FOCUS: Surrey, Delta breweries go eco-friendly as craft beer booms

With a new craft beer tap seemingly popping up at almost every local watering hole in the Lower Mainland, it would be hard to downplay the impact that craft breweries have on the local economy.

With craft beer sales soaring each year, and big brewers on a steady decline, would it be fair to say that the little guy is getting the big guy to “tap out”?

Well, not entirely.

In the 2013-14 year ending June 30, B.C. microbrewers – that is, breweries that sell less than 1.5 million litres per year – sold $67.4 million, nearly 50 per cent more than that of the year before, according to data from the BC Liquor Distribution Branch.

Big domestic breweries, including breweries like Okanagan Springs or Granville Island Brewing, which sell more than 16 million litres of beer yearly, sold $717.9 million in the year ending June 30. Compared to its sales in 2008, the market has slowed down by nearly 15 per cent.

While those numbers seem to say that smaller breweries are on the incline and big brewers are seeing a decline, there’s still a $650 million gap between the two. And contrary to what its numbers suggest, some breweries that are enjoying an increase in clientele are actually aiming to minimize their impact.

Their environmental impact, that is.

North Delta’s Turning Point Brewery, which produces for both Stanley Park Brewing and Hell’s Gate Brewing, for one, is taking steps to offset its energy usage – something that the brewery’s general manager, Jim Lister, says is incredibly difficult when producing large volumes of the draft.

“Energy consumption is sort of the devil of the brewing industry because it takes a lot of energy to convert water and raw ingredients into a finished product that, at the lovely end of it, is the beer,” Lister said at the Annacis Island-based brewery, which touts Stanley Park as its flagship beer.

“That takes water, it takes power and it takes things like malt and hops and packaging and things like that to get it to its final state.”

So how exactly does such a big producer of several smaller batches minimize their damage? The eco-driven brewery took on three commitments that would help them pave the road to sustainability.

“We really have three (paths) to sustainability that we use as guideposts,” Lister told the Now, “starting with an environmental viewpoint. Then, secondly, an economic viewpoint meaning that we have to be a business that’s sustainable to make the other ones matter. And the last one is really kind of a hybrid of community and sustainability, which means both being a good partner in ours and creating a good craft beer community that’s sustainable where people choose to participate in it for the long term.”

On the environmental front, Turning Point wanted to generate some of its own power. The brewery boasts a single wind turbine at its Delta location, which sticks out amongst the other warehouses in the dense industrial area. The brewery uses the power generated from the wind turbine and sells it back to BC Hydro, offsetting the usage of its utilities.

“It certainly doesn’t create enough power to run the whole facility but it certainly is a meaningful amount of offset,” Lister explained.

The brewery’s general manager said that, for now, the turbine works mainly as a symbol of Turning Point’s commitment to finding and maintaining environmental practices.

Lister says the brewery is world class in terms of its raw material usage, as well.

“In other words, we’d use less to output a litre of beer, finished. It would take less input to get there. That’s a big difference for us and particularly in our community of other craft brewers around in Vancouver and even in the Pacific Northwest.

We would be in sort of setting the bar in some degree in terms of investment in that side,” he said.

Turning Point, one of 31 Metro Vancouver craft brewers and a member of the BC Craft Brewers Guild, isn’t the only eco-conscious brewery in Canada.

As far as B.C.-based breweries go, Central City Brewers and Distillers are conscious of their energy output as well. The brewery’s new facility in North Surrey boasts some new machinery that helps the company to brew beer with minimal guilt.

“All of our drains in the brewery all have to pass through a waste water treatment plant before it goes into the sanitary sewer,” said Gary Lohin, the brewery’s headmaster. “All of our fermentation tanks are CO2 recovery ready.”

What that means, Lohin said, is when the production numbers reach upwards, they’ll be able to recapture the CO2 off the fermentation.

Central City “hasn’t got there yet,” since there has to be a certain production volume before recovering CO2 becomes viable.

“We also have, built into our brewhouse, a kettle and normally when you boil your beer it’s venting outside into the atmosphere. We’ve actually put a thermal recovery unit into our stack which means we can recapture 85 per cent of the thermal energy off of the steam and use it to reheat water up in the brewery. So that’s reducing our need for outside fuels to heat up our hot water.”

The Toronto-based Steam Whistle Brewing boasts its environmental integrity, too.

By committing to recycling, composting and ethical modes of transporting the beer from one place to another, Steam Whistle has put its hat in the ring as far as ethical beer consumption goes.

The brew is packaged in its signature green bottles, composed of glass that’s 30 per cent more durable than regular brown or translucent glass. That means the same bottle can be recycled up to 45 times, three times as much as “the industry standard brown bottle.”

The company also avoids using paper and ink for labels – instead painting the logo on the bottle – and commercially composts as well as only using biodiesel in its trucks.

And, like Turning Point, Steam Whistle gives its “spent grain” as cattle feed to local farmers.

“In our case, this brewery uses less of this, per litre, for output than most because it’s highly efficient in how it uses the raw materials to convert it into the starches and sugars it takes to make beer, that’s another thing that’s a sustainable element of that,” Lister said of Turning Point.

“The other component is when you extract what you need out of these things, you get what’s called ‘spent grains’ that we send to local farmers to feed cattle and to send it up to the wineries to offset the use of chemicals to fertilize crops so that’s a big investment.”

Turning Point’s “spent grains” go to Delta’s Seabreeze Farm.

While Turning Point and Steam Whistle are turning their investments and raw materials into recycling opportunities, the other “devil of the brewing industry” is beginning to rear its ugly, not-so-sustainable head.

Since the popularity of craft brewing worldwide, crops of Pacific Northwest hops – a flower that gives beer its flavour and colour – are in high demand while dwindling in numbers, leaving brewers in the area with a shortage of the stuff.

With microbreweries on the rise, brewers might find themselves either paying double for their materials or running out completely.

Lister admits that sustainability in the industry is a goal, and can be hard to achieve completely.

“There’s no such thing as a fully 100 per cent sustainable brewery. You simply can’t in the nature of the consumption,” he said, noting that his business’ wind turbine and energy-saving light fixtures, among other features, are merely baby steps to the bigger objective.

“It’s very much a symbol for what this business is designed to do, both to our employees and to our consumer community at large. It’s a symbol to the fact that it’s journey that we want to go on towards being as sustainable as we can be.”

According to the BC Craft Brewers Guild, there are 70 craft breweries that call British Columbia home, and another 17 expected to open up shop in the coming year.

-with files from Business in Vancouver

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