Fall colors the forests in the Baraboo Hills, Sauk County, Wisconsin
Wisconsin Forests: Fall colors the forests in the Baraboo Hills, Sauk County, Wisconsin © Steve S. Meyer

Stories in Wisconsin

Why Forests Matter to Brewers in Wisconsin

October in Wisconsin is when many of us get out and enjoy the fall color, pick apples, and watch some great football. The Nature Conservancy is adding to the fun with OktoberForest, a collaboration with local breweries like Leinenkugel’s and Miller Coors, to raise awareness about the important role that forests play in our water supply. We asked their master brewers why healthy forests and clean water are important to their work and their community. Here’s what they had to say.

John Hensley in Leinenkugel’s baseball cap and work shirt stands with arms crossed, in front of red, wooden barn doors.
John Hensley Leinenkugel’s master brewer. © Leinenkugel’s

John Hensley of Leinenkugel’s, Chippewa Falls, WI

Tell us a little about your brewery.

Jacob Leinenkugel established a brewery here in Chippewa Falls back in 1867 partly because the pure water that ran through town was a perfect ingredient for crafting beer. To this day, when we discharge water from our operations to the stream that flows through our property, we test to make sure that water is as clean or cleaner than the water already flowing in the stream.

Where does Leinenkugel’s get the water it uses to make its beer and how much do you use?

We get our water from the City of Chippewa Falls. That water comes from the creeks, lakes and marshlands in Rusk and Chippewa counties. Some of it may come from as far as Lake Superior. Our goal is to use three gallons of water for every gallon of beer we produce by 2020. We’re not there yet, but we are getting close. Since 2001, we’ve cut our water use at Leinenkugel’s in half.

Why do brewers like you care about Wisconsin’s forests?

Our brewery sits in the middle of Wisconsin’s Northwoods, so the forests are important for the quality of the beer we produce, not to mention our tourism industry. We’ve been partnering with the Little Lake Wissota Stewardship Program since 2011 to plant 40,000 trees in the area. They will help absorb nutrient runoff from farmland, reducing algal blooms in the lake and increasing the number of swimmable days people can enjoy.  

What are some other sustainable practices Leinenkugel’s pursues?

In addition to reducing water consumption, we are also making changes to reduce the amount of energy we use. Our brewery has been certified landfill-free, meaning we divert or recycle all our waste. For example, we send our spent yeast to a cogeneration facility where they convert it to natural gas. But we are always looking to improve. We are one of the oldest breweries in the U.S., and we know that with that heritage comes a responsibility to care for our environment and the communities where we operate.

Moody, colorized image of MillerCoors plant at sunset with blue wetland vegetation in foreground
MillerCoors: MillerCoors is one of the Wisconsin breweries participating in OktoberForest. © Rocky Wall/Flickr2.0
Close-up shot of Manny Manuele smiling and holding a can of Miller Lite in one hand and Coors Light in the other
Manny Manuele: MillerCoors senior director of Technical Innovation and Brewing Quality © MillerCoors

Manny Manuele of MillerCoors, Milwaukee, WI

Over on the lake in Milwaukee, Manny Manuele is the MillerCoors Senior Director of Technical Innovation and Brewing Quality. We asked Manny why MillerCoors is participating as an OktoberForest partner.

Why does MillerCoors care about water?

At MillerCoors, we know that the availability of clean, high-quality water is critical to our brewing process, from the barley field to the bottling line, which is why we spearhead industry-leading initiatives to conserve water across our value chain. Our sustainability goals center on using water resources sustainably both in our agricultural supply chain and in our breweries, to ensure we have access to this important resource for years to come. Our goals by 2020 include:

  • Continuing to reduce our water-to-beer ratio across all our direct operations to achieve an average ratio of 3.0:1.0.
  • Restoring a volume of water equal to the final product volume from our breweries located in waterstressed watersheds, through stewardship projects that directly contribute to the sustainability of the local water resources.
  • Expanding our sustainability programs to manage and reduce agricultural resource risks, including water risks, in 100 percent of our key barley-growing regions.

Talk about the restore goal and what you’re doing in Colorado to protect the watersheds?

We have an ongoing project to help protect and sustain our Golden Brewery’s watershed in Colorado. Colorado’s Front Range forests, which span more than 24 million acres, directly furnish drinking water to more than two-thirds of Colorado’s population. But many of the forests are in poor condition. Years of aggressive fire suppression and prolonged drought have left more than 6 million acres of Colorado’s forests—including 1.5 million acres in the Front Range—at risk for unnaturally large and damaging wildfires. These events pose a serious threat to the quality of drinking water, water storage and infrastructure.

In 2014, MillerCoors, PepsiCo Inc. and the Wells Fargo Foundation donated $1 million to The Nature Conservancy to help reduce the threat of wildfires, improve water security for the Denver metropolitan area and protect water quality in the Golden Brewery's watershed. Forest management activities covering 1,000 to 2,000 acres will be implemented over three years, with an emphasis on thinning overly dense and insect damaged forests. We anticipate several hundreds of millions of gallons of water will be restored annually through this initiative, while also improving water quality, wildlife habitat and public recreation opportunities.

What are some other sustainable practices MillerCoors pursues?

All our major breweries and two major manufacturing facilities are now landfill-free. We currently reuse or recycle nearly 100 percent of our brewery waste and we eliminate excess as much as possible. We send the remaining byproducts to companies that use them for beneficial reuse.

We also work with our suppliers to develop new ways to lighten materials and eliminate unnecessary packaging in our beverage containers. In 2015, we completed the conversion of our Coors Light aluminum can packaging to a smaller end design, which reduces the can’s weight by 13 percent. This conversion also reduced our use of aluminum and decreased carbon emissions.

Our breweries have also made energy reduction a priority, from moving to renewable energy sources to finding methods to optimize energy use. In 2015, we also reduced our total GHG emissions by 22 percent compared to 2010. We will continue to look for ways to decrease our energy consumption and get us closer to our 2020 goal to reduce our value chain carbon footprint per barrel of beer by 25 percent, compared to 2010.

Healthy Forests = Clean Water = Great Beer From the tree canopy all the way down to root systems, forests play a critical role in cleaning, storing and protecting our water—beer's main ingredient.