"Smaller, local breweries offer a number of eco-advantages to the consumer."
Jay Sullivan, production manager for Nature Conservancy magazine/Visual Communications
By Jay Sullivan
If your idea of “green beer” involves food coloring and shamrocks, it’s time to think again.
With over 2,700 craft breweries in the United States, the average American now lives within 10 miles of a local brewery* (find one near you!).
In my undisclosed years since turning 21, including time spent bartending and homebrewing, I’ve learned how beer is made at a variety of locations — from the tiny brewpub brewing beer solely for onsite consumption and the regional breweries covering several states, to the largest breweries that brew for maximum profit. The craft market, while more visible in recent years, is still a mere 7% of the overall market dominated by larger commercial brewhouses.
Smaller, local breweries offer a number of eco-advantages to the consumer, including:
- A lower carbon footprint as breweries don’t typically extend their distribution far from their location, and typically source ingredients locally when possible;
- Support for the local economy;
- Less waste! My favorite way to enjoy fresh local beer is to visit breweries, markets and beer stores that allow growler fills, where you get draft beer poured into a sealable “to-go” vessel, called a growler. When you’ve finished the approximately 4+ pints it holds, you rinse and repeat — zero waste!
For the truly proactive consumer, I suggest brewing your own beer. You cannot get more local than homebrewing in your very own kitchen! Simple kits are available through a number of homebrew suppliers. Kegging your beer means that you have a near-zero waste lifecycle. If you’re bottling your brews, you can reuse bottles from previous batches. It doesn’t hurt to note that the spent grains and bio-matter from brewing are great for livestock feed or even working into bread dough! If you’re not ready to turn your kitchen into a pub, you can also find local-area breweries that facilitate brewing workshops for small groups.
Beer is not the only alcoholic beverage that can be sourced more locally than expected. While grapes are a finicky fruit in terms of growing, wineries and vineyards are on the rise in the United States. As more climate tolerant grapes are discovered, or hybridized with other grapes, the local options for wine can be discovered near you. Even Alaska has wineries, so look for one in your area.
Perhaps this bud isn’t for you, but something made closer to home just might be.
As always, consume responsibly.
*Calagione, Sam. 2011. Brewing Up a Business. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not represent those of The Nature Conservancy.