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.
By Michael Cairns
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Ever heard of the term “benefit corporation?” I hadn’t either. That is until I began researching the story behind Hopworks Urban Brewery’s (HUB) recent certification as a B Corp. A B Corp, or benefit corporation, is one that operates with “higher standards of corporate purpose, accountability, and transparency,” according to the B Corp website. Such businesses strive to solve social and environmental problems with the power of business entrepreneurs.
The nonprofit B Lab began in 2006 and has since grown to certify a total of 1,229 companies in 38 countries and 121 business sectors. These businesses have shifted their definition of success away from strictly financial profitability and more toward accountability and documentation of their effects on the sustainability of the planet and its people. B Corps try to be a force for good by benefitting their employees, their communities and the global environment.
For anyone who has followed HUB’s evolution in its eight short years of existence, it’s no surprise that, following a detailed application and assessment process, they were certified in February of this year as the very first Northwest brewery to be granted status as a B Corp. One of 47 Oregon B Corps and one of only seven B Corp breweries in the world, Portland’s HUB has every right to be proud of what they have already achieved and where they are headed.
Because of the many sustainable operating practices that HUB uses, it’s no wonder that they scored particularly high in the environment category of their impact report. The brewery is actually 100% carbon neutral, and has adopted a zero waste initiative. They recycle their rinse water, enabling them to use just 3.4 gallons of water per gallon of finished beer, compared to an industry standard of 7 gallons. HUB uses only Oregon Tilth Certified Organic and Salmon-Safe ingredients and stays water neutral by buying credits from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. Other B Corp certification categories are governance, community and workers.
HUB’s brewmaster and founder, Christian Ettinger, states on the brewery’s website that, “It is an incredible honor to become a certified B Corporation and to sit amongst the companies that we have admired for so long. Hopworks has always believed in the direct relationship between business and environmental health and it is great to have a framework to study our progress. B Lab’s application process provided an incredibly eye-opening and dynamic analysis of our efforts to date. We are proud of what we have been able to achieve in eight short years and look forward to tackling the more challenging points in the months to come. This process has really improved our focus and excited our team.”
Oregon Beer Growler congratulates Christian and the crew at HUB for a well-deserved honor, and BRAVO to another green Oregon brewery!
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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