Evanston breweries talk eco-beer


A panel of Evanston's sustainable brewers talk sustainability at Farmhouse in Evanston by Amanda Hermans

What do four Evanston breweries have in common? Besides the beer, that is.

It turns out that sustainability is on the minds of small-scale brewers throughout Evanston.

On Tuesday, NU Food Talks, Citizens’ Green Evanston, and Sketchbook Brewery came together to host a panel on sustainable brewing at Farmhouse Evanston. The panel featured five brewers from four Evanston breweries, including Temperance Beer Company, Sketchbook Brewing Company, Peckish Pig and Smylie Brothers Brewing Company.

Though brewing is not typically something that comes to mind in the conversation on sustainability, it becomes essential for these brewers as a way to keep costs low, support their community, and align their business with their values.

“I think everything could be more sustainable,” said Rory Nicholson of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, who emceed the event. “Brewing… is a truly resource intensive endeavor.”

Despite different levels of operation, from 300 barrels a year at Peckish Pig to over 1600 at Temperance Beer Company, the brewers agree on several things: their love of beer, their reliance on community and their hope to be as sustainable as possible. The panel focused on five sustainability issues facing their operations; water use, energy use, sourcing, waste and distribution.

Brewing uses huge amounts of water- to both heat and cool their products. The breweries try to minimize their water use by reusing it as much as possible. They also are conscious of what they put into the water, trying to avoid purification costs for the city.

Heating water requires large amounts of energy and money, which is why Mike Smylie, founder and CEO of Smylie Brothers Brewing Company, installed solar thermal panels on his building.

“(We installed them) not just to reduce our carbon footprint, but also it provides us with an immense savings over the lifetime of the building,” Smylie said.

When it comes to obtaining raw materials, Shawn Decker, co-owner of Sketchbook sees room for improvement. Right now, most of the malted barley for his beer comes from large factory farms in the upper Midwest and southern Canada. Decker believes, in the future, these could be more localized; barley for beer is a valuable way for small farmers to rotate crops and replenish their soil. If this practice became more common, he said, small-town breweries could begin sourcing their raw materials locally.

Of course, as with any process, brewing creates waste. Brewers end up with large masses of spent grains, and few places to put them. Many of the brewers said that they compost the grains or sell them to local bakeries, but Smylie does something a bit different. He gives his spent grain to a farmer, who uses it in feed for his pigs. These are the same pigs that eventually wind up on the plates of Smylie’s customers, creating a cycle of sustainable practices.

Lastly, by selling locally, these businesses cut down on their transportation costs and carbon footprint.

“The very nature of our business was wrapped around sustainability in a certain sense, with hyperlocal distribution,” Decker said.

But most important, these brewers have an opportunity to create a strong community.

“It’s a place where you can walk in… you can feel like you’re a part of the product, and you know that it stands for what you represent,” Smylie said.

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