Bottle & tap

Although I feel nary a twinge of guilt when enjoying a good beer, it certainly is not a guilt-free liquid. Yet some people take assuaging that guilt to extremes.

You know the world has gone a little crazy when beer companies actually start naming beers after the number of calories they contain.

Then there’s the alcohol. Overindulgence brings guilt and regrets and constant reminders not to imbibe quite so freely from both relatives and beer marketing companies. And don’t forget the money involved.

So how does saving the planet rank on the shame-o-meter? I’m getting a reading of “guilt-free.”

Craft brewers are at the forefront of retrofitting with the environment in mind. Brewing is an art, but it’s also a manufacturing process that emits gases into the air, uses energy to heat water, and runs machinery that produces waste products that could easily find their way into landfills.

But environmentalism has become part of the culture for small breweries: those who started small and have invested profits to become much larger without punching a bigger hole in the ozone layer.

In the latest issue of Sierra Magazine, the magazine of the 1.3 million-member environmental group Sierra Club, several beer journalists, brewers, and experts (including this correspondent) were asked to weigh in on their favorite beers that don’t give the planet a hangover.

San Diego beer critic Peter Rowe admits that his pick of the certified-organic Mothership Wit and pretty much anything else from Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing Co. is low hanging fruit. “Introducing New Belgium into the eco-friendly beer conversation is like shooting sustainable fish in a recyclable barrel — it’s a natural,” he writes.

With a flagship beer like Fat Tire, it’s not surprising that many brewery workers bike to work and are given every encouragement to do so. Wind power and solar installations running the ever-expanding brewery have been a major investment for company founder Kim Jordan.

Likewise, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, Calif., is no slouch when it comes to doing the environment proud. As Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune, authors of The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer, point out: Sierra Nevada has solar panels on every inch of roof that will support them. They also recapture some of their emissions and turn them back into energy used in running the brewery.

My pick for a favorite planet-friendly brew was, or course, a tasty Texas one: The Shade-grown Coffee Porter coming once again this fall from Real Ale Brewing Co. in Blanco. This complex beer has notes of chocolate, coffee on top of coffee, and a little smokiness. The 10-percent Munich malt used as a key ingredient is organic. The coffee, roasted by Katz Coffee Roasters in Houston, is shade-grown by cooperative producers in South and Central Mexico – primarily Chiapas — so a rainforest didn’t die to make this beer.

The whole brewery, which has already expanded once, is becoming greener as Real Ale brews catch on with more people.

Owner Brad Farbstein says the solar panels installed on top of the new office part of the brewery are expected to reduce fossil-fuel use by as much as 15 percent. “If that works well, we’ll do more,” he said. It doesn’t hurt that they expect to recoup their investment in savings over the next three years.

The brewery also is working to divert waste heat into heating the water used in the process. Head brewer Tim Schwartz said they are adding rainwater collection at the brewery for on-site use, but it won’t be going into the beer itself.

Real Ale six-pack carriers are made from recycled materials and will be reused if returned through delivery drivers. Saint Arnold Brewing Co. in Houston has made a practice of getting their carriers back (to the tune of several hundred thousand a year) for reuse by offering brewery-branded products in exchange.

And next time you eat a piece of beef, consider that it could have been fed on spent grains from the brewing process. That calls for a beer with that steak.•

Travis E. Poling writes about beer weekly for the Current and is author of the book Beer Across Texas: A Guide to the Brews and Brewmasters of the Lone Star State. He can be reached at [email protected].

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