First published May 2009, updated October 2011
Beer is an amazing beverage that’s been with humanity for a very long time; it dates back to 9000 BC in Ancient Egypt. Today, it’s said to be the third most popular beverage in the world.
There’s nothing quite like a cold beer on a hot day. I was known to partake of a beer now and then (often) in a past life and while I don’t imbibe any more, I do certainly still appreciate the awesomeness of beer for those people who unlike me, can drink responsibly.
A major environmental challenge of any beverage or food product aside from packaging is transportation – i.e. food miles.
Regardless of whether a beer is made from organic ingredients and bottled in recyclable glass or aluminum containers, it still has to be shifted from point A to point B. Millions of barrels of oil are consumed each year and a huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions are generated annually just in transporting beer. Until such time that beer trucks are all electric and recharged by solar panels, it’s going to be pretty difficult to address this issue on a commercial scale.
It seems such a waste that all those emissions and other associated oil consumption nasties are generated to ship what is essentially just water.
Nearly 20 years ago, I decided to take a crack at brewing my own beer. The environment wasn’t on my mind then – just beer. Cheap beer. Lots of it.
Digging back into my foggy memories of the time, I remember it being quite an easy process; so easy that even a drunk like me could do it.
I bought a barrel, hydrometer, thermometer, bottle caps and a press; plus the ingredients in a readily available kit. Oh, I also needed bottles which by some strange coincidence were in plentiful supply under the house.
Soon the amber fluid was flowing in large quantities. Generally speaking it takes about 1 week to ferment a brew, depending on temperature. A cold environment will require an external heat source such as a low wattage thermal pad under the barrel and/or a blanket around the barrel. After fermenting, the beer is left for around a week to mature before bottling. It should then be left 3-4 weeks before drinking. I think I used to manage to hold off for about a week.
Not one for doing things in half measures, I also decided to see how high an alcohol content I could achieve through the addition of more sugar. I never had it tested, but by jingo it had a kick. Aside from some undesirable effects, it’s not particularly bright to do this because if too much sugar is added, the bottles can explode. Anyway, soon after these experiments I had to cease my home brewing due to rapidly deteriorating physical and mental health. The beer wasn’t the problem, just the person consuming it.
If you do drink beer regularly and have a degree of self control, there are many advantages to home brewing.
From an environmental aspect, there’s very little in the way of emissions involved in terms of transport, you can also gain more control in what you are consuming as there are many organic beer kits now available. If you’ve seen how much ready-brewed organic beer is; there’s massive savings to be had. You can also use rain water for an even more natural brew.
You can use glass bottles over and over again, saving on resources and energy used in bottle production and recycling. While recycled glass uses only two-thirds the energy needed to manufacture glass from raw materials, the remainder is still a substantial amount. If you only brew during warmer times of the year, you can also avoid having to incorporate an external heat source during fermentation.
There’s also just something so satisfying about brewing your own!
These days, you can buy a home microbrewery kit for as little as USD $50, containing everything you need to get started; including step by step instructions. You can find a ton of kits simply by running a search via your favorite search engine on the following terms:
beer brewing kit
home brewing kit
If you really get into home brewing, you don’t need to stop at beer – you can also try cider and with some more specialized equipment, wine, port, spirits and other types of liquor; although you might want to check laws in your state or country.
So, if as a result of reading this you do have a go at home brewing; when testing your first batch say cheers to the environment and please also have a beer for me – as unfortunately I won’t be able to join you.
If you do find yourself with home brew left over, check out these alternative uses for beer.