Tuesday, December 1, 2009

CO2 -- bad, Organic hops -- good!

An Urban Beer Garden regular recently admonished me for not blogging since Oct. 29 – my, how time flies!* But during my silence, a lot of interesting stuff has been going on around here. First, I’m working with Ross Freeman who is the Sustainability Director for Stevens Pass to finally calculate our carbon footprint using the Seattle Climate Partnership calculator. Our hope is to calculate our footprint per pint of beer produced and then, over the next few months, make serious efforts to reduce that footprint so that we can eventually get to a zero carbon footprint -- a lofty goal but there’s nothing like a challenge to motivate!

Part of reducing our footprint will entail funneling our CO2 into greenhouses that we’re in the exploratory phase of building on our roof. We’ll grow hops horizontally and probably lots of edible greens. I’ve long been distressed that the fermentation process of beer produces a bunch of CO2 that drifts into the atmosphere and changes the climate – bad, bad, bad. Adding insult to injury, we actually buy a big tank of CO2 and inject it into the beer at the last stage – expensive! The ideal solution would be to purchase a CO2 recapture system that stores our yeast-produced CO2 in a pressurized tank and converts it into a form we need in the finishing process. Big, commercial breweries do this because it’s cost-effective and they can afford the big bucks these systems cost (plus, they get carbon credits). But a system to fit our scale of operation would cost about $700,000 which is way, way, way out of our range. (If there are any rogue engineers who’d like to design us a system for less, get in touch!)

So the next best thing would be carbon sequestration -- in this case, putting that CO2 to good use by growing plants. Remember kids: plants breathe in CO2 and produce oxygen and food.

Another exciting thing is that yesterday the owners of Carpenter Ranches in Yakima paid us a visit to discuss the possibility of establishing a long-term relationship to purchase their organic hops (in this photo from left to right: FBC owner Matt Lincecum, Carpenter Ranches owner Craig Carpenter, his son, Colt, his brother, Brad, Ron Britt, Entomologist -- pest control czar, and our Head Brewer, Matt Lincoln). The Carpenter family is the oldest hop-growing family in Washington. Seven generations have been growing hops on their land since 1868. They supply several big beer producers with conventionally-grown Cascade, Columbus, Simca and other hop varieties but they’ve been devoting increasing acerage to grow hops organically. They already have several certified organic acres of land and several more in transition. But growing anything organically is more risky and costly – requiring high-maintenance integrated pest management methods (primarily developing fungus-resistant strains and using aphid and mite predators), higher labor costs, higher-tech watering systems etc. So the Carpenter family approached us to see if we’d like to become regular customers.

You might think there’d be enough organically-oriented breweries to provide a fairly steady revenue stream but, as I learned, a beer only has to have 95% organic ingredients to be certified organic and hops only contisitute about 3% of the total ingredient load. Therefore, if the grain’s organic, they don’t have to fuss with organic hops. Given the volatility of the hop market as a whole and organic hops in particular, many beer producers are reluctant to build recipes around an ingredient they can’t be sure they can get every year. And without a stable customer base, hop growers are reluctant to invest in the higher costs of organic production. But the Carpenter family is one of a handful of hop growers who are starting a non-profit organic hop association in order to share the resources needed to develop a diverse line-up of pest-resistant organic hop varieties – spreading the risk and increasing supply. Again, the beauty of the Collective!

More on all of this later. BTW, check us out at the Winter Beer Fest at Hales this weekend and we're providing the beer for a Seattle Climate Partnership event tomorrow, hosted by Unico. And we're also providing the beer for Councilmember-elect Mike O'Brien's campaign debt-relief part on monday, Dec. 6, ditto for Mayor-elect Mike McGinn on December 14th. google these events and drink up!

* By way of excuse, first there was the last push of the campaign (Richard won by almost 80% and received more votes than any Seattle candidate ever, including mayoral and unopposed candidates.). Then, on the Monday following the election, I reported for jury duty and was, despite my best efforts to get rejected, empanelled on a jury for a civil case that was to last about 3 weeks (Matt was not pleased). I served 2 days (fascinating!) but when I went to the doctor to deal with a cough I’d had for 2 weeks and the fever and muscle aches that I’d been experiencing for a couple days, I was diagnosed with swine flu and dismissed to convalesce (after likely infecting everyone in the jury box). Then there was Thanksgiving break, etc.

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