Beer remains the nation’s most popular alcoholic drink. It’s the drink of choice for the 43% of Americans who drink, compared to 32% for wine and 20% for liquor.
From growing grains to delivering beer, brewing has a major environmental impact. And that’s particularly important given the sharp growth of breweries in the nation—the number has spiked from 92 in 1980 to 5,591 in 2017. That’s the most in the nation has ever had—the closest high was 4,131 back in 1873. A lot of that growth has been in regional craft breweries, microbreweries, and brewpubs.
Climate change is already affecting brewers. The Oxford Companion to Beer notes that the price of ingredients is “beginning to rise as the agriculture industry is affected by changing weather patterns.” Climate change has already hurt the quality of Czech Saaz hops and additional warming threatens the health of other crops needed to make beer including wheat and barley. A warming climate also means less water would be available to make beer.
Some brewers have been fighting climate change for decades. Brooklyn Brewery, founded in 1984, has built sustainability into its business model. It has its own Green Team and has adopted practices such as using wind energy purchased from the grid using wind Renewable Energy Credits (credits that support new wind farms to further supply) and partnering with the Arbor Day Foundation to offset 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide by planting 375 acres of carbon dioxide-consuming trees.
Initiatives such as New York’s Farm Brewery Act, which went into effect in 2013 encourage sustainable brewery practices. The Farm Brewery Act incentivizes craft breweries to use New York-produced ingredients by allowing those brewers to conduct onsite tastings, open restaurants, engage in self-distribution, and open off-site branch stores anywhere in the state. Using local ingredients reduces emissions from transporting crops between states and supports local agriculture. In just five years, 202 licenses have been issued, in addition to 29 farm brewery branch stores with tasting rooms now operating throughout New York. With 400 breweries statewide, beer is now a big business in the State of New York. More than half a dozen New York colleges now offer brewing degrees or courses, providing brewers with a trained labor pool.
Plan Bee Brewery, on a 25-acre farm outside Poughkeepsie New York, is one of these breweries. Owners Emily and Evan Watson aim to be a 100% sustainable operation by signing up for community solar power to offset its electricity use on the farm and plans to use a biodigester that will power the farm’s brew house with spent grain.
Another example of the many New York breweries practicing sustainability is Empire Brewing Company in Syracuse, which sends spent grains from the brewing process to a local livestock company that uses it for feed and compost, which means more than 50% of its waste goes into nutrient-rich soil instead of filling landfills.
That makes enjoying a New York-brewed pint a double win—one for taste and one for supporting a sustainable business model.
NYLCV will continue to advocate for sustainable growing and brewing practices in New York State.