Hopped up on Sustainability
NH brewers find ways to reduce their impact on the environment
Hops, grains, yeast and water. All beer consists of these four lucky ingredients, but the alchemy that turns these standalone elements into a delicious beverage is an energy-intensive process that relies heavily on cooling, heating and water — lots of water.
Just as the beer-drinking public can take small steps toward sustainability, so can local breweries.
“I’ve found breweries and craft beverage producers embrace the environment in all they do. They just seem to be aware that it makes sense,” says Kathy Black, pollution prevention manager at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.
“It makes sense for them business-wise, for the environment and for their own health as well as their customer’s health.”
Through the Sustainable Craft Beverage Recognition Program, Black works with brewers who are looking for ways to be more sustainable in their business practices.
“We look at reducing waste at the source. So if you don’t create the waste in the beginning, you don’t have to figure out how to dispose of it,” Black says. The program celebrated its one-year anniversary on Aug. 11. Throwback Brewery was the first to join the program, with fellow Hampton beermaker Smuttynose Brewing Co. and Franklin’s Vulgar Brewing following its lead.
Many of the smaller breweries in the state don’t have the same resources as a large-scale brewer like Smuttynose, which invested in gold-level LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) certifications, and enjoyed energy savings in the production process.
Even small investments can reap cost benefits, however, such as replacing seals on refrigerator or cooler doors, which can save up to $2,000 in annual energy costs, Black tells brewers.
While the use of solar energy, internal water treatment and carbon dioxide capture are some of the more financially dense methods used in sustainable brewing, sourcing material locally, recycling packaging materials, repurposing spent grains, and using LED lighting also contribute to improved sustainability.
Those plastic toppers that hold a four-pack of pints or a six-pack of 12-ounce cans — known as PakTech carriers — are 100% recyclable as a No. 1 plastic. Overachievers can bring these babies back to their favorite brewery, where they will be sanitized and reused, greatly reducing the amount of energy needed to melt them down and fabricate them again.
A PakTech recycle bin sits prominently near the to-go coolers at Post & Beam in Peterborough. Owner Erika Rosenfeld says the brewery hasn’t had to buy new PakTech carriers in years because customers embrace recycling. Taking beer home in growlers bypasses that step entirely.
Rosenfeld has looked for other ways to make the business more environmentally responsible, such as using LED lights, repurposing old floor joists and buying thrift store furniture. The brewery also considers the environment with respect to its landscaping decisions.
“We aren’t on a piece of land where grass makes sense. Instead of dumping a bunch of water into an unsustainable landscape, we did the opposite,” Rosenfeld says. “We have pollinator gardens that were specifically designed for our plot of land to attract as many native pollinators as possible with just native plants.”
In addition to the “green” gardens that surround the brewery, a lot of thought was put into the rehabilitation of the circa-1837 building, which included a geothermal HVAC system, as well as on-site well water for beer production. “We met with DES at the beginning of our planning process to get advice from them on how to best build out an almost 200-year-old building and make it more efficient,” Rosenfeld says.
Smaller-scale brewers also contribute to sustainability by using local ingredients. Although New England lacks the infrastructure of large-scale grow operations like the major hop producers located in the Pacific Northwest, there is a growing number of grain and hop producers in New England.
Devin Bush of Wildbloom Brewery in Littleton is focused on making connections with farmers, the community and the local economy. “We buy right around 99% of our grain from New England Farms, and we get a lot of our grain from Morrill Farm,” Bush says. The multigenerational dairy farm in Concord was looking for ways to diversify its land, so it started to grow grains for brewing such as barley and corn.
One of Bush’s concerns with ingredients is the lack of transparency in the way many products are made, and feels that simplicity in the process makes sense to a lot of people. It became apparent during COVID that the enormity of products we use everyday are shipped into this country from abroad, which highlighted how fragile and unpredictable international commerce relationships can be.
“We’re talking about reducing the food mile, supporting the people in your community who can then make smart choices about how they’re operating,” Bush says. “You are also talking about a far less amount of preservatives in things if you’re buying it close, because it’s being consumed close, so it’s going to be fresher without all the preservatives.”
About 15 minutes away in downtown Concord in the 150-year-old Merrimack Farmers Exchange building on Storrs Street sits the Concord Craft Brewing Company. The cozy, inviting tap room and kitchen occupy the front of the house, and the steam-heated brewhouse produces beer in the rear.
With clever names such as The Gov’nah, Live Free Lager and the Hampsha Heffah Blueberry Lemon that resonate with customers, there is also a diligent effort to respect the community by using sustainable techniques in the production process.
Dennis Molnar and his wife, Beth Mayland, started Concord Craft in 2015 and have worked with Kathy Black at DES to find ways to make their facility more energy efficient. The art of brewing is an energy-intensive process that requires a lot of refrigeration. “We have a challenge in the brewing industry. We heat things up only to cool them down,” Molnar says. “And then when we cool ‘em down, we heat ‘em back up again.”
Although there are several ways to create heat for brewing, Molnar felt that steam was the best option for his brewery as the process is faster and more uniform than other methods. The steam is powered by natural gas, which gets the wort (the liquid sugar solution derived from mash) to a boiling point, where it remains for about two hours. Then the liquid has to be cooled down to room temperature or lower to facilitate the addition of yeast. This is where efficiency with water enters the picture.
“We use a two-stage heat exchanger,” Molnar says. “The first thing we do is we run tap water through it, which is great in the winter because reservoir water here is 50 degrees or lower, but in the summer, not so great because it’s 70 degrees or 75 degrees.”
The process of using the cold water for cooling results in an excess of hot water that can be used elsewhere in the production process. On the roof of the 150-year-old red brick building sits a water tower that, like the heat exchanger, is not an elegant or impressive piece of technology, but is a simple and cost-effective way to reduce complete reliance on traditional chiller systems, which take up space, expel heat in to the surrounding environment and use a ton of electricity.
The 10 to 15-gallon tower is basically a cooling bath where hot water travels out of the building to the roof where it is pumped and sprayed allowing the heat to evaporate, resulting in cooler water that goes back down into pipes that cycle the water to the chiller. Once the water has been cooled, heated, recaptured and used for cleaning, it eventually makes its way out of the building.
Treating wastewater in-house has become common industry practice. Instead of releasing the water — which can be full of proteins, yeast and cleaning materials — into the community water system, septic or sewer, brewers collect the used water. Then they let it cool while providing a central location where acidic water and basic water can mellow into water with a neutral acidity.
The Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grille in New London takes water treatment a step further, says Brianna Mills, one of the family-owned pub’s managers.
“As part of our sustainability with the brewery, we installed a wastewater treatment system in which all of the water that goes down in the drains from washing and filling tanks goes through an entire treatment process which drains back into the ground as potable water,” she says. “So now when it goes in and mixes in with the groundwater, it’s not something toxic or bad for the environment or our neighbors.”
Sustainable practices at the Flying Goose have a long history. In 2011, Flying Goose founder (and Brianna’s father) Tom Mills began using solar power to provide energy for the fledgling microbrewery, which proudly touts the tagline “NH’s 1st Solar-Powered Brewery.” Today, roughly 50% of the pub’s electricity costs are covered by solar technology, and an additional 50% of the water heating costs are displaced by the use of solar hot water.
Between the standing array of solar panels on the ground, and the roof panels that blanket the majority of the building’s south side, sits a 15-ton silo pellet boiler.
It’s framed by a linear plot of hops twisting around wood trellises perched between a pollinator flower garden and fresh herb garden, which provides fresh harvests for the grille’s kitchen. The boiler reduces the amount of propane needed to run the facility.
Spent grain, farmer’s gain
As Brianna heads outdoors for a photo among the solar arrays and hops, a local farmer and his young daughter are scooping what looks like brown mush into plastic bins that completely fill the bed of their white pickup. Kurt Baluk of Berkshire Roots Farm routinely visits Flying Goose to load up on spent grains left over from the brewing process.
“The pigs love the spent grain. It’s a bulk filler, so it’s really good for them,” Baluk says. “We learned how to incorporate it at varying degrees and amounts throughout the year based on the climate. When it was really wet, these guys fared far better with the spent grain than the pre-mixed grain.”
Although the spent grain is a fantastic addition and tasty treat for the cows and pigs, processed grains are still a large part of the animals’ diet, as it provides necessary micronutrients for the animals. Without the use of the spent grains, Baluk would need to purchase about 40% more processed grain to fill the gap.
Baluk and his wife, Crystal, also reclaim the brewery’s used yeast, which they add to their compost materials and for their gardens. “We try to repurpose, reduce, reuse, recycle everything humanly possible,” Baluk says.
While Stoneface is not in the same category as a large New Hampshire producer like Smuttynose, which produces about 25,000 barrels of beer each year, the Newmarket company brews an impressive 12,000 barrels a year, whereas the other smaller brewers mentioned earlier range from 300 barrels to 1,200 a year.
And as a relatively large producer, Stoneface has the ability to make larger capital investments in top-notch brewing technology, making carbon dioxide recapture an important part of its Newmarket brewing facility. Stoneface owners Pete Beauregard and Erol Moe explain how the system works. The main by-products of the beer fermentation process are alcohol, flavors and carbon dioxide.
The carbon dioxide would typically end up in the air, but with the Earthly Labs technology, the gas is captured and sent through a process that cleans it with a carbon filter before getting it cold and compressing, so that the recaptured CO2 can be used again to carbonate the beer.
This process not only reduces the carbon footprint of Stoneface beer but also greatly reduces the cost of purchasing CO2 and transportation of the gas, which is needed for the carbonation process. And with a two-year breakeven on investment, the addition of the CO2 recapture was a no-brainer for Beauregard and Moe.
“We do these things because they’re sustainable, but ultimately we do them because they’re economical,” Beauregard says. “And if they weren’t economical but they were sustainable, it’d be very difficult for businesses to invest in them.”