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]
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.
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