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Brewing up ways to make your beer greener

Sourcing organic ingredients for beer is a challenge, says Mill Street brewmaster Joel Manning.

DAVE CHAN/dave chan The Globe and Mail

The bottle isn't the only thing that's green at Steam Whistle.

The Toronto-based brewery gets its electricity from Bullfrog Power, which uses wind and low-impact hydroelectric sources. Its cooling is by Enwave, which uses cold water from deep in Lake Ontario, and new brewing equipment that captures steam cuts their wastewater by a third. Its trucks run on biofuels and, thanks to improved route planning, they cut the amount of fuel they used last year by more than 7,000 litres - while increasing sales.

They're not satisfied yet.

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"None of these are perfect," says Sybil Taylor, the company's communications director and a member of its environment committee. "We're trying to always be self-aware and improve."

Tonight, as Canadians raise a glass to Irish pride, the greenest beer may not be the one that's been dosed with food colouring. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and water to make beer, and the process emits a lot of carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas. With that in mind, here are some of the ways Canadian brewmasters are going greener.

Water usage

Typically, for every bottle of beer that's filled, 4 to 10 times that volume of water is used for cleaning or lost as steam while boiling the wort. At Steam Whistle, the ratio is 5.5:1, which includes toilets and washing facilities in their event space. In the brewery alone, it's 1.17:1, according to Ms. Taylor. The brewery collects the steam it creates, condenses it and re-uses the water, rather than allow it to flow down the drain.

Many brewers are looking for ways to cut water use. Brasserie McAuslan in Montreal, Que., makes about 100,000 hectolitres (one hL equals 100 litres) of beer a year, and has experimented with using rinse water for floor washing. But brewers need to be careful because some rinse water will contain bacteria, brewery president Peter McAuslan cautions.

Since 2006, Molson Coors, one of Canada's biggest brewers, has cut water consumption in its five Canadian breweries by 20 per cent. "Water is a key strategic mandate over the next three years. We want to be a leader," says Daniel Pelland, vice-president of global operations strategy at Molson Coors. "We will be the best-performing leader in our industry by 2012."

But for some small breweries, the conservation process is just beginning.

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"For us, the biggest change was just getting a water meter," says Warren Smith, brewmaster at the Fernie Brewing Company in B.C. With metering comes the ability to assess how much water is saved by each measure. The Fernie brewery was also built with a steeper slope in the floor, allowing them to use less water for cleaning.

Facilities

Steam Whistle's chief competition for the title of greenest brewery may be Les Brasseurs du Nord. The Blainville, Que., brewery produces 70,000 hL of Boréale a year. The company has a solar wall, and uses geothermal energy and a system to recover heat from cooling vats. It also uses a host of energy- and water-saving programs and even changed construction plans to preserve a 100-year-old hemlock tree.

In addition to reducing its water use, Molson Coors has cut consumption of natural gas and electricity by 10 per cent. As with other large-scale brewers, Molson Coors captures the carbon dioxide created during fermentation and uses it to carbonate the beer.

At Mill Street Brewery in Toronto, a new heat-recovery system uses steam from boiling to heat water for brewing. City water comes in at 5C, and this system can heat 150 hL a day to 90C.

Ingredients

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Traditionally, beer is made from just barley malt, hops, water and yeast. But larger breweries today may use hundreds of ingredients, from dextrose to preservatives - which increase the beer's environmental footprint.

In Canada, only Mill Street is making a certified organic beer. But getting organic ingredients isn't easy, says brewmaster Joel Manning, who oversees production of almost 36,000 hL of beer a year.

Two years ago, he had to ship organic malt from Germany and could only get organic hops from New Zealand. Today, Mr. Manning says, "it's getting easier, but still a challenge with supply." Most Canadian breweries get their malt from one of Canada Malting Company's large plants.

But organic malt is a specialty product, so it's made in a smaller facility in Washington. That means that, while Mill Street's malt may come from greener pastures, it's still getting shipped farther than conventional malts. Shipping hops is less of an issue because it's used dried, he said. And most brewmasters flavour their beers with a variety of hops from North America, Europe and New Zealand.

The consumer

The brewery is part of the equation, but Mr. McAuslan suggests that people wanting a truly green beer should buy it warm. New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo., calculated in 2008 that in-store refrigeration was the biggest contributor to a six-pack's carbon footprint.

You can do your part too, by returning your empties. "One of the good things about the brewing process is the standard bottle," Mr. McAuslan says. In Canada, major breweries all use the same bottle, which is generally collected and washed for re-use. According to the Brewers Association of Canada, nearly three-quarters of Canadian beer is shipped in re-usable bottles, and 97 per cent of them come back. They're washed and re-used multiple times.

According to Mr. McAuslan, his brewery is still using more than 99 per cent of its original bottles. Steam Whistle, which uses its own thicker bottles, reports that it can wash and re-use them at least 30 and perhaps as many as 45 times.

Kegs of beer use less packaging than either bottles or cans. So to be truly green this St. Patrick's Day, raise your glass with friends at the pub.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Beers for patio sipping

We're crossing our fingers for good patio weather this St. Patrick's Day. Here are a half-dozen refreshing brews to help you celebrate.

Steam Whistle Pilsner: One of the only good beers labelled as a Pilsner in North America. Light body, refreshing, moderately hoppy taste. Available in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta.

Mill Street Organic Lager: A very mellow, well-balanced lager. Very refreshing, more floral tones than Steam Whistle. All organic ingredients. Available across Canada except in Quebec.

Boréale Blonde: A refreshing pale yellow Belgian-style. Available in Quebec only.

St-Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale: Deftly combines a malt and wheat beer with sweet and sour notes of apricot. Where most fruit beers fail, this one succeeds.

Fernie Ol' Willy Wit White: A Belgian-style white beer made with half wheat, half barley. Lightly hopped; most bitterness comes from the yeast in this unfiltered beer. Finished with lemon, orange peel and coriander. B.C. and Alberta only.

Molson Export: The true Canadian's mainstream ale. Lacks the complexity of its microbrew cousins, but still great for reliving the bush parties of your youth.

Craig Saunders

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