Devils Backbone: Virginia’s new ‘green’ brewpub opening soon!

November 9, 2008


Jason Oliver, former Mid-Atlantic regional brewing director at Gordon Biersch, recently moved to Roseland, Virginia to become head brewer at a new brewpub called Devils Backbone. He emailed me today with some cool updates about some ‘green’ elements being incorporated into the new facility. Here’s the update in his own words:

You will love this place . . . We will open to the public the weekend of November 21, 2008 . . . We have done some neat things with the building.  All of our chairs and tables are made from re-conditioned barn wood by a local company in the Shenandoah Valley.  Our floors are recycled barn wood.  On the upper walls of the restaurant is rusty tin roofing taken from an old chicken coop (it looks really cool).  The roof on the restaurant is a new product that is made from recycled metal that rusts immediately and then seals itself against further oxidation.  We contracted with a local blacksmith for some custom chandeliers and wall sconces.  The chandeliers have hops and hop leafs around the sides with stalks of barley reaching upwards.  The wall sconces have hop leafs and hops. They are really beautiful. The outside siding of the restaurant is local poplar that has been cut especially for us. We are using a local farm for some meat products and it is the farm that picks up my spent grain. I always wanted to be in a position where I could give my spent grain to a farmer who would feed it to his cows which would be served on our food menu.  Neat stuff.

I will have at least 5 beers to open with with and several more coming as they reach maturity. I will have an American IPA, a Hefeweizen, Oatmeal Stout, a Scottish-style 60 Schilling, and an American session beer (low gravity but with a nice hop character). My Vienna Lager, Helles Lager, and Saison will come soon after opening.

Alright! Can anyone say roadtrip?

Homemade Soda

September 28, 2008

Until now, the only times I’ve ever been much of soda drinker have been when I’ve been living in hot places in Africa and soda has offered a cool burst of sugary energy and refreshment in the midst of a long, hot, sweaty day of traveling on dusty, bumpy roads.

the Sodastream packaging says "no high fructose corn syrup" but the first ingredient in their orange soda syrup is "sucrose and/or high fructose corn syrup."

Misleading marketing alert: the Sodastream packaging says "no high fructose corn syrup," but the first ingredient in the orange soda syrup they provide is "sucrose and/or high fructose corn syrup."

(The R & D manager for Soda Club added a comment on this post affirming the claim that the company does not use high fructose corn syrup and wondering where I could have seen something like that, so I’m adding in a picture here of the label of the syrup bottle clearing displaying the ingredient list in question. Click on the image itself to enlarge it and read the words.)

This is the ingredient label on the side of the Soda Club syrup for the "Orange Naturally flavored SodaMix."

This is the ingredient label on the side of Soda Club's "Orange Naturally flavored SodaMix."

So when the Soda Stream people emailed me a press release and product offer, I wasn’t interested at first. Then a couple different people in my office mentioned that they actually have one of these home soda makers. At the same time, we were about to publish the Responsible Purchasing Guide to Bottled Water Alternatives, so my brain was filled with data concerning the wastefulness and misleading marketing of bottled water. Soda is just bottled water with some corn syrup and artificial coloring – in a sense, making it worse than straight up bottled water since at least bottled water isn’t filled with empty calories and phony ‘flavors’ and ‘colors.’ So I was curious about this contraption in so far as it potentially offered a way to make soda that was lower impact on the environment.

twist a bottle of tap water into place, and press the button to inject with CO2.

Really simple to use: twist a bottle of tap water into place, and press the button to inject with CO2.

Actually, I don’t mind the occasional glass of root beer, and I downright like grape and orange soda, particularly when I’m wanting to reach for something to drink but really don’t need to have another beer. So I decided to take this soda maker for a spin.

I’ve been surprised by how much I like it.

First of all, this thing is simple. All it does is inject carbon dioxide into liquid. And thus it uses no electricity, just a cartridge of CO2 – something many homebrewers already have on hand if they are dispensing their beer on draft at home. For them, this gadget is unnecessary since they can already carbonate a keg of flavored water.

But if you don’t have a home draft system, and you want a glass of homemade soda, this thing couldn’t be easier. All you do is fill a reusable bottle with water, insert it into the Sodastream, inject the CO2, add some syrup and oila, you’ve got soda. It literally takes less than a minute to make a liter of soda.

Add some flavoring syrup, and that's it!

Add some flavoring syrup, and that's it!

This minimalist appliance has three advantages over buying soda from the store:

  1. It’s way, way cheaper
  2. It allows you to control your soda sweetness (and, for that matter, all of the ingredients in your carbonated beverage)
  3. It eliminates a lot of waste containers and reduces the carbon footprint of soda by limiting the energy required to bottle, distribute, and retail heavy bottles of sugar water.

In short, I’m a convert.

My only complaint is that the syrups they provide are the same kind of crap used to make regular store-bought soda. I wish they had some flavor syrups made with organic cane sugar, or stevia, and that didn’t contain a bunch of completely unnecessary artificial colorings and flavorings. They do offer a straight lemon-lime essence that contains no sugar or color, and that’s a fine option, but I actually like a little sweetness.

Overall, this thing is a thumbs up. I’m looking forward to experimenting with other flavoring options, maybe some fresh home-squeezed juices?

Think Outside the Bottle

September 6, 2008
Pledge to Break the Bottled Water Habit

In the past decade, bottled water has become a convenience most Americans have come to take for granted. Homebrewers often use it in place of water from the tap. Likewise, coffee connoisseurs are reaching for the bottled stuff in attempts to brew great coffee at home.

Fact is, water is the biggest ingredient in both beer and coffee, so it makes sense to pay attention to its quality. But did you know that roughly half of bottled water is just tap water put in a bottle? And furthermore, that the health and safety regulations governing tap water are far more effective than those in place for bottled water – bottled water often is untested whereas there are free annual water quality reports available for all municipal tap water systems?

What’s more is that bottled water is an astounding 750-2,700 times more expensive than tap water.

Take a look at the new, free Responsible Purchasing Guide to Bottled Water Alternatives. Then take the Center for a New American Dream’s Pledge to Break the Bottled Water Habit.

The Ultimate in Green Beer Packaging

July 18, 2008

(This originally appeared as the Guest Editorial in the June/July 2008 issue of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.)

the ultimate in green beer packaging?

Growlers: the ultimate in green beer packaging?

Editor’s Note [Greg Kitsock]: It might seem like hyperbole to call brewpubs an “endangered species,” inasmuch as their numbers and output are still increasing. But with the economy tanking and the price or raw ingredients soaring, brewpubs are very vulnerable. Many restaurateurs are going to take a look at all that stainless steel equipment and wonder if it’s worth the investment.

Selling it off would open up space for more tables and chairs, increasing the revenue stream. Ceasing to brew would mean a lot less red tape when it comes to licensing, as well as eliminating a source of liability in the event a customer tripped over a hose or got sprayed with hot water.

And there are so many production breweries making great beer. Why not sell the tanks and be content to sell other people’s brands?

It would be a shame, however, if a large number of brewpub owners reached that conclusion. Beer Activist Chris O’Brien, author of Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World tells us why:

Fight climate change. Conserve resources. Reduce waste.

These are ambitious goals being pursued by scientists, government agencies, businesses, environmental advocates, and concerned citizens everywhere. But is it possible for craft beer drinkers to make a difference too?

Consider a few of the environmental impacts from beer. New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado recently conducted a study to quantify how a six pack of Fat Tire ale contributes to climate change. They discovered that over fifty percent of the greenhouse gases related to Fat Tire was emitted as a result of the energy consumed by the refrigerators at beer retailers. Another big chunk was emitted during the production and transport of the glass bottles used to package the beer. The third biggest carbon impact came from the agro-chemicals and energy used to grow and malt barley.

The good news is that New Belgium is already taking great strides to limit their contribution to climate change. For example, they source renewable energy to power their brewery. They are also considering packaging some beer in aluminum cans, a lighter and more compact packaging that requires far less energy to recycle than glass. New Belgium is also brewing their Mothership Wit with organic ingredients grown without petroleum-derived fertilizers and pesticides, another small step that helps to slow the climate crisis.

But the fact remains that most of the greenhouse gas emissions occur at the point of retail. That’s a tough issue for brewers to tackle but is there anything a climate-conscious beer drinker can do about it? Could the answer be as simple as visiting the nearest brewpub?

Brewpubs utilize a couple environmentally preferable packaging options: reusable kegs and refillable growlers. Most kegs are made of stainless steel or aluminum, both of which are materials that have relatively high recycling rates in the U.S. Kegs are also more optimally shaped so they take less space in coolers so the coolers can be smaller and use less energy.

Now dispense that keg beer into a growler that will generally be emptied within one day, requiring little or no refrigeration. Growlers are made of glass just like standard 12 and 22 ounce beer bottles but every time a growler is refilled, its ‘embodied energy’ is spread out over a longer and more useful lifecycle, making it less energy intensive with every reuse.

A true lifecycle assessment comparing the environmental benefits of a beer served in a brewpub to a glass bottle of beer would account for a variety of other factors that complicate the equation, such as how the customer arrived at the pub. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that customers drive cars whether they are buying beer at a grocery store or a brewpub, so there is no net additional expense or reduction of energy during that part of the formula. On the other hand, with very few exceptions, the glass beer bottles arrived at the grocery or beer store in a truck fueled with petroleum, whereas the beer in the brewpub was merely piped from a storage vessel to a serving vessel within the same building.

Based on these packaging and dispensing options and the lower levels of energy needed for refrigeration, brewpubs are starting to look like a better bet for someone concerned about reducing the environmental footprint associated with their beer drinking. Now consider one additional factor: fresh flavor. It’s hard to get a fresher beer than one served at the point of production. Since quality suffers when beer is exposed to light, heat, and oxygen, foreshortening a beer’s lifespan from fermentation tank to beer drinker has the benefit of improved freshness and flavor. Score one for brewpubs.

Unfortunately, not many brewpubs in the Mid-Atlantic region are using organic ingredients yet. But now that Clipper City has converted their Oxford line to be certified organic, local craft connoisseurs have the option of locally produced bottled organic beer. What are the environmental trade-offs of a non-organic draft beer compared to an organic bottled beer? The complexity of the issue is almost mind-numbing. But I do know one thing. As the number of brewpubs in America continues to grow, and more brewers shift to organic ingredients, life keeps getting better for beer drinkers.

UK’s First Carbon-Neutral Beer?

June 6, 2008

Adnams Managing Director Andy Wood with bottle of East GreenAdnams claims to have produced the U.K.’s first carbon-neutral beer. The beer is a light ale called East Green, named after the village common in front of the brewery.

The summer issue of American Brewer contains a story I wrote about New Belgium’s recent carbon-lifecycle assessment of their flagship Fat Tire amber ale. The same conclusions reached in that report are reflected in the efforts taken by Adnams to curb their carbon emissions.

Adnams Eco Distro CenterThe first area of interest to brewers is addressing their own operations. Adnams took a major step in this direction with the new “eco-built” distribution center they opened in late 2006. The facility sports what was at the time the UK’s largest “living roof.”

Quoted in The Publican, the company’s managing director Andy Wood claimed, “If this beer sold in comparative volumes to Broadside (the company’s leading brand, ed.) it would be the equivalent of taking sixty-five cars off the road a year.”

But even with a “green” distribution center and a highly efficient brewery, there are carbon emissions generated throughout the lifecycle of the product. Chief among the upstream impacts are barley malt and glass bottles. Adnams sourced exclusively locally-grown and malted barley for this beer, which limited emissions to a degree. They also utilized aphid-resistant Boadicea hops which limit the need for petroleum-based pesticides, striking another blow against the infernal carbon fiend. And they developed a lighter-weight beer bottle (click here to download a pdf about their lightweight bottle).

Through these and other measures, Adnams was able to reduce the carbon footprint of East Green from a maximum of 159 grams of carbon equivalent (gCe) per bottle to 118 gCe. The remaining emissions were offset with assistance from Climate Care and the Carbon Trust. Here’s a look at breakdowns of the emissions before and after the carbon reduction strategies were implemented.

East green emissions before reductions.Figure 1. Emissions from Adnams’ East Green ale before reductions strategies were implemented.

East Green emissions after reductions.Figure 2. Emissions from East Green after reductions strategies were implemented.

Read more about Adnams East Green on their website here.


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