Lowering the water-to-beer ratio

Conservation becoming a factor in local craft

Tim Suydam, Stone Brewing's senior water operations manager, stands before some of the brewery's water-recycling equipment.
  • Tim Suydam, Stone Brewing's senior water operations manager, stands before some of the brewery's water-recycling equipment.

Last spring, California governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order mandating 25 percent reduced water consumption by the state's roughly 400 water agencies. Thus far, the mandate has impacted landscaping but not hampered beer production. However, the ongoing drought has prompted some breweries to invest in water-conservation efforts.

Stone Brewing Co.

1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido

"A lot of breweries use between five and seven volumes of water to produce a volume of beer," says Stone Brewing's senior water operations manager, Tim Suydam. In other words, for every pint of beer we drink, up to six pints of water go down the drain. Most of that loss results from the cleaning required to keep a brew system sanitized.

That's actual, out-of-the-tap usage, not taking into account a conservatively estimated ten gallons of water used to grow the hops and grains in that pint. The difference is, for Stone and most other breweries, these ingredients grow in the Pacific Northwest, where water remains in abundance.

AleSmith Brewing Company

9990 Alesmith Court, Miramar

Here in the desert, conservation is a conversation that's become part of the culture. According to lead brewer Anthony Chen, the topic comes up during AleSmith's weekly cellar meetings

"Everyone knows about the drought and the team always talks about ways to reduce water," he says. "People are just conscious of water usage." This played a role in the design of AleSmith's massive new production brewery last year, which features an automated “clean-in-place” (CIP) system (which means it doesn't have to be disassembled) that minimizes the water needed to clean inside pipes and tanks.

Coronado Brewing — Tecolote Canyon

1205 Knoxville Street, Bay Park

Coronado Brewing also considered water usage when it expanded production to the Morena district two years ago. Its system reclaims water overflow to use for cleaning. Brewmaster Ryan Brooks says the brewery is also "Working on tightening up our beer-to-water consumption with flow meters."

While these breweries haven't yet collected enough data to determine how many pints of water go into a pint of their beer, Stone has been tracking it the past two years. And while its Escondido brewery is not new, the company has been steadily investing in water conservation and reclamation systems, trying to lower that 5–7 pints to 1 ratio.

"We probably spent between five and ten million dollars on our water-reclamation equipment as it stands right now," Sudyam says. "That's gotten us down to 4.5."

And he's working to bring that lower, targeting 3.5. Stone just spent a million on a wastewater recycling system that Sudyam thinks will get the number down to 4.1. "We collect all the brewery and packaging wastewater," he explains, and with bacteria, "basically turn it into water and CO2." This water is reused for cleaning.

Sudyam says Stone is weighing costs vs. benefits of other water-saving technologies, though to this point the company seems to err on the side of benefits. It spent $200,000 on the 40 million gallons of water it used last year, and Sudyam estimates the company will receive $70,000 in tax incentives for its efforts.

That's not a lot of return on a million-dollar upgrade, but Sudyam suggests it could pay off in the long run. "The more we reduce our natural resources, the better it sustains the local economy, the more people can move here," he says. "And that means more people can drink our beer."

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