By Michael Cairns
Readers of this semi-regular column will know that I am impressed by the numerous business and operating procedures used by Oregon brewers to save water and energy. Sustainability is one of my favorite words, and that encompasses environmental, economic, and social sustainability. I believe that consumers of Oregon craft beer have a certain level of sophistication that attracts them to beers produced in ways that allow us to tread lightly on Mother Earth.
A recent press release from Widmer Brothers Brewing caught my attention and made me gravitate to a new beer based on some old ingredients and using water conservation to benefit one of Oregon’s treasured watersheds. Now available is Widmer’s Columbia Common Spring Ale (ABV: 4.7%, IBU: 32), a spring seasonal that showcases the historic Columbia hop, a once-popular variety that was near extinction before Widmer began developing this recipe in 2012.
“We’re always experimenting with unique hop varietals, and we were intrigued by the Columbia hop’s story and its character,” said Joe Casey, brewmaster. “Columbia hops, a sister varietal to Willamette hops, lost popularity decades ago as Willamette hops became the hop of choice for some larger breweries in the United States. They nearly disappeared until a local hop grower, Annen Brothers in Mt. Angel, Oregon, worked with Oregon State University to revive them. We really enjoy the beers we’ve brewed with Columbia hops and have purchased nearly all of the Columbia hops they’ve grown.” The Columbia hop has a clean, mild, pleasantly floral and slightly spicy profile, characters that are also reflected in the easy-drinking Columbia Common Spring Ale. Widmer Brothers is the only brewery that currently uses the Columbia hop commercially.
As to its contribution to water use sustainability, Widmer partners with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) to offset 100 percent of the water used by the brewery to brew Columbia Common. Last year, Widmer Brothers restored 500,000 gallons of water to the Middle Deschutes River, and the brewery will be restoring another 500,000 gallons of water in 2014. The water restoration is made possible through the purchase of BEF water offset credits to offset the brewery’s water consumption. In this manner, this spring seasonal will be entirely “water neutral” and further contribute to the Deschutes River restoration efforts.
“We are constantly looking for ways to lessen our environmental impact,” said Julia Person, sustainability coordinator. “We have reduced our water usage to about 4.2 gallons of water per gallon of beer, which is significantly lower than the industry standard. The water offsets through the Bonneville Environmental Foundation provided us with another great way to make a positive contribution to Oregon’s natural resources.”
All BEF Water Restoration Certificates® projects are certified by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s strict set of criteria to ensure flow is restored to the environment in locations and at a time that will have optimum environmental benefit.
The Middle Deschutes River is a 35-mile section of the iconic river that flows between the city of Bend and Lake Billy Chinook. In this section of the river, deep canyons and public lands comprise one of the most scenic desert canyons in the state of Oregon. However, historically most of the flow to the Middle Deschutes River was diverted near the City of Bend, to serve agricultural needs throughout central Oregon. Thanks to partnerships with businesses, the Deschutes River Conservancy, and local irrigation districts, 488 million gallons of water have already been restored to this section of the Deschutes River.
According to a Widmer press release, this is a crisp, easy drinking common-style beer. With a rich amber hue, Columbia Common has mild grassy and spicy hop notes that are complemented by a subtle fruity character and clean finish brought on by the use of Hefeweizen and lager yeasts. Columbia Common Spring Ale is available on draught, in 6- and 12-packs, and in the Brothers’ Best variety packs until May.
Now let’s all get out there and save some water.
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.