Brewing can take its toll on the environment – being a notoriously intensive process in terms of energy requirements and waste production. Three Sydney breweries are looking to make a difference with the way they use the world’s resources, turning to more sustainable brewing practices in order to significantly reduce their impact. Here’s how they’re doing it.
Just Beer – Batch Brewing Co
When you buy from a craft brewery, you’re doing it to support a small, ethically minded business. So why shouldn’t that craft brewery do the same? That’s why Marrickville’s Batch Brewing Co have partnered with Voyager Craft Malts to source sustainably grown barley for their latest release, Just Beer.
Located in Whitton, the heart of NSW’s grain belt, Voyager purchases their barley directly from neighbouring farms, many of which are owned by relatives or long-time friends. “The barley is in a seven year crop rotation,” explains Voyager co-founder Stuart Whytcross, “so we can heavily reduce the amount of chemicals and synthetic fertilisers used and ensure the integrity of the soil is maintained.”
Sustainability continues at the Malthouse, where heat from a nearby Biochar (organic fertiliser made from agricultural waste) facility is harnessed and used to kiln the malts. Steep water is used to irrigate crops and the malt is packaged in biodegradable and fully recyclable malt bags.
Typically, a commercial maltster will source barley from around the country, blend it, malt it and package it, then send the finished product around the country again. Voyager’s grain transport is drastically smaller in comparison, with a direct line between Whitton and Marrickville. Not only does this save on carbon emissions, but also on freight costs, allowing Voyager to pay their growers a premium – encouraging them to continue with their sustainable practices.
Aside from the significant environmental benefits, the partnership has bolstered the local economy and helped to highlight the pivotal role farming plays in daily life, bridging the connection between paddock and pint. “We love to see locals we’ve grown up with get recognition and thanks from a brewer or beer drinker for the role they’ve played in producing that beer,” says Whytcross.
For Batch, knowing exactly where their barley was grown allows them to directly reward the farmer who produces the best flavour and who uses the best practices. In the first iteration of Just Beer, the schooner malt variety was grown on the farm of Whytcross’ father, Ken.
Batch founders Chris Sidwa and Andrew Fineran chose to produce a lager style using the schooner malt for several reasons. Not only does it allow the malt to be subtly showcased in a beer that only requires light hopping, but it’s also a clean, easy-drinking style that focuses on the processing of quality raw materials.
The beer will take drinkers on a journey around the farms of Whitton, using various malt varieties on trial from different growers. Therefore, the beer may change slightly in colour and flavour, but the sentiment remains the same.
“It’s a journey we’re committed to making, because it’s being done for what we think are the right reasons,” says Sidwa. “It’s just for farmers, because they’re getting a fair price, it’s just for our community, because we’re reducing our carbon footprint – it’s Just Beer”
Solar Powered Beer – Young Henrys
This week, Young Henrys began the installation of 130-panel solar array on the roof of their Newtown Brewery. Slated to power up to 20% of the brewing process, the project has been organised by community co-op Pingala, funded primarily by a grant from the City of Sydney.
According to Pingala secretary Tom Nockolds, the solar panels will be paid for in part by shares purchased by members of the local community. In turn, they receive a 5-8% annual return on their investment as Young Henrys pays for the electricity being generated. After the 10-year lease on the solar panels has expired, the solar panels will be gifted to the brewery and the investor’s shares are transferred to the next project.
Using this method, Young Henrys are able to commit to solar power without having to face the significant up-front costs of funding the solar panels themselves. It also allows the local community to get involved in renewable energy, many of whom lived in rented properties and are unable to install panels of their own.
At the investor launch event last Sunday, over 300 applications were received, but with only 70 spots available, winning investors had to be chosen by lucky draw.
“It’s not just that Young Henrys have put solar on their roof,” says Nockolds, “it’s that the panels are owned by dozens of people in the local community. We showed that we can get hundreds of people along to an event to support a business that’s trying to clean and green up their operations.”
Young Henrys has operated as an environmentally friendly brewery from the beginning, selling most of their beer within a few suburbs of the brewery and encouraging the use of refillable glass growlers. Earlier this year, they brought attention to the drastic effects of climate change with a beer release named ‘Drought Draught’.
In a promotional video for the beer, head brewer Richard Adamson explained, “we tried to mimic the conditions in the event that water was less available. Salinity would be higher and perhaps some of the ingredients would be more scarce.”
The beer was brewed with desalinated water and minimal amounts of malt and hops – both of which would reduce in supply in case of drought. The result was a dry, less flavoursome beer, with a metallic, saline taste. “As a craft brewer, [drinking it] is a painful experience,” said Adamson. “Beer really is a reflection of our landscape, we are really beheld to what nature gives us in the end.”
Craft Beer Bones – 4 Pines
4 Pines’ Brookvale brewery produces hundreds of tonnes of spent grain a year. In the typical brewing process, malted barley is mixed with water to create wort, a sugary liquid that is later converted to alcohol in the fermentation process. The barley, known as spent grain, is left over from the process.
Like most craft breweries, the spent grain is donated to farmers who use it to supplement the feed of livestock. However, as one of Sydney’s largest craft breweries, the sheer capacity of 4 Pines’ production means farmers are struggling to keep up with increased supply.
Enter Gabi Adolphe, local Manly resident and founder of Craft Beer Bones. Since late 2015, Adolphe has mixed the spent grain with free range eggs, flour and peanut butter to create a nutritious treat for man’s best friend. Safe for canine consumption, the grain is non-alcoholic and does not come in to contact with hops throughout the brewing process, an ingredient which is toxic for dogs.
Adolphe has inspired others to come up with unique ways to recycle spent grain – whether they be commercial brewers or homebrewers. Edible for humans, the most versatile way to use the grain is to dry it in the oven, then mill it in a coffee grinder or similar to make flour. This can be baked into treats savoury and sweet, from bread and pizza bases to biscuits and cakes – all of which pair nicely with the corresponding beer!
Other eco-breweries worth mentioning…
Australian Brewery (NSW) use solar heating at the brewery and package their beer in cans, which are more efficient to transport.
Murray’s Craft Brewing Co (NSW) grow their own ingredients for their cellar door kitchen and never source products from further than 160 km away.
Bright Brewery (VIC) also source their energy from solar power.
Good Beer Co (QLD) donate 50% of the profits from their Great Barrier Beer (in collaboration with Bargara Brewing Co) to the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
Permission has been granted for all photographs used in this article.