Brewing beer in an environmentally sustainable way

Sustainable beer

Three years ago, Alexis Esseltine and Timothy Scoon purchased the Okanagan’s oldest craft brewery, Tin Whistle, founded in 1995.

Since they took over, they have worked hard to make the business more sustainable. That includes both zero waste and lowering their carbon footprint.

Alexis started working in sustainability gradually, investigating paper sourcing while working in print media. To add credentials to her experience, she obtained a masters degree in green business from York University, an experience she describes as a tug-of-war between environmental sciences and the business school. That tug-of-war powers Tin Whistle today. Alexis describes herself as the “environmentalist” balancing her husband, the “capitalist”.

The driver behind Tin Whistle’s environmental philosophy is climate change, which has a direct impact on brewing beer. Beer brewing is seasonal, so summer water restrictions can throttle beer brewing in high season. Dry weather causes a shortage of hops and grains, but it also affects the quality—the grains have increased protein and the hops lack the characteristic bitter flavor. Recurrent summer wildfires and the 2021 Vancouver-to-Okanagan washouts meant distribution had to take different, longer routes. That increased both costs and carbon emissions.

Breweries across B.C. are working on pieces of the sustainability puzzle. Dogwood Brewing is certified organic. Persephone Brewing Company in Gibsons is a Certified B organization. Crannóg Ales, in addition to being organic, carries out water reclamation. There are “local” breweries like Whistle Buoy Brewing and Tofino Brewing Company which buy grains and hops from local farmers. Taking this to an extreme, there are “farm” breweries' such as Abandoned Rail Brewing and Barnside Brewing, which grow their own barley and hops on site. Tin Whistle focuses on reducing carbon and being zero waste.

Zero waste isn't a well defined term but for Tin Whistle it means 100% of its output is recycled, reused or repurposed, leaving nothing to go to the landfill.

One of the first things Alexis did was carry out a waste audit. In particular, making beer generates a large amount of spent grain, which is delivered to a local farmer to use as feed for pigs and cows.

That attention extends even to the little things. Single-use plastic six-pack rings have been replaced in the industry by PakTech, a reusable product. Tin Whistle accepts PakTechs, from any source, offering a 25-cent credit for each ring.

“We see this as a way to engage our customers in environmental action” says Alexis.

There’s currently no carbon neutral/low carbon certification process for breweries. So what does carbon neutral mean for the Tin Whistle?

First. it means that Tin Whistle is always working to reduce its carbon emissions. Alexis says reducing carbon emission never goes away.

“You are continually working on it,” she says.

At the end of the year, Tin Whistle calculates its carbon footprint and then purchases certified carbon offsets through Less/Bullfrog Power. Alexis chooses offsets that are local to B.C., such as the Abbotsford composting facility.

Any business working on sustainability has to worry about when to replace equipment. Newer equipment is much more energy efficient than older models. However, replacing equipment is expensive and has to be done judiciously. In 2021 Tin Whistle had an engineer come in and evaluate the business, recommending replacement equipment and estimating costs and money savings.

In particular, Tin Whistle has an aging chiller cooling the keg room, which Alexis suspected was using up too much electricity. She reached out to David Kassian at the City of Penticton. As a pilot project, using B.C. Local Government Climate Action funds, David purchased a motor logger— an inexpensive device that he installed on the equipment. The motor logger records how the equipment runs—if it is on too much of the time or if it is turning on and off too rapidly. Alexis will share this data with an engineer and decide whether to repair or replace the refrigerator.

As for what she knows that she can pass on to businesses beginning their path to sustainability, Alexis says, “Just get started.”

“Measure first. You can't manage what you don't measure. Read your utility bills. Dump your garbage out. Get numbers. From there you can plan how to reduce. Don't go at it alone either- engage with competitors, your municipality, your local post-secondary institution. They all have knowledge and love to share it,” she says.

“Lastly, don't let perfection get in the way of progress. Get started. Get on the path. The world needs us to act.”

If you want to conduct a waste audit for your business, you can find instructions on the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen website.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Kristy Dyer has worked in the sustainability field for more than 10 years, including work with solar energy in New Mexico and cleantech in Silicon Valley. After she moved to the Okanagan, she ran a small business, Teaspoon Energy, doing energy audits of large houses. Most recently, she worked for a B.C. business doing carbon footprints for tourism organizations.

She has written about sustainability since 2012. You can find her columns archived at TeaspoonEnergy.blogspot.com.

Dyer has a background in physics and astronomy, and has occasionally been caught trying to impersonate an engineer.

A long-time member of First Things First, Penticton’s local climate change group, whose goals are to educate and lobby for solutions to the climate crisis, Dyer is honoured to live, work and play in the unceded, ancestral and traditional territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation.

You can contact her at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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