These Craft Breweries Are Bringing Sustainability To The Beer World


There are two types of beer drinkers. The first type goes to a bar and orders whatever is most familiar, usually a big brand name. The second, well, he or she wants exactly the opposite experience. They want to order something new or innovative. They want a brew that’s local to the city they’re in and brimming with local ingredients. This aficionado wants a beer that they know was handmade (hence the debate over what really defines “craft” in beer). They want a beer that was made with love. And if you fall into that second category, you’re not alone.

The number of craft beers to choose from has increased exponentially in the last few years, as more and more people get excited about small, local breweries with dedicated brew masters creating artisanal beer. It would be safe to say that craft beer is having a real moment as of… well, the past decade, really. And with the growing popularity, breweries are popping up faster than ever. According to the Brewer’s Association, in the past 5 years, the amount of craft breweries in the United States has more than doubled. In 2012, there were a little over 2400 craft breweries in the U.S. Now, there are over 5000.

While this increase in the amount of small, independent breweries helmed by incredible craftsmen is exciting news for the craft beer lover, it’s not all a net positive. Like any product that relies on agriculture, beer can have a major environmental footprint. Growing barley and brewing beer take a lot of water. Production, distribution, and the brewing processes beer goes though (like its multiple boiling and cooling periods) expend a lot of energy. More craft breweries can mean more waste, CO2 emissions, and a significant negative impact on climate change.

So should we feel bad for throwing back several cold ones this summer? Well, we don’t necessarily have to. There are many craft breweries around the country that are just as dedicated to making beer that we can feel good about drinking as they are to creating incredible taste experiences. These breweries lead the way in sustainable growing and brewing practices, pledge to reduce climate change, and are helping the world around them. They’re looking at the craft of brewing beer from a modern, global perspective. And because they see their practices in the context of their larger environmental impact, they’re shifting the way beer is made to line up with a more ethical way of thinking and brewing.

In other words, these are breweries that you want to throw your hard earned money at. Plus, they all provide really delicious, cool drinking experiences. If saving the world always meant drinking a cold lager on the quaint patio of a little brewery in the woods, perhaps more people would be lining up to do so.

Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee, WI)

There’s a fair amount of brewery competition in Milwaukee (Wisconsin likes beer just a little bit), but what makes Lakefront stand out is their commitment to green practices and organic materials. Because of this, they claimed the title of an awful lot of “firsts.” They were the first brewery in America to be organic certified. And they also basically created the category of gluten free beer by being the first brewery to receive federal approval to make it. They try to source locally, and they were first brewery in Wisconsin and first business in the city of Milwaukee to receive the Travel Green Wisconsin Certification (which recognizes businesses that are reducing their environmental impact).

Lakefront is so proud of the work they do making pushing the bounds of sustainability that the president of the company personally leads a special environmental practices tour of the brewery every Friday!

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery (Richmond,Virginia)

Hardywood’s philosophy to brewing is to source local ingredients, use renewable energy, and reignite a passion for the craft. They are deeply committed to making interesting, flavorful beers while helping the environment. And they’ve put their practice where their mouths are. The Virginia brewery uses wind power in their brewing, making their energy 100% sustainable. They recycle their grains and use recycled materials for packaging. They do all this without sacrificing taste or creativity in their craft. People and critics alike love their beers, and their Gingerbread Stout received a rare 100 rating from Beer Advocate.

Windmill Pointe Brewing Company (Detroit, MI)

So this unique brewery is still being built but its concept is too cool not to mention on a sustainability list. When open, Windmill Pointe will use a combination of solar and wind power along with stationary bike pedaling to power their beer. Their idea is to blend a combination of raw mechanical power, fitness, public education about environmental impact, sustainbility, and fun to create a totally new kind of brewery. And while people endlessly biking to keep the lights on may seem a little too much like Black Mirror’s “15 Million Merits” episode, Windmill plans to make the experience worth customers’ time. The idea is that people will come to the brewery to operate bikes, and they’ll be handsomely rewarded at certain milestones with free beers for the energy output. It’s a great way to get the public actively involved in the process of creating their beer while also being more environmentally friendly.

Ska Brewery (Durango, Colorado)

This Colorado brewery has looked at almost every aspect of the brewing business from building materials to energy consumption to create a better, more ethical beer. Like they use environmentally friendly vans for delivery, and recycle as much as possible, using recycled packaging materials. They’re also 100% wind powered and inside, solar lit. Even their tasting room tables are made of recycled wood from an old bowling alley, and the insulation of their building comes from recycled jeans.

Ska is serious about their commitment to create a beer that won’t make a negative impact on the environment, and they work to get the whole community involved. For instance, customers can bring in six pack containers for recycling and receive beer in return.

Yards Brewing Co. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Yards Brewing’s motto states their commitment to quality, the community, and sustainability in their beer. And they work really hard to extend that philosophy into every aspect of the business. They’re 100 percent wind-powered, they collect and reuse two million gallons of water yearly. They even recycle spent grain for livestock.

Yards strongly believes that it’s possible to have a good time while also giving back, and it’s made them well loved in the community.

Ninkasi Brewery (Eugene, Oregon)

This incredibly cool brewery not only works to make great beer, but to make the world a better place too. They spend a significant amount of their energy giving money to charity with their “Beer Is Love” program, and have been voted one of the 100 Best Green Workplaces in Oregon the last five years in a row. They source their hops from the Pacific Northwest, their beer bottles are made from 60% recycles glass from Portland, and they use cardboard made from recycled content too.

Visiting the brewery is a great time with an awesome outdoor patio and various events to involve the community.

Hops and Grain (Austin, Texas)

This popular Austin brewery donates 1% of their profits to an environmental sustainability cause. They’re passionate about recycling and wind power, and they even use their leftover grain to make dog treats. They want to be green from the bottom up. So the company supports an overall more sustainable lifestyle for employees, by giving them a bonus every day (of the cost of one gallon of gas) if they bike or take public transport to work.

Benford Brewing (Lancaster, South Carolina)

What’s cool about Benford Brewery is that they’re located on a farm, and use their own agriculture in their brewing process. In fact, they are South Carolina’s first and only agriculturally operated brewery. They source their own honey and potatoes locally, and they source their water from an on property spring. Benford feels like getting back to brewing the way it’s supposed to be done, using community resources and sustainable practices.

Alaskan Brewing Company (Juneau, Alaska)

Alaskan Brewing Company produces beers that people love, but they don’t stop there. Their goal is to have a zero environmental impact by reclaiming as much waste and emissions as they expend.

“We have the privilege of handcrafting award-winning beer in one of the most majestic locations on Earth, but it also brings special considerations and responsibilities in the way we brew,” Geoff Larson, the co-founder, has said.

To make this zero environmental footprint a reality, Alaskan Brewing employs a C02 recovery process in their brewing, and also a mash filter press (both of which they pioneered). This allows them to reduce the amount of water needed for beer. In one year alone, they use two million fewer gallons of water than they would with normal brewing techniques and 6% less malt. Additionally, they source local ingredients/products, and their brewing using significantly less oil than most. They use their spent grain to power a steam boiler that they invented specifically to deal with the problem of waste. It’s a pretty woke and inventive company that also makes terrific beer.