefer to buy cans over growlers, it’s difficult for us to choose the more sustainable option.”
Despite the challenges LBJ faces, they’re one of the breweries in Manitoba with the best sustainability practices.
“Anything that we can do to make sure the brewing industry and the product we produce is more sustainable, that’s what’s best,” says Ganes.
Farmery Estate Brewery
Farmery Estate Brewery is a brewery, farm, store, and natural body care producer all in one. You can find the charming estate brewery in Neepawa, Manitoba, about two hours west of Winnipeg. Because Farmery, the first of its kind in Canada when it opened, grows its ingredients on the family farm, it can keep its waste levels and carbon footprint to the bare minimum. Lawrence Warwaruk, co-owner of Farmery, says their family farm is what sets them apart.
“The idea of the estate brewery means that you use the ingredients you have, process and can it on site, and count on the [land] around you,” says Warwaruk.
Farmery’s business model is “Farm to Table,” which means less outsourcing of ingredients, more local supply chain, and more control over how those ingredients are processed. This ingredient control allows Farmery to ensure its ingredients are sustainably farmed, creating an eco-friendlier beer.
By keeping the entirety of its growing and brewing process local, Farmery reduces its carbon footprint. Transportation accounts for 27 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, and a great way for breweries to minimize shipping and transportation needs is to source ingredients locally.
“We process our farm-grown barley into malt locally, which actually reduces our (carbon) footprint because that grain doesn’t go much farther than to Winnipeg and back to the brewery here,” Warwaruk explains.
A problem many breweries face is sourcing their hops locally, yet Warwaruk says Manitoba has ideal hop-growing conditions.
“It’s a labour-intensive process, so when it comes to a cost-basis, hops may not be profitable enough for local producers to really grow it,” explains Warwaruk. “We don’t make money on our hops; we grow them as part of our ideology.”
Farmery Estate Brewery found themselves with the opposite problem of many breweries: they had a surplus of hops. Not wanting to waste what they worked hard to grow, Farmery created its bath and body care line. Hops have been used throughout history to treat insomnia, stress, and digestive issues. Farmery began to extract hop oil from their leftover yield and use it in health and wellness products. In 2019, Farmery collaborated with Cerebra, a sleep-focused digital health company, to create DreaMist Pillow Spray, a hop-infused spray to aid with sleep issues.
“Our motivation is really to utilize as many ingredients from the farm as we can, and that’s where the idea (for the bath and body care line) came from,” says Warwaruk.
What Can You Do To Help?
Although it’s up to breweries to ensure they’re using sustainable, eco-friendly practices while brewing beer, craft beer lovers have a part to play too:
Support craft breweries that use locally sourced ingredients. Breweries that source ingredients locally have a smaller carbon footprint. If your favourite brew isn’t 100 per cent locally sourced, choose beers with some locally sourced ingredients or talk to the brewers about why you care about drinking beer that uses local ingredients.
Choose a draught the next time you go out for craft beer with friends. Beers that are on tap come from kegs, not cans. Kegs are emptied, cleaned, and refilled so they don’t end up in landfills at nearly the rate that cans and bottles do. If you go the canned beer route, look for printed cans or cans with a removable zipper label. Removable zipper labels are plastic, but they have a tab at the side to rip the label from the can, allowing for easy recycling of the aluminum can.
Buy your beer in growlers. Refillable growlers have only 5 per cent of the carbon footprint a can or bottle has, as they require much less energy to produce and can be used indefinitely. They also hold almost as much beer as your typical six-pack, which means more time enjoying your favourite brew before having to restock.
Return your empties. Most hotel beer vendors accept empty cans and bottles, which can be cleaned and recycled. A bonus is that it’s more money in your pocket. Every container with a refundable deposit is worth 10 or 20 cents, depending on the size. Make sure to rinse out your cans and bottles before returning them, as they may be rejected if liquid remains.
Tell craft breweries that you care about their sustainability practices. By expressing interest in their sustainability practices, you’re encouraging breweries to take action toward reducing their environmental impact. Craft breweries exist to make great beer and please their consumers, so if they know being eco-friendly is a priority for their customers, they’re more likely to make sure it’s a part of their business model.