By Michael Kew
For the Oregon Beer Growler
They won't make the kind of green beer swilled in sports bars on St. Patrick’s Day.
They will make a much different green beer — several, actually — inside their state-of-the-art, 30-barrel brewhouse in southeast Ashland, 15 miles north of California. Now producing 12,000 barrels per year, Caldera Brewing Company has been "dedicated to being green before being green was cool," owner Jim Mills once wrote.
Green beer tends to come from green towns — in 2009, the National Geographic Society voted Ashland into its Top 10 Places for Geotourism. Caldera, Spanish for "boiling pot," had been making beer there for 12 years.
"Breweries these days are at the forefront of green practices," Caldera's head brewer Adam Benson told me one cool, cloudy February day. Snow brightened the mountain peaks above the valley. We stood just outside the brewery's back door, admiring the three white silos used to transfer and recycle Caldera’s spent grains.
Benson has been with Caldera since 2010 following a stint at Standing Stone, another ecofriendly brewery three miles across town.
"As brewers,” he said while we walked back inside, “we're constantly sharing information — from a recipe to how we do things, so if there's way to make something greener, generally it's shared in the industry."
In 2005, starting with its pale ale, Caldera became the West Coast's first craft brewery to can its own beer. Each minute, the new line fills 500 cans made of aluminum, Earth’s most abundant metallic element.
"Canning itself is a green process," Benson said to me later, watching freshly capped yellow cylinders of IPA whiz past us.
"From shipment of the original empty cans to us, to shipping them out full, it's all much lighter (than glass) and, therefore, uses less energy," he said. "The aluminum is 100-percent recyclable and is used to make more cans, whereas glass is often not. Essentially, recycled glass is just put into pavement and stuff like that — it's not used to make more glass. With a can, even its pop tab is recycled."
You don't even have to drink the beer in Caldera's cans (Lawnmower Lager, Pale Ale, Ashland Amber, IPA, Hopportunity Knocks IPA, Pilot Rock Porter, and — soon — Mosaic IPA) to grok its greater good.
"I'm happy to say that all of our byproducts are used for cattle feed and organic farming," Benson said. His spent grains, hops, yeasts and filter sheets are composted to concoct fresh, nutrient-rich soil, which is then packaged in and dispersed from the used specialty-grain bags.
“Business-wise,” Benson continued, “it makes sense to be as green as possible, especially when you're brewing in an out-of-the-way place like this. You have to utilize every resource to its fullest extent.”
To quell water waste, Benson uses a recirculating wort-chilling system. "The energy used to cool one wort is reused to heat the next wort. Otherwise, all that water would be going down the drain."
In summer, Caldera's sophisticated HVAC setup ingests cool nighttime air, then expels it throughout the brewery during warm workdays, eliminating a need for expensive, energy-sapping air conditioning.
Instead of natural gas-fueled direct fire, Caldera uses steam to power all three of its kettles (a 30-barrel system, plus a 10-barrel soda system and a 10-barrel pilot system, which was the original system in the original brewhouse just up the road).
Instead of chemicals, the new racking machine also uses steam to clean and sanitize. And Caldera just hired a full-time maintenance man from Darigold, the massive dairy agricultural co-op based in Seattle. “He's extremely informative,” Benson said, “so he's able to further reduce energy use throughout all of our systems. He knows everything about everything.”
The brewery and its restaurant are surrounded with xeriscape flora (shadowed by the Siskiyou Mountains, Ashland receives just 20 inches of yearly rain). Of the Ashland sunshine, Caldera takes full advantage with its many brewhouse windows, reducing the need for electric light.
Solar panels are slated for the brewery roof. Indoor infrastructure for the panels is already installed; the panels will go up top once proper funds are secured, likely within two years, Benson said.
If you're seated at one of Caldera's two Ashland bars, the beer you're drinking was poured when your barkeep pulled a tap handle made of hardwood scrap. The wood (ash, of course) came from Sawyer Paddles & Oars, located up the road in Gold Hill, along the banks of the fabled Rogue River, a wellspring for southern Oregon fun. The Ashland Watershed itself is a burgeoning outdoor playground — a sibling of Bend, if you will.
Benson: "As you can see around the top of our cans, it reads “Go Boarding, Go Rafting, Go Biking, Go Fishing, Go Skiing.” This ties in with being able to take a six-pack with you when you go someplace where glass isn't allowed.”
Caldera is donating funds to help fight the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline project, a proposal that would allow Canada's Veresen Inc. to lay 232 miles of 36-inch pipe to move up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day from Malin, located in Klamath County, to a terminal in Coos Bay, where the natural gas would be liquefied and shipped to Asia. While the pipe wouldn't actually pass through Ashland, it would come close enough, and most of the town’s 21,000 oppose the project.
"Ashland is a green, liberal place, so we fit in well,” Benson said, smiling. "We support its community as much as we can. It's a good marriage — we're right for each other."
Caldera Brewing Company
[a] 590 Clover Lane (Restaurant & Brewery); 31 Water Street, No. 2 (Tap House), Ashland
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.
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