Ask any number of brewers and they will tell you it’s the water that is the key to a great beer. Coors attributes the quality of their beer to the Rocky Mountain water, and the soft water of Pilsen, Czech Republic helped create the original gold standard of a pilsner beer. Beer is 90% water and is equally if not more important in creating a great beer than barley or hops.
So what happens when the state with the largest beer brewing industry—California—faces the worst drought in history? Supply chain tactics and overall strategy must change, because without clean water there is no brewing business.
First let’s take a look at Sonoma County’s Lagunitas Brewing Company. Lagunitas makes their beer with water from the Russian River; a waterway that provides drinking water for more than half a million people. With severe water shortages head brewer, Jeremy Marshall, fears a shift towards having to use local groundwater instead of the more pure river water. Ground water is more polluted with waste from agriculture and sewage, so it needs to be treated in order to meet specific health standards. Ground water and good beer, however, do not play well together. When these contaminants are treated out with chemicals like chlorine, so are the naturally occurring minerals that brewers utilize to make a great beer. Ground water is high in minerals like nitrate and manganese that makes the brewing process much harder and reduces the overall quality of the beer. Marshall went as far as to say, “It would be like brewing with Alka-Seltzer.”
Lagunitas has come up with two possible solutions
One: The company could install a reverse osmosis water purification system; this process forces water though a semipermeable membrane in order to remove larger particles. Unfortunately, with this process only 70% of the water can be used and the remaining 30% becomes waste.
Two: If the water supply in Petaluma changes, Lagunitas will shift their operation entirely over to a new facility in Chicago. This facility will have a 250-barrel brew house that that matches their 600,000-barrel capacity. Information about their water-source in Chicago is currently unavailable.
Brewers have taken the initiative of forming a “brewers for clean water initiative” with the National Resources Defense Council in order to protect the Clean Water Act. So far there are over fifty-one brewers that have taken the Clean Water Pledge.
The act was first passed in 1972, but was weakened in 2001 and 2006 when the Supreme Court ruled that the law might exclude the protection of wetlands and small streams. The goal of the Clean Water Act is to protect our headstreams from pollution so that less treatment is necessary downstream.
What can you do?
We are rapidly approaching an international water crisis. It’s going to take effort across many levels, and here is what you as a brewer can do:
- Help put water issues on the radar;
If you are active in the brewing community start conversations about water issues. Start talking about where the most water goes and discuss solutions to reduce water usage.
- Assess your production line;
Are you over using water to clean? For example MillerCoors is using new cleaning solutions that help save hundreds of thousands of gallons of water every year. The MillerCoors facility also found that using plastic conveyor belts instead of metal requires less cleaning.
- Meter, measure and benchmark your water usage;
Learn exactly where your water is going because if you can’t gauge your usage you can’t manage it. Is your water going to cleaning? Packing? Fermenting?
- Install water saving devices or use more efficient equipment;
Look at your hoses, tanks, kegs, and pipes to make sure they are running efficiently.
American’s are used to having an abundance of clean water available at all times, and this surplus has led us to be complacent in our water usage. The average water use ratio is about seven barrels of water to one barrel of beer. Breweries must react to pressing water concerns because the stability and growth of the industry depends on the ability to efficiently manage water resources.
To read further about solutions check out the Brewers Association Water and Wastewater Manual here
Written by Annalise Downey