When you sip a cold, refreshing beer, what you’re really tasting is the environment around you. No matter what combination of ingredients go into the recipe—the hops, the barley, the yeast—each pint of beer contains about 90% water. Forget blue crabs and oysters, forget pristine hikes and kayak trips—the real reason it’s essential to conserve our lands and keep our waters healthy is to keep producing excellent beer.
Breweries across the country—and here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—are becoming increasingly more sustainable as they advocate for clean water. Many practice recycling, composting, energy conservation and other less traditional environmental practices, like the upcycling of spent grain.
Spent grain is a waste byproduct that is produced when beer is brewed. Wheatland Spring in Waterford, Virginia, provides its spent grains to its neighboring farms to feed their livestock. In addition to providing a nutritional supplement to farm animals, it also allows the brewery to eliminate the cost of disposing the grains. Breweries in Washington, D.C., such as Bluejacket and DC Brau, have partnered with local restaurants to provide them with their spent grain, which is then used in pizza crusts, pasta, coffee cake, granola and hamburger buns. And at Shy Bear Brewing in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, the spent grain is composted and used as mulch around their property.
Brewers are also becoming more aware of their environmental footprint because of the increasing threat of climate change. Extreme heatwaves and droughts will impact agricultural crops like barley that are necessary ingredients for brewing beer. This is projected to cause the cost of brewing beer to significantly increase in the coming years. Some experts believe that within the next fifty years, a six pack could cost as much as $100. Drought also can cause the taste of beer to change. When water restrictions are in place, breweries will depend more on groundwater to brew, which can significantly alter the taste. One spokesperson referenced in an article by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration referred to the taste as, “like brewing with Alka-Seltzer”.
Luckily for us in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, there is a wide selection of breweries that are taking steps to be sustainable and protect our watershed. Here are just a few to check out.
Hellbender Brewing Company (Washington, D.C.)
Hellbender Brewing Company was the first brewery on the East Coast to invest in a mash filter, which increases efficiency while using less water in the brewing process. They also work with organizations dedicated to protecting the Hellbender salamander—one of the unique, but very threatened species found in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Hopshire Farm and Brewery (Freeville, N.Y.)
As its name indicates, Hopshire Farm and Brewery, grows all its own hops on-site, while giving any extras to local farmers. A historic barn that is home to the brewery contains some of the most cutting-edge technology when it comes to energy efficiency. Heat produced during the brewing process is stored in a sand bed located underneath the floor and used to heat the tasting room. A stream behind the building contains environmentally friendly tubing that is used to circulate water to help keep the building and the fermenters cool. Future plans include the addition of a biomass boiler and solar water heating.
Ruhlman Brewing Company (Hampstead, Md.)
Ruhlman Brewing Company is also home to Creeping Creek Farm, where all the beer’s farm-fresh ingredients are grown. They were the first brewery to open on a working farm in Maryland. The hops for their beer are grown without pesticides, herbicides or insecticides, and using only natural fertilizers. All the water used in the brewing process is sourced directly from a well on the farm. The brewery is also a welcoming area of open space to visitors, featuring a disc golf course and ample acres to be outside and enjoy nature.
Tröegs Independent Brewing (Hershey, Pa.)
Tröegs is a leader in Pennsylvania when it comes to sustainable brewing. They use local hops grown at nearby farms for most of their beers (nearly 100,000 pounds just for two of them!). They also source local honey—25,000 pounds a year—and fruit from nearby orchards and use 3,000 pounds of local pumpkins each fall for their famous pumpkin ale. They work with the Nature Conservancy to protect Kittatinny Ridge, a 185-mile region of the Appalachian Mountains, spanning 15,000 acres, through the sale of their Trail Day Beer. Their employees take part in annual tree plantings along Swatara Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River.
Väsen Brewing Company: (Richmond, Va.)
Väsen has a mission to become one of the most sustainable breweries in the entire nation. They are well on their way with the creation of the Väsen Environmental Program, which documents their sustainability practices. They rely on a local and sustainable supply chain to provide them with the ingredients that go into their beer. They strive each year to reuse and recycle 100% of the resources generated in their brewing process. Väsen also donates a portion of their beer sales to local environmental nonprofit organizations, like the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
Didn’t see your favorite local brewery on the list? Give them a shout out in the comments!