October 8, 2010

Green Beer?!. ~ Grace Littlehales

Mmmmm green beer.

No it’s not St. Patrick’s Day, rather, just last month I attended the Great American Beer Festival held in Denver. My plan of attack? Drink beer. Lots of beer. Oh and did I drink beer, more beer than I ever knew existed in fact. I was in beer heaven.  I had honey beer, Christmas beer, chocolate beer, Buddha beer, bitter beer, light beer, dark beer, in between beer. I felt like Dorothy in my own little imaginary beer world; lagers, ambers and stouts, oh my!
Feeling foggy headed the next day, nursing my hangover, I wondered about the impact that the beer I love has on Mother Earth. I decided to do my research. Thinking about it on the macro level, the big honcho, Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser, Stella Artois, Michelob, Shock Top, Busch, Rolling Rock to name a few of their brands) churns out about 35 billion 12-ounce servings of bubbly goodness each year.

Let’s say that half of that is put into kegs and distributed to bars and restaurants worldwide, leaving 17.5 billion bottles and cans to fill about 1.45 billion cardboard boxes or plastic rings for distribution to liquor stores. Is Anheuser-Busch committed to recycling? Well of course they say they are on their website. But are the 2 billion beer drinkers worldwide as committed? And do you think they consider the gas it takes for their tasty (slash tasteless) Bud Lite to arrive at their local store?

And where do the plastic rings go that hold their six-packs together? My guess is into the ocean where they choke baby dolphins. Yup. So it’s clear. Beer sucks for the environment, right? Well, it doesn’t have to.

Let’s take a look at it on a more local level; microbreweries. If the first thought is shipping and packaging, well microbreweries only suck less because they don’t have the same kind of distribution numbers and are usually only distributing in a somewhat local sphere.

But what really makes the micros greener is that they usually have a more macro sense of environmental responsibility. Take Fort Collins based New Belgium Brewing; their dedication to the environment is astounding. With increased efficiencies in the brewing process, utilizing green design throughout their building, implementing a process for treating waste-water, on-site energy production and not to mention that in 1999, they became the largest private consumer of wind-power electricity at that time and the first wind-powered brewery, New Belgium clearly is a star example of beer lovers who love Mother Earth, too.

Microbreweries are also taking charge by switching distributing via the aluminum can. I know, it sounds blasphemous, good beer in an aluminum can? Impossible! You’d be eating, or rather drinking, your words if you’ve ever tried Lyon’s based, Oskar Blues’ Mama’s Little Yella Pills in that yellow aluminum can. It is delicious.  Aluminum is recyclable and cans can be back on the shelf with new product within eight weeks.
If you really want to reduce your footprint but you just can’t give up your liquid bread then consider home brewing. With every batch that is made at home, the environment would be spared the impact of 60-70 new aluminum cans or glass bottles.

More charge can be taken of the ingredients being used and consumed, with the use of organic barley and hops and supporting chemical and GMO-free sustainable agriculture, which in turn will provide a cleaner tasting, fresher beer with a positive impact. And hey, it’s pretty awesome to invite your friends over, offer them a label-less bottle and when they say, “Wow, this is good, what is it?” You get to say, “Bam, I made it myself.”
So beer drinkers of planet Earth, drink on. Support your local brewers and have a go at your own batch of wheat beer. Your great-grandkids might be thanking you for it someday.

Grace Littlehaels is a native (gasp!) of Boulder and continues to reside there with her devil cat, Kitteh, has a lifetime goal of being a ninja and an odd affinity for cheese. To turn her frown upside down, a cold beer on a hot day will do, but a room temperature stout is even better.

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