The human body is approximately sixty percent water. We use water in every part of our lives, from creating the products we use and wear, to growing the food we eat. Drinking water just appears with the turn of a nozzle because it is transported there from the rivers and lakes, often a great distance away. We also consume other drinks, from cans, bottles, and taps. One of the most prevalent of these is beer.
Beer is a very popular beverage that uses large amounts of water to produce. On average, to produce one gallon of beer it takes seven gallons of water. This includes every part of production, from the growing of the hops, to the brewing process itself where water is an ingredient, to the cleaning of the equipment. That one gallon of beer is a little less than what you get in a twelve pack. While brewing beer is water intensive process, concerns over water use have not deterred business development as the number of breweries in the United States reached 4,000 this past September. This statistic, complied by the Brewers Association, includes any brewery that actively sells in the marketplace and pays federal taxes on their sales. With so many breweries in our nation, there is a lot of water that goes into quenching our thirst for beer.
The United States has many breweries, but not as many as it did in 1873. There were over 4,100 breweries in 1873, and collectively they produced nine million barrels of beer. Today, the United States brews over twenty million barrels of beer a year. This includes larger breweries, like MillerCoors Brewing Company in Golden, Colorado. Keeping in mind that one barrel is about thirty-one U.S. gallons that is over 620 million gallons of beer. Additionally, for every gallon of beer we use an average of seven gallons of water to make it. To visualize this quantity, think of an acre-foot, which is about an entire football field covered with one foot of water. Now think of 13,280 football fields covered with one foot of water, and that is how much water we use to brew beer every year.
Brewpubs (establishments that brew beer and sell food) and microbreweries (breweries that are typically independently owned and brew a relatively small amount of beer, not exceeding 15,000 barrels a year) only make up for about twenty percent of the beer produced in the United States, but a few of them are making big steps to decrease their water consumption.
All across the United States breweries are striving to conserve their water consumption, both to save money and to make a statement on environmental awareness. Breweries of various sizes are implementing water conservation measures where feasible. These are just a few examples of breweries that have made their efforts known.
Harpoon Brewery, of Boston, Massachusetts, has taken a creative approach to water conservancy by using filthy, dirty water from the Charles River. They named their creation the Charles River Pale Ale. Harpoon decided to do this not to create a new product for shipping by only drawing 300 gallons of water from the Charles River, which is just enough to brew eighteen kegs of the pale ale. Harpoon brewed this beer as a message of conservation, to show that dirty water can be treated and re-used in the production of beer. Harpoon Brewery does not at this time plan to continue to brew and sell the Charles River Pale Ale. The president of Harpoon Brewery, Charlie Storey, told reporters that it was about making a beer with a story attached to it, not a new product.
Desalitech, a water treatment company headquartered in Boston, treated the water using its patented reverse osmosis process. The company wanted to participate in this venture as a way of improving the environment.
In California, breweries are making changes to conserve water, because of the continuing drought. Despite the drought in recent years, new breweries continue to be built. California houses over 400 craft breweries, giving it the most of any state, and all of these collectively craft over 3.4 million barrels of beer a year, generating over $6.5 billion in revenue.
Some towns in California, like Fallbrook, have placed restrictions on local breweries because of the large amount of water used. When a small brewery was told it had to reduce its water consumption by ten percent, the owner made efforts to re-use water for cleaning the brewing equipment. The brewery owner also purchased a new chiller that uses two-thirds less water than the one that the brewery used previously. The chiller quickly cools the wort, which is the liquid left after all of the solid ingredients have been mixed together fbefore adding yeast.
Another brewery, Bear Republic, spent money to drill wells not just for itself, but also for its’ home city of Cloverdale. Bear Republic also installed a new bioelectrically enhanced wastewater treatment mechanism that allows them to re-use up to twenty-five percent of their water to clean equipment. With this new technology, Bear Republic now uses an average of 3.5 gallons of water for one gallon of beer, making it one of the most efficient breweries in the United States.
Other breweries in California are using less water to brew beer, decreasing the seven-to-one gallon ratio to a five-to-one ratio. More are digging wells to access additional water as a means of not putting further stress on dwindling surface water sources. Brewpubs, including Sierra Nevada’s flagship brewery in Chico, California, are reducing water use with the food they serve and the landscaping. Installing new wastewater treatment systems is another method some of the larger facilities have chosen, but it is often too expensive for the smaller microbreweries. Many are just putting a halt on any planned expansions, reducing their distribution, and cutting consumption anywhere else they can. This is all a result of California’s drought and cities not having enough water for the breweries.
A brewery in Portland, Oregon, Hopworks Urban Brewery, received the Salmon-Safe certificate this past August, the first brewery in the nation to do so. Hopworks received this award for its treatment of all of the storm and wastewater that comes onto the grounds, as well as all of the water it uses. The treatment ensures that the water can be put back in to the river without interfering with Salmon breeding. The brewery also uses materials that conserve water, including low-flow faucets and pervious concrete. Pervious concrete is specially designed to allow for water to filter through it into the ground, allowing the water to contribute to groundwater supplies.
Full Sail Brewery, in Hood River, has also been able to reduce its water use to a mere two-and-a-half gallons for every gallon of beer produced. They also use the leftovers from the brewery process, like the yeast and grains that come out during filtration, to feed dairy cows.
Water is used for everything we consume. Beer is a commodity that requires a lot of water. Drought and water scarcity have not restrained the growth of breweries in states like California, but it has led to awareness of water scarcity and the need to utilize more efficient means of creating beer. Even breweries in Boston, where water is not as scarce, are trying new methods of conserving water. This is groundbreaking and a big step for the brew industry.
Featured photo is of barley brewing, as part of the beer brewing process. This photo is part of the public domain.
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