Making beer is a craft that has been around for thousands of years. After all, fermented hops were a safer alternative than water until relatively recent times. While the origins of the brew might have been rustic, modern beer culture is aimed at precise flavors, variety, uniqueness, and flavor. And while the craft has proved its ability to endure the ages, the methods are ever changing. Especially in an era where the zeitgeist is firmly focused on sustainability, it’s admirable to look for ways to incorporate this idea into your homebrew process. So what can you do to make homebrewing eco-friendly, low impact, and sustainable? A lot!
Grow Your Own
Hops are easy to grow. In fact, if you plant them, you’d be challenged to have them not grow. You will want to investigate which varietals grow best in your area and see if that is in alignment with the hops you will need for the beer you want to make. Seasonally hops shoot up like a weed and take over any space they can obtain so it’s best to confine them in one way or another. You can box them in or allow them to spread. Either way, you’ll need to train them. Commonly this is done with rope or cable, but you could use a trellis and grow them over a fence, pergola, or archway. During the height of the season, typically early summer, check your plants at least every few days. Guide the main vines upwards by wrapping them around your support. Once mature, near the middle of summer, harvest the hops and allow them to dry on a large screen. Once completely dry, you can store them in Ziploc bags in the freezer until you’re ready to use them. Remember to label your bag with the type of hop and the date. In addition to the necessary hops, you can also grow your own organic barley, fruits, nuts, and herbs. The selection of ingredients is yours! If you don’t have the time, energy, or resources to grow your own, try to purchase domestic ingredients, the more local the better rather than those that leave a large transport footprint. Also look for organic ingredients that eliminate pesticides and insecticides from our water systems, and your beer.
Glass is a resource near the top of every eco-friendly list. That’s because it is reusable, does not produce by-products, uses a small amount of water to manufacture, and is recyclable many times without breaking down like plastic. So when it comes to your homebrew, reuse glass whenever you can. Sterilize and refill the bottles from your last batch, hang on to the rootbeer bottles in the recycling, and keep those bottles with the cute (and tight-fitting) rubber stopper. As another sustainable alternative, use a keg to store your beer.
When putting together your supplies for your homebrew kit, reach for the stainless steel and glass options over the earth-polluting, resource-intensive plastic selections. This alone will up your sustainability score! Also consider buying supplies second hand from local sales or though dedicated online communities. If you do find yourself with plastics in your stockpile, be sure to recycle them when you’re done.
If you have a wort chiller, collect the hot water coming off the chiller and put it in your primary bucket for washing or sanitizing. You can also save and reuse your sanitizing solution for your next batch. Chilling your wort is often the most wasteful part of the homebrew process. Instead of buying huge bags of ice, simply keep large frozen blocks in 2-liter containers or old milk jugs. Place these in your sink to cool the wort and then reuse them. You can also replace one gallon of water with a one gallon block of ice during the cooldown process. Create your one gallon block using a food grade one gallon storage container. Whatever water is left after cooling your wort can be used to water houseplants, the lawn, or the garden.
Reuse Your Grains
Once your beer is bottled and clean up begins, consider the many options for your spent grains. They can be used in myriad recipes for bread, waffles, cookies, brownies, and more. If nothing else, add them to the composter or mix them directly into your garden soil.
Make Yeast From Yeast
Rather than buying new yeast with each batch, reuse the yeast by saving it during the brewing process. After the first fermentation, collect the yeast that settles to the bottom of the bucket. Wash and store it. Use your yeast within a few weeks. If it sits longer than that, it will go dormant but can be reactivated with the help of a yeast starter that you can also make yourself.
With a little effort, homebrewing can be both fun and sustainable. It’s all in the process.