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.

Brew Organic Beer and Roast Organic/Fair Trade Coffee at Home

March 23, 2008

MicrophoneMany of my regular readers know that I am part owner of a company called Seven Bridges Cooperative. We sell all organic supplies for home beer-brewing and home coffee roasting (also fair trade). We have a store in Santa Cruz, CA and we do a bustling mailorder business. In the past few years we’ve also been providing wholesale organic hops to small breweries.

The company has been doing well and growing and we recently celebrated our tenth anniversary. My fellow co-owner Amelia Slayton runs the business on a day-to-day basis. She recently made a guest appearance on a radio program called Life Tips, with host Amanda Smith. The two of them discuss the ins and outs of organic home brewing and fair trade coffee roasting.

Listen to the show online here.

New ‘Green’ Brewery in Beaufort, South Carolina

February 10, 2008

Brewer’s BrewingSeems like everyone’s catching the green train these days! I can hardly keep up with all the ‘green’ beer news anymore. That’s a good thing, although it does raise the question of just what ‘green’ really means and who, if anyone, is defining it.

Brewer’s Brewing, a new brewpub in Beaufort, South Carolina has a link on their homepage labeled “Brewer’s Is Green.” Quoting directly from the web page, here’s a run down of the green efforts enumerated therein. Let’s see what they are calling green.

Concrete is 100% green and we will be using it for our main bar and the bathrooms, we threw in oyster shells and recycled glass in the mix.

The phrasing here is confusing. I’m not sure if they are claiming that concrete, in general, is 100% green or if the concrete they are using is green. Presumably it’s the latter since conventional concrete is by no means inherently green. Regardless, the term “100% green” is troublesome since it is a such a vague claim. It’s cool that they integrated “recycled” glass in it but I think they mean “reused” glass, because recycling glass would be silly if all they were doing was using it as a filler in concrete. The oyster shells are an appropriate touch since presumably they originate from the nearby coast.

Dakota Burl is a unique bio-based material, which exhibits the beauty and elegance of traditional burled woods. The material is created from agricutural fiber and sunflower hulls, making this a beautiful environmental hardwood. This product is being used for all our dining tables.

Sounds cool. Ag waste products in general are a good for “waste-cycling,” i.e. turning waste byproducts into new marketable products especially when they are replacing what might have otherwise been petroleum-based products such as plastic tables. Furthermore, the Dakota Burl website claims the product has zero VOC emissions.

All of our bulbs through out the restaurant will use (cfl’s) compact flourescents lights and will al be run through a Lutron dimming system.

That’s great. What’s even better is that a claim like this will be irrelevant in a few years. Last December, President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 setting new efficiency standards for electric lights, effectively mandating the phaseout of incandescent light bulbs in the US beginning in 2012.

Green SureAny surface that has paint on it will be coated with Sherman Williams Harmony Sure Green paint which has no odor and no (voc) volatile organic compounds.

Cool. Low and no VOC paints should really be standard for virgin paint. This benefits paint workers, employees, and customers by improving the indoor air quality of the brewpub, so folks can stick their nose in the glass and just smell beer instead of nasty indoor air pollution. I’d rather get a headache from having one too many than from huffing VOCs any day.

One no flush urinal from Kohler will be used in the mens bathroom. This unit alone will save 40,000 gallons a year.

It may sound funny but these new waterless urinals are going to be all the rage very soon. Mark my words. There is huge interest in the institutional purchasing sector for these things. I had my first waterless urinal sighting just a couple months ago in Millheim, PA at the new Elk Creek Cafe and Aleworks.

The worlds most efficient water heater will be installed for the whole brewpub. This unit is made from A.O Smith and is has a rating of 94% efficiency.

I’m guessing it must be this one. But it looks like there is even a 99% efficient water heater available out there. Not sure if they have different kinds of sizes or performance issues.

All three Toilets will have a High Efficiency Toilet valve from Sloan Valve. Push the handle up for liquid waste and it will flush with 1.1 gallons and push down for solid waste for a flush that uses 1.6 gallons. The handle is also coated with an antimicrobial agent that protects against the transfer of germs.

I’ve seen these in other countries but they haven’t really caught on yet in the U.S. I think people are confused about how to use them. Hopefully there will be a little sign near the toilet showing people how to use the toggle on the handle.

Bath room partitions are made from 100% recycled plastic from psisc out of Columbia SC.

Neat, they are even supporting a South Carolina-based business with this option. PSISC stands for Partition Systems Incorporated of South Carolina. I’ll just try to ignore the image on the company homepage depicting two young girls in a bathroom dressed like cheerleaders. Um, that’s really just kind of creepy.

All in all, these efforts seem quite worthy and I’m guessing they’ve made other environmentally preferable choices that haven’t made it onto their ‘green’ web page yet. For example, their flagship beer, Paddler’s Pale Ale, is organic. I wish these guys were open last summer when my family visited the beach in South Carolina. Guess I have something to look forward to if we go back this year!


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