Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bottoms Up to Green Beer

By Ashley Intveld

I wasn’t always a beer drinker. By law I really couldn’t be until I turned twenty-one anyway. It was on my twenty-first birthday when I took a swig, swished it around my mouth, and smacked my lips with satisfaction. I liked it, and so I began tasting, trying, accepting and rejecting different brews from different places from there on in.

I had been exposed to a culture that I had never known before; a culture I had previously assumed to be a group of heavy-bellied couch potatoes who washed down their daytime television with whatever six-pack was on sale that week at the local liquor store. I was wrong; the beer culture has nothing to do with how many can be “pounded back” in a set amount of time, at least not the beer culture I was delving into. This culture was about the process, the system, the ingredients, and the taste, rather than the embarrassing photos that may surface after a few too many.

What I’m getting at is this: microbrewers, or small and mostly localized brewers, are artists of a different kind, and their art comes from a long history and the most basic, natural ingredients.
Dating back to Babylonian times, historians speculate that beer has been a part of various cultures for thousands of years. It is said that Babylonian tablets dated around 4300 B.C. detail recipes for beer. Egyptians served beer to royalty and it was included in sacred burial ceremonies. It was also included in dozens of medications for a myriad of health ailments. As time progressed, beer surfaced in pinnacle moments in history (It’s even be speculated that the reason why the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock was because their beer supply was low).

Beer, during the Renaissance and some time after, was the primary dietary supplement. Due to food shortages and famines, beer was the prime substitute for bread.

All Natural Ingredients

Although the history of beer proves its many uses over the years, one thing has always remained consistent: simple, natural ingredients. Nothing artificial, nothing that incubates in a test tube that’s stirred every now and then by some stiff in a lab coat. Water, barley, yeast, and hops, with the occasional chocolate or oat as a special guest: that’s it. Where macrobrewers like Budweiser skimp on the quality of their ingredients and boost the carbonation (Americans love their soda, so the more beer tastes like soda the better, right?) microbrewers moved in a completely different direction: organic and green brewing with quality ingredients and natural carbonation.
Located in the heart of Hoboken, New Jersey is an up-and-coming brewery that features all-organic materials. The aptly named “Jersey Brew” has devoted its entire mission to 100% eco-friendly strategies. From recycled packaging materials to farm-fresh ingredients (they get all their ingredients from local farmers), Jersey Brew is one of several environmentally conscious brewers countrywide. 

Where the brewers of Jersey Brew focus primarily on their organic ingredients, other microbreweries have redesigned the entire brewing system with the Earth in mind. Before I go into how these systems have been revolutionized, let’s take a tour of the beer-making process, shall we?

I took a trip to High Point Brewing Company in Butler, New Jersey to find out more about the ancient craft of brewing. Home of Ramstein beers, High Point Brewing Company is the first exclusive wheat beer brewery in America. The owner, Greg Zaccardi, is a German brewer who came to America to open his own brewery. Not only did he keep his technique, but the ingredients too; they are imported from Bavaria. The tour was about a half-hour long and walked us through the process, step by step.

First, the imported grains are sent through a mill where pressure is applied to each individual grain. The pressure is just light enough to crack the grain, but not crush it, which prepares it for its next step: the Brewhouse. Here, the “brewer’s mash” is made.

Brewer’s mash, or the grains mixed with water, has the consistency of oatmeal. The heat from the water allows the natural enzymes in the mixture to activate and convert to raw carbohydrates and fermentable sugars. The tour guide told us that this boiling step takes about five hours to complete before moving to the next process, where the grain is separated from the sweet liquid, or “wort.” The wort is then collected into a kettle where it will boil up to 550 gallons, and that’s when the bitterness comes into play.

Hops, or tiny flowers that resemble brussel sprouts, are tossed into the mix to boil for two hours. Then, the mix goes into its final stage: fermentation. Yeast is added to the wort, which in about three to five days will convert the fermentable sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol. After the designated three to five days, the beer matures for three weeks and is then bottled for sale and distribution. And that’s the brewing process, in a nutshell.

Environmentally Friendly Brewing

So how has this process gone the way of the environmentally conscious? Brooklyn Brewers, a brewery out of, you guessed it, Brooklyn, NY is powered entirely by wind turbines, which generate the facility’s energy. Not only is that a feat in itself, but this alternative energy source makes Brooklyn Brewery the very first company in New York City to be solely powered by wind. 

Stretching outside the Greater New York area, brewers nationwide have taken strides to deliver quality beer while adhering to the well-being of the environment.

Sierra Nevada Brewery, located in California, and Odell Brewing in Colorado are equipped with solar panels that powers most of their facilities. Full Sail Brewing Company in Oregon uses about 3 million fewer gallons per year than the average brewing company due to their condensed work schedules. Full Sail brewers may have the ideal working hours (ten hours a day, four days a week), but the reduced billable hours reduce energy emissions dramatically.

Great Lakes Brewing Company in Ohio has developed an error-proof “closed loop” recycling system. Everything is therefore used for something, reducing their waste to just about nothing. Not to mention the fact that their distribution trucks run on vegetable oil. Now that’s what I call going green.

While I swiveled in my bar stool at Highpoint Brewing Company sipping my beer, I thought about the innovative strides microbrewers have taken toward a sustainable system; a system that caters to not just the customers, but the world in which those customers live. Green brewing: I’ll drink to that.

Ashley Intveld is an about-to-be graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey, having majored in Journalism and Literature. She will be pursuing her Master’s Degree in English studies at Bread Loaf School of English in Middlebury, Vermont.

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