By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Environmental degradation is underway. This has led to numerous harmful impacts, including water shortages and land pollution. While the issue may seem too big for any one person to make a difference, we as homebrewers can do our part by using green practices when making beer. And there’s an added bonus when you start brewing sustainably: you’ll save money in the long run.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, there’s typically no shortage of water falling out of the sky. That rain, snow or sleet is essentially free. The easiest way to collect this precipitation is by hooking up a rain barrel system to your home’s gutters. Of course, the water that’s collected isn’t going to be good for brewing, however, it is suitable for cleaning or — with the addition of a sump pump — running your heat exchanger. Whether you use an immersion chiller or a plate, you can hook a sump pump to a garden hose and use the rainwater to chill your wort. While that process is underway, use the resulting hot water to clean equipment or just allow it to drain back into your rain barrel and save it for future use. If there’s enough water in the barrel, you won’t be able to heat it to the point that it will impact your chilling power. In summer, the water in the barrel may get too hot, but it can still be utilized for cleaning and watering hop plants.
Collecting rainwater is not the only green thing we can do. The brewing process produces waste that usually gets thrown in the trash, eventually becoming part of a landfill, or washed down the drain. Keep in mind that used hops should be thrown away because they are harmful to dogs when ingested. But spent grain is a different story. There are several baking recipes that put this “waste” to good use — you can create everything from dog biscuits to breads to brownies. Adding spent grain to baked goods can be a fun and interesting way to incorporate leftovers from the brewing process into something fun.
Once you’ve made all of the spent grain cookies you and your friends could possibly consume, the rest can be used in compost. The material will decompose, resulting in a dense mulch-like fertilizer that will allow air to flow around the soil of your plants. This makes for good drainage, which is perfect for hops. Unfortunately, there are proteins in spent grain and the smell can be a little off-putting, but the payoff is definitely worth it. And if your neighbors complain — just tell them you’re saving the planet!
The yeast cake at the bottom of our fermentors may be the most difficult thing to address as far as waste minimization. You can reuse the yeast a few times before it starts to produce bizarre flavors. But once you reach that point, what do you do? Yeast is good for you — it contains B vitamins and protein, but eating a raw yeast cake might be a little funky. Dehydrating the yeast is another option — you can then sprinkle it on food for nutritional benefits.
If you aren’t in a hurry to eat bowls of spent yeast, there’s still another way to reuse that yeast cake that’s inspired by the Aussies. Though the process to make Vegemite now has been industrialized, there is an old-fashioned approach. First, add a cup each of chopped up carrots, celery and onion to a stock pot with enough water to cover the vegetables. Next, add as much yeast as a 5-gallon batch of beer will produce. Turn on the heat and bring the water to a boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are mashed up to a paste-like consistency (you may need to blend everything together). Be sure to not let the concoction burn by stirring occasionally. Once your homemade Vegemite is done, you can throw a party and serve it on top of spent-grain crackers alongside your homebrew.
Going green doesn’t need to be a huge ordeal and now you know there are several tasty and easy ways to help save the planet.
Chew on This DIPA [AG]
Chew on This DIPA [Extract]
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.