By Michael Cairns
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Does spent yeast constitute a water quality issue for Oregon streams, and a financial burden on the state’s craft breweries? A September 2014 beer blog post described how two Austin, Texas breweries faced a fee of $5000 for “improper yeast disposal.” The piece made this writer want to do a little investigation to understand whether Oregon’s brewers are in danger of also getting slapped with hefty fines.
To understand why yeast would be considered a pollutant, a very brief science lesson is in order. Yeast, along with cleaning water, spent mash and hops that remain after the brewing process is complete, is usually discharged into municipal wastewater systems. Note that in Oregon most spent grains and hops, along with the yeast, are usually sold or given to farmers for animal feed — it’s organic and very nutritious. And yeast is ‘harvested’ for reuse in many breweries. These practices limit a lot of waste discharge, but not all of it. So where does the science come in? Well, the federal Clean Water Act of 1972 regulates the discharge of pollutants to the nation’s waterways. More specifically in this case, it’s the discharge of organic materials that may contribute to biological oxygen demand, which can stimulate the growth of algae in streams, lakes and oceans. This, in turn, can lead to a decrease in dissolved oxygen, which is bad for fish and other aquatic life. High concentrations of total suspended solids that could come from breweries pose another threat to waterways and wildlife. Acidity, expressed as pH, is an additional concern. OK, enough of the science lesson.
To determine whether Oregon breweries are in danger of being fined or required to pay special fees for their discharges, I did some digging and got some of my questions answered. First, Steve Schnurbusch of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) told me that there are no requirements specific to yeast effluents, nor to brewery wastewater discharges in general. He spoke of ‘loading,’ a measure of the total amounts of organic matter discharged to streams in relation to the size of any particular wastewater treatment plant from a brewery and other industrial sources. In other words, if a large brewery is located in a small community with a small treatment plant, then there could be a problem. Schnurbusch noted that the DEQ mainly regulates end-of-pipe discharges to receiving waters — for instance, from treatment plants, rather than discharges from breweries to municipal sewer systems. He suggested I should speak to city officials who operate those treatment plants.
This suggestion led me to the City of Salem, where Nitin Joshi of Salem Environmental Services reiterated some of what I had learned from the DEQ representative. The City of Salem does not have regulations specific to yeast, or even to breweries. Salem breweries are considered commercial, rather than industrial, users. Unless a particular plant, or brewery in our case, discharges more than 25,000 gallons per day, then there are no permits required. Finally, I decided to speak to a brewer to get that perspective.
Santiam Brewing’s head brewer, Jerome Goodrow, was kind enough to talk to me as he was in the process of cleaning tanks after a brew and discharging the rinse water. Like most breweries, the spent grain and hops are used for farm animal feed, and some of the yeast is harvested. He noted that the cleaning solution, or disinfectant, is quite acidic, although it’s neutralized by use of a caustic solution, thereby creating a final effluent that is nearly pH neutral. Goodrow reiterated that they do not discharge enough volume into the city’s sewer system to qualify as an industrial customer, nor do any of the other Salem breweries. There are no issues specific to yeast discharge at Santiam.
So, the bottom line based on my limited research: yeast discharge to sewer systems does not seem to be an issue in Oregon. I’m confident that Oregon’s craft brewers are attuned to the potential and are very conscientious about recycling and limiting their discharge of both wastewater and organic materials. Further investigation may find a very large brewery in a very small community where discharge could create problems with biological oxygen demand, total suspended solids or pH conditions in the receiving waters, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at this point.
By Andi Prewitt
Of the Oregon Beer Growler
Most of us have been there. You wake up only wishing you hadn’t because you’re slogging through a booze-induced haze. Blame it on the beer festival, the ABVs that snuck up on you, or the special birthday party. Nobody enjoys a hangover. Moreover, decades of research have shown that heavy drinking, particularly over a long period of time, increases mortality risk. Too much alcohol could lead to liver disease and several types of cancer. But studies on the effects of moderate drinking have been more complicated. Part of that is due to the problem of how truthfully subjects self-report. Some research also ends up conflicting. And since we’re in a state that thrives off of a strong beer culture, it’s worth exploring the connection between alcohol, some of beer’s basic ingredients, and your health.
Moderate Drinking & the J-Shaped Curve
Whether it’s beer, wine or spirits, any alcohol in moderation may prove to have health benefits, according to Dr. Thomas Shellhammer, professor of fermentation science and food science at Oregon State University. For healthy adults, moderation means one serving a day for women and up to two servings a day for men under the age of 65. The Mayo Clinic has classified 12 fluid ounces of beer as one drink. Of course, factors such as age, body mass index, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and even education should also be taken into account when discussing health and alcohol intake. However, moderate consumption can result “in a decrease in mortality due to cardiovascular disease. And cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of folks in the U.S.,” explained Dr. Shellhammer.
The Mayo Clinic reported that restrained consumption can possibly reduce the risk of an ischemic stroke, which occurs when blood flow to the brain is restricted due to narrowed or blocked arteries. There may also be a diminished likelihood of developing diabetes associated with controlled alcohol use. A 2004 meta-analysis of previous studies published on the American Diabetes Association website determined that moderate drinkers were 30 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
Since the late 1970s, research amassed on the benefits of moderate intake led to the development of what epidemiologists and medical professionals call the “J-shaped curve” regarding mortality. Dr. Shellhammer described that the curve on a graph would dip below the x-axis before rising again, creating a shape that resembles the letter “J.” The x-axis represents the number of alcohol servings a person or population would consume. The y-axis is then the risk of mortality. “A teetotaler has some fixed amount or average risk of mortality. As alcohol consumption increases, that risk of mortality decreases. It actually starts falling down below that x-axis and at some point out there it starts coming back up,” said Dr. Shellhammer.
A study published in 2013 by the Research Society on Alcoholism seems to reaffirm the data on moderate health benefits. Researchers analyzed the results of the National Health Interview Survey from 1997 to 2001. That information was then paired with the latest release of the NHIS Linked Mortality Files, which provided follow-up data through the end of 2006. Results showed that more than a third of the drinkers recorded heavy use. Mortality risk grew as drinking increased, where ultimately daily excessive users had “an almost two-fold risk of death compared with abstainers,” researchers reported. Moderate drinking was connected to decreased mortality, but the health benefits “peaked around two non-heavy occasions per week,” the authors concluded.
Of course the health benefits may not be felt by everyone who drinks alcohol, even moderately. But research does indicate there can be positive implications. Apart from considering the body and beer, though, breaking down some of the health research on hops and barley can lead to a greater appreciation for the components of your brew.
Hops and Health
Many beer lovers, especially those in the Pacific Northwest, love the flavor and aroma hops add to beer. But those little cones have a lot more to offer in terms of medicinal qualities. Dr. Fred Stevens, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry at OSU and principal investigator at the Linus Pauling Institute, had a role in much of this groundbreaking research. OSU’s laboratory was the first to report that the main flavonoid, or compound synthesized by a plant, found in hops has anti-inflammatory and cancer chemopreventive properties. That flavonoid is called xanthohumol and never really turned brewers’ heads because it has no taste, according to OSU’s website. During his post-doctorate period at the university in 1995, Dr. Stevens started looking into the chemistry of hops. With the assistance of other professors, he was able to isolate and research xanthohumol. The team found that in cancer cells, it gives rise to one type of enzyme that detoxifies cancer-causing agents. It also stops another enzyme from activating carcinogens.
There’s evidence showing xanthohumol has the potential to prevent one particular type of disease: prostate cancer. Dr. Stevens published a paper with another researcher that showed how the flavonoid gets in the way of a particular protein’s signaling. That protein just happens to regulate 400 genes connected to inflammation, which is an important factor in the development of prostate cancer, Dr. Stevens shared on OSU’s website.
Similarly, a medicine company called Metagenics announced in 2012 that an acid compound in hops could stop the hardening of arteries during the early stages of the condition. That same compound also demonstrated an ability to prevent weight gain and improve intestinal health with mice on high-fat diets in studies out of a university in Belgium. Additionally, hops might help with menopause. Dr. Shellhammer explained they contain a compound that’s phytoestrogenic — essentially it’s a chemical created by plants that acts similar to estrogen. He recalled a company selling a hop product as a more natural estrogen supplement.
Barley and Beta-glucans
Hops have been more of the lead singer in recent years while barley plays backup, but this beer ingredient boasts its own health rewards. Dr. Shellhammer pointed out that barley has a fair amount of beta-glucans, a type of soluble fiber, which can reduce blood serum cholesterol levels. Some food barleys have higher levels of beta-glucans than malting barleys. Most brewers actually want barley with lower levels of beta-glucans because they can lead to difficulties when making beer. The malting process degrades beta-glucans, so you won’t find levels beneficial to your health in the final product or even the wort.
There’s likely much more research to come on the health effects of alcohol and the ingredients in beer, especially as technology continues to improve. OSU is sure to be an important contributor to the growing pool of knowledge, putting the state of Oregon at the lead of an important discussion.
Above, Ninkasi launched its yeast aboard an amateur rocket hoping to activate it in space. Due to faulty tracking devices, it was not retrieved from the Black Rock Desert in time to find the yeast viable. Mission One was a learning experience. Ninkasi is now planning Mission Two.
Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing Co.
By Anthony St. Clair
On July 14, Eugene-based Ninkasi Brewing launched the Ninkasi Space Program (NSP). An amateur rocket packed with 16 strains of brewer’s yeast was launched high into the atmosphere. Ninkasi was hoping to later retrieve the yeast and brew a batch of “space beer.”
Twenty-seven days after launch, the payload was retrieved from Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Due to a lengthy search time, the result of the failure of tracking devices, the yeast was not viable for brewing.
“This was an opportunity that came about through a combination of relationships and timing,” says Ninkasi co-founder Nikos Ridge. “The mix of science, engineering, rockets, yeast, and space has been a really cool experience. Watching a rocket launch into space is actually cooler than you expect. We thought it would be fun, it turned out to be amazing. There is something pretty deep about reaching out beyond the earth. This was only the second amateur rocket ever launched into space, and set a host of new records for amateur space flight, such as speed, height, and first amateur picture taken in space.”
While the first launch did not result in viable yeast, Ninkasi already has plans for a second attempt. “We will have the opportunity to launch again in late October,” says Ridge. “After learning from some of the experiences from the first launch, we hope to get back viable yeast.”
Updates about the Ninkasi Space Program can be found at nsp.ninkasibrewing.com or on Ninkasi’s Facebook page.
Paul Long is an engineer who has designed his own steam brewing system, in operation at his brewery near Newberg.
Photo by Gail Oberst
By John Locanthi
Tucked away in the fertile wine country of Yamhill County, a brewer tinkers away in his nondescript brewing shed. Paul Long, winner of the 2005 Ninkasi Award for homebrewers and founder of Long Brewing, has a well-earned reputation as not only one of the state’s best brewers, but as a maker of some of the finest commercial beers in the state.
The electrical engineer-turned-brewer has a secret up his sleeve: a brewing system of his own design.
“I had to have it custom made because there wasn’t any system out there that could do what I wanted to do,” says Long, who spent 40 years as a wine drinker before going all-in with beer brewing.
The three-and-a-half barrel, all-steam system is perfectly suited for the Newberg brewer’s needs.
“I like to make delicate beers,” says Long, who is currently working on a north German-style pilsner. “Clean beers with defined layers.”
Steam allows for a soft boil, gently succoring out the softer notes of the malts and hops. Even on his heavier beers, such as the aptly named Wee Heavy, you’ll taste each of the 12 malts in a succession through the finish. You’ll find no acid bombs or oily ales in Long’s oeuvre. He believes his beer is best served in a wine glass.
It’s all a part of Long’s “no compromise” motto.
“I make beers without compromise,” says Long as he rubs one of his frozen cascade hops from Yakima between his hands and takes a long whiff. “I use only the best hops from two farms—never pellets—only the best malts and the perfect yeast for every one of my beers.”
Long approaches brewing with the meticulous attention to detail you’d expect from a former engineer for Hewlett-Packard.
The still is equipped with four separate clusters of five temperature sensors. The entire system is hooked up to the Wi-Fi, allowing him to monitor it from his phone when he’s judging beer miles away.
“A single degree off and the beer changes entirely” says Long.
Every step of the process is as closely monitored, from the soft boiling to the pumping—”We learned with wine that you need to crush the grapes gently, I use the same approach with pumping” says Long. The whole brewing process is designed to mitigate oxidation, tannins and diacetyls to create clean beer.
And Long is always looking for new techniques to improve his beer.
“I freeze my hops in a vacuum-sealed bag to dry them but I’m always looking for better ways to preserve my hops,” says Long as he swirls his Vienna lager in a wine glass. “This is an exciting time in brewing. My hop-growing friend employs a chemist now. There are ways to locate the sulfur compounds in a hop down to the quadrillionth—the quadrillionth!”
“We are just now getting into the real science of brewing.”
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.