There is an old saying that goes “save water, drink beer.” If only that were true.
In the U.S., we now have the most breweries we’ve had since the 1870s. And with this rising interest in beer, an estimated 1.2 million Americans have taken to brewing at home. I’ve taken up the hobby myself, and am currently the president of D.C.’s largest homebrew club, the DC Homebrewers.
But humblebrags aside, one implication of this frothing rise in homebrewership is its drain on beer’s main ingredient. It’s not malted barley or hops; it’s water. And that contradicts our convenient excuse to have a pint in the name of conservation.
Brewers know this more than anyone. In fact many of them are already active in protecting the quality of the water they use -- and one homebrew club in Oregon recently brewed using recycled water. But maybe they should be more observant of the quantity as well.
Water is not only the main ingredient in our national beverage, it’s also one of the most intensely used resources in the brewing process – especially in cleaning equipment and preparing bottles and kegs for being filled. To make one glass of citrusy, bitter IPA, it can take more than four times that same amount of water.
The Brewers Association has issued best practices for its members to reduce their usage. And companies like GE are realizing the potential for products that help achieve this as well. I decided to ask the largest brewer in the world “what kinds of solutions are out there for small scale brewers to reduce their impact in energy and water usage?” And wouldn’t you know, they got back to me!
It’s true those are good places to start, but for the more than a million of us just brewing at home, five gallons at a time, how can we reduce our water use when we get the urge to mash in?
I came up with a few tips that have helped me:
- Rinsing – Reduce the amount of water you use to clean things by keeping a spare bucket around with enough water to rinse your equipment. This will allow you to use the same water to rinse lightly soiled items without constantly turning on your sink or hose.
- Chilling – A very water-intensive process for homebrewers can be wort chilling. If you use an immersion chiller like I do, the best way to reduce your water usage is to use a pump to recirculate the water running through your chiller into a bucket and back through the chiller. Keep reusable ice packets in the bucket to keep the water cold.
- Kegging – Making the switch to kegging has reduced my water usage immensely. Imagine washing and sanitizing 50 bottles as opposed to only one keg. Many homebrewers will run bottles in their dishwashers, whereas only a small amount of water needs to be used in rinsing out a keg.
For a few more tips, check out this homebrew club’s website from water-starved California. And now when you hear the saying “save water, drink beer,” you can kindly correct whoever keeps spreading this information, preferably over a sustainably produced pint.