Here at Fifth Season we do our best to contribute to sustainability and energy resource management, yet as an avid homebrewer I’ve always felt a touch responsible for not exactly having the most environmentally friendly hobby. At times I think about how much water, alone, I’ve used before I began streamlining my process, and yet I could definitely cut my water use even more so. Multiply that by all the less environmentally conscious homebrewers, and that’s a lot of needless environmental impact. If each of us tries to be conscious and cuts down just a little bit on our waste, those conservation efforts sure can add up!
Simple is always the best place to start. Using concentrated, non-perfumed/non-dyed and biodegradable soaps on your equipment not only prevents color and aroma from leeching out of soap residues into your final product (affecting the final taste), it’s a great way to lessen your impact on our world. By using just a drop or two of soap and a few gallons of water for your largest brewing or fermenting vessel, you have enough surfactant to clean just about all your gear without dumping tens of gallons out of your hose or sink, and without wasting all the soap. A bottle of that stuff will probably cost you about $8 or $9 a pop at your local Co-op grocery but if used sparingly and properly your savings and footprint-minimization will compound to everyone’s benefit.
My first several brews have absolutely cost me a lot of water. Most of it during the cleaning process. The initial cleaning method as mentioned above is a great way to start, but personally I have wasted plenty of sanitizing solution and thus a pretty penny on Star San and H2O. Some of the best advice a veteran brewer gave as far as saving a buck was investing in a 360 spray bottle. For those of you who have kegging systems: I keep a 5 gallon keg sitting around my brew space filled with the instructed ratio of Star San to RO water (just to make sure nothing in the tap water neutralizes the acidity of the solution). I can hook it up to my lines quickly just to do a run through without the caustic effects of B-L-C if my lines are still fairly fresh. I flush the first cup or so and collect the rest of the solution from the tap in my spray bottle. For those of you without kegs a black five gallon food grade bucket will suffice, and you can syphon into your bottle as needed. A 16oz spray bottle of sanitizer can sanitize the equipment of three or four brewing sessions if not more! That sounds a lot better than the gallon or two of sanitizer I was using per batch.
Heating methods can also be quite the energy and money drains. We can’t all afford high efficiency electric coils programmed with arduinos or those fancy-pants inductive heaters big enough to boil ten gallon all-grain batches in minutes. I’d probably save myself more money in the long run on propane if I just invested in an induction heating element, but I just try to improve how I use my propane. I simply weigh my bottles before and after my brew and try new things that I hope will save me gas and take notes on the results. Whatever works, I will do again; what seems to spend more gas I avoid doing next time.
There are other methods I’ve been looking into to save energy. For example, instead of the traditional kettle-hopping method of 60-minute boils with shorter additions, I’ve been working on hop extracts. Not only can a brewer save energy with this process, but s/he can also save ingredients. Essential oil steam extraction can be done with an erlenmeyer flask, some tubing, a pot and a small kitchen stove eye (there are many great resources online about how to do it in your own kitchen, and I plan on writing another blog about my own experience with it soon). The principle of this method involves using steam to extract the aromas and flavors out of the crushed hop cones much they way that these compounds evaporate during the final boil. Once these oils are evaporated and condensed they can be frozen and stored or added as aroma hops or even used in place of dry hopping. Once the aromatic oil is extracted, the spent hops are not spent at all! In fact, they are still viable as bittering hops. You can remove the left overs from the extraction set up and boil them for an hour in a small amount of water then strain the hop matter out when you’re done. You can add your bittering and aromatic mixtures at the time of aeration when your wort is already cooled and you will be stirring/splashing vigorously. Hop extracts are energy efficient, as it requires less water to boil a quart of water for a short amount of time rather than an entire wort for an hour. It also allows for the reuse of ingredients which would otherwise be completely spent and only usable for one purpose at a time. To put it very simply, you can use a single ounce of hops pellets like its two!
I am all about experimenting with my wort chiller. I’ve graduated from sticking my kettle in an ice bath and waiting hours for a hazy end product, to using a copper coil, to various combinations until I discovered the counterflow-cryofluid chiller. This sounds fancier than it is, and the sustainability aspect is really a matter of what perspective you take. It’s a water saving device as far as reverse chillers go, no doubt about it, yet on the energy consumption side it’s a little different. I use the same counter flow chiller we have on the shelves but instead of pumping through gallons and gallons of hose water I use isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol super chilled down to an impressive -110℉ via a food grade bucket and dry ice. I pump/funnel the chilled alcohol through the rubber hosing that surrounds the copper coil. The alcohol is spent into a bucket with dry ice, chilled and then once again pumped into the chiller. This does not use any water and the rubbing alcohol is reusable, not to mention you get a really chilled wort and clear beer. The drawback: this process may save water, yet dry ice infact requires a lot of energy to produce, store and transfer commercially. So this is one method I feel a little guilty about, and I am still looking into an alternative methods of super chilling the isopropyl alcohol, but man does it give me a clear beer and cut down the water bill.