By Michael Kew
For the Oregon Beer Growler
They won't make the kind of green beer swilled in sports bars on St. Patrick’s Day.
They will make a much different green beer — several, actually — inside their state-of-the-art, 30-barrel brewhouse in southeast Ashland, 15 miles north of California. Now producing 12,000 barrels per year, Caldera Brewing Company has been "dedicated to being green before being green was cool," owner Jim Mills once wrote.
Green beer tends to come from green towns — in 2009, the National Geographic Society voted Ashland into its Top 10 Places for Geotourism. Caldera, Spanish for "boiling pot," had been making beer there for 12 years.
"Breweries these days are at the forefront of green practices," Caldera's head brewer Adam Benson told me one cool, cloudy February day. Snow brightened the mountain peaks above the valley. We stood just outside the brewery's back door, admiring the three white silos used to transfer and recycle Caldera’s spent grains.
Benson has been with Caldera since 2010 following a stint at Standing Stone, another ecofriendly brewery three miles across town.
"As brewers,” he said while we walked back inside, “we're constantly sharing information — from a recipe to how we do things, so if there's way to make something greener, generally it's shared in the industry."
In 2005, starting with its pale ale, Caldera became the West Coast's first craft brewery to can its own beer. Each minute, the new line fills 500 cans made of aluminum, Earth’s most abundant metallic element.
"Canning itself is a green process," Benson said to me later, watching freshly capped yellow cylinders of IPA whiz past us.
"From shipment of the original empty cans to us, to shipping them out full, it's all much lighter (than glass) and, therefore, uses less energy," he said. "The aluminum is 100-percent recyclable and is used to make more cans, whereas glass is often not. Essentially, recycled glass is just put into pavement and stuff like that — it's not used to make more glass. With a can, even its pop tab is recycled."
You don't even have to drink the beer in Caldera's cans (Lawnmower Lager, Pale Ale, Ashland Amber, IPA, Hopportunity Knocks IPA, Pilot Rock Porter, and — soon — Mosaic IPA) to grok its greater good.
"I'm happy to say that all of our byproducts are used for cattle feed and organic farming," Benson said. His spent grains, hops, yeasts and filter sheets are composted to concoct fresh, nutrient-rich soil, which is then packaged in and dispersed from the used specialty-grain bags.
“Business-wise,” Benson continued, “it makes sense to be as green as possible, especially when you're brewing in an out-of-the-way place like this. You have to utilize every resource to its fullest extent.”
To quell water waste, Benson uses a recirculating wort-chilling system. "The energy used to cool one wort is reused to heat the next wort. Otherwise, all that water would be going down the drain."
In summer, Caldera's sophisticated HVAC setup ingests cool nighttime air, then expels it throughout the brewery during warm workdays, eliminating a need for expensive, energy-sapping air conditioning.
Instead of natural gas-fueled direct fire, Caldera uses steam to power all three of its kettles (a 30-barrel system, plus a 10-barrel soda system and a 10-barrel pilot system, which was the original system in the original brewhouse just up the road).
Instead of chemicals, the new racking machine also uses steam to clean and sanitize. And Caldera just hired a full-time maintenance man from Darigold, the massive dairy agricultural co-op based in Seattle. “He's extremely informative,” Benson said, “so he's able to further reduce energy use throughout all of our systems. He knows everything about everything.”
The brewery and its restaurant are surrounded with xeriscape flora (shadowed by the Siskiyou Mountains, Ashland receives just 20 inches of yearly rain). Of the Ashland sunshine, Caldera takes full advantage with its many brewhouse windows, reducing the need for electric light.
Solar panels are slated for the brewery roof. Indoor infrastructure for the panels is already installed; the panels will go up top once proper funds are secured, likely within two years, Benson said.
If you're seated at one of Caldera's two Ashland bars, the beer you're drinking was poured when your barkeep pulled a tap handle made of hardwood scrap. The wood (ash, of course) came from Sawyer Paddles & Oars, located up the road in Gold Hill, along the banks of the fabled Rogue River, a wellspring for southern Oregon fun. The Ashland Watershed itself is a burgeoning outdoor playground — a sibling of Bend, if you will.
Benson: "As you can see around the top of our cans, it reads “Go Boarding, Go Rafting, Go Biking, Go Fishing, Go Skiing.” This ties in with being able to take a six-pack with you when you go someplace where glass isn't allowed.”
Caldera is donating funds to help fight the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline project, a proposal that would allow Canada's Veresen Inc. to lay 232 miles of 36-inch pipe to move up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day from Malin, located in Klamath County, to a terminal in Coos Bay, where the natural gas would be liquefied and shipped to Asia. While the pipe wouldn't actually pass through Ashland, it would come close enough, and most of the town’s 21,000 oppose the project.
"Ashland is a green, liberal place, so we fit in well,” Benson said, smiling. "We support its community as much as we can. It's a good marriage — we're right for each other."
Caldera Brewing Company
[a] 590 Clover Lane (Restaurant & Brewery); 31 Water Street, No. 2 (Tap House), Ashland
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.