By Adam Fleck
For the Oregon Beer Growler
We in the brewing industry measure, analyze and manage everything we can when it comes to what goes into the Northwest’s world-famous beers. However, something that doesn’t get as much consideration is what comes out the other side of the brewery. No, not the beer. I’m talking about effluent. Waste. Refuse. The primary discharge from a brewery isn’t the spent grain, trub or hop sludge — it’s actually water.
For every gallon of beer, as much as 9 gallons of water goes down the drain. This is due to all of the rinsing, sanitizing and cleaning that is necessary in any given brewhouse. But many breweries have found ways to become more efficient. For instance, Widmer Brothers Brewing and Full Sail Brewing use less than 3 gallons of water for each gallon of beer they produce. We’ll explore some of the ways that breweries reduce both the amount and concentration of effluent.
The first step is to find out just how much water you’re using in your process. Measure everything! How much water is going into your cleaning cycles? Sanitation cycles? Do you have a restaurant or taproom as well? Those areas need their own water analysis separate from the brewery. Once you have some basic numbers (they don’t have to be exact), you can start to see where your biggest improvements can be attained. Identify critical control points, which is similar to a general quality control program — so if you’ve already done that, water efficiency will be easy.
It helps to appoint a “water czar” or whatever title fits your brewery’s culture. From a personnel standpoint, this gives ownership over a task that someone can take pride in. Plus, it looks great on a resume! This person can be in charge of finding specific procedures in your brewery that would most benefit from a reduction in water use without impacting the quality of the beer.
One way to reduce brewery effluent is simply to use less water. I know this sounds fairly simple, but keeping this in mind can alter the way you look at even the simplest tasks. For example, put down the hose and pick up a broom — or better yet, a squeegee. Your brewery most likely has smooth floors, and pushing dirt and debris closer to the drain before rinsing can drastically reduce water used for non-brewing purposes. That’s what we want to achieve here: less water, more beer. Also, a brewhouse that is constantly moist is a healthy breeding ground for bacterial beer spoilers.
When wastewater is finally leaving the brewery, even after all of the water savings you were able to accomplish through your water analysis, it ends up being more concentrated with chemicals, dust, dirt and organic waste. Some municipalities even have regulations regarding what exactly you can flush down the drain. Wastewater treatment plants often demand measurements of pH, turbidity and Biological Oxygen Demand. But please, don’t use the same pH meter on effluent as you use for your mash!
By treating wastewater, increasing the water efficiency of the brewhouse and keeping water consciousness in the minds of all brewers and staff, we can help maintain the Northwest’s most valuable brewing resource: water. If you would like to get involved in water conservation, nonprofits like Oregon Brewshed Alliance work closely with breweries to safeguard our natural resources and protect forest watersheds.
Adam Fleck is the founder of Willamette Valley Mobile Testing, which provides contract quality control for small and midsize breweries.