Concentrated beer? Cutting off the liquid before shipping also reduces its carbon footprint.
As world leaders held a virtual summit on the climate emergency last spring, members of another major international group were also busy considering greenhouse gas emissions: the beer makers.
Heineken CEO announced the company’s commitment to achieve full carbon neutrality by 2040. Colorado craft beer maker New Belgium Brewing has been keen to release a “specialty beer” brewed from it. water tinged with smoke, weed dandelions and other ingredients one might find in a superheated dystopia. future. As this massive old industry scrambles to get greener quickly, one possibility that is gaining traction is to reduce the beverage’s carbon footprint by temporarily removing much of its water, which accounts for 90-95% of most. beers.
In addition to agriculture and refrigeration, many beer-related emissions result from transporting kegs and other large containers to market via the existing, not-so-green infrastructure. “We can’t go out there and change what transportation looks like,” says Katie Wallace, director of social and environmental impact for New Belgium. Brewers are therefore exploring new, creative packaging technologies to reduce shipping needs. One possibility is to concentrate the drink.
A Colorado company called Sustainable Beverage Technologies (SBT) developed BrewVo, a machine that produces a version of beer that contains much less water than usual. The system uses what SBT calls a “nested fermentation” process to make this concentrate. First of all, he brews a standard beer. The machine then removes the alcohol and finally adds a new batch of wort (the sweet liquid extracted from the mashed cereal) so that further fermentation can take place. This process is repeated several times, producing a viscous concentrate that the company says is much more aromatic than a fully hydrated drink. This concentrate and the alcohol removed can then be stored in separate bags and placed in recyclable boxes for shipping. After transport, the alcohol is mixed back into the concentrate (or left out in the case of non-alcoholic beer), and the beer is rehydrated and carbonated before bottling or serving.
SBT says its bags can travel one-sixth the weight and volume of filled bottles, cans or drums, eliminating much of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with packaging, shipping and refrigeration. . Canned concentrates also fit more effectively into a shipping container because they have better pallet density than traditional cylindrical containers (which inevitably have an empty space between them). According to Pat Tatera, founder and CTO of SBT, concentrates travel eight times more efficiently than drums. SBT also claims that its beer concentrates can be frozen to extend their shelf life, thereby reducing waste.
Meanwhile, the Revos beer and beverage concentrating machine (designed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and manufactured by Swedish company Alfa Laval) uses reverse osmosis to concentrate already brewed beer, as well as wine or cider. This technique has long been used to filter contaminants by forcing the liquid through a membrane with extremely small pores. But in the Revos machine, the high pressure, low temperature process removes water from the beer while leaving alcohol, flavors and aromas in the remaining concentrate. Its inventor, engineer and businessman Ronan McGovern says these concentrates are about five times more efficient to transport.
Once a beer concentrate reaches its destination, it requires another specially designed machine to prepare it for consumption. SBT and Alfa Laval each sell their own proprietary faucet systems that add filtered water and regasify the drink. SBT’s system can adjust the alcohol volume of each drink, giving bar patrons more control over how much alcohol they consume over the course of a party, even if they consume multiple pints. Concentrates can also be mixed and finished, then stored in drums, bottles or cans.
While the idea of beer concentrates may seem surprising to connoisseurs, a similar process has long been used to transport soda in the form of syrup. But beer is of course a more complex drink with a lot of culture attached to it, from specialist magazines to major international competitions. Brewers must therefore prove that beers made from concentrates can be as good as regular beers. For starters, the alcohol-free beer brewed with BrewVo technology was entered in the 2019 Best of Craft Beer Awards competition. Faced with well-regarded session IPAs, the beer won gold, beating the entrees of some established craft breweries. And Deschutes Brewery’s alcohol-free Irish Style Dark, also produced using a BrewVo machine, recently won bronze at the Australian International Beer Competition. The two winning entrees were turned into concentrates using BrewVo technology before being mixed, finished and served to the judges.
“The beers they offer are the best I have ever tasted,” says Steve Indrehus, owner of Colorado-based Tommyknocker Brewery who uses BrewVo to make both full and non-alcoholic versions of some of their products. under a separate label.
While the results of the competition indicate that BrewVo can produce quality non-alcoholic beer, the next hurdle is to show that the removed alcohol can be blended again to consistently produce equally appealing full-strength beers. Indrehus may be making full-strength beer with BrewVo, but some other brewers have only used it for their alcohol-free products. Their hesitation may stem from the fear that adding different amounts of alcohol will change the taste of a beer in unexpected ways. Or it could simply be because the beer industry is notoriously slow to embrace innovations (for example, it took decades for craft brewers to start choosing cans over bottles, even though the former is. widely regarded as better for storing beer).
Beer concentrators are now available for commercial producers. SBT allows breweries to use BrewVo machines at its Colorado site, and the company eventually plans to build and sell them for customers to buy and keep onsite. And Revos machines became available for sale this summer. McGovern and SBT CEO Gary Tickle both estimate the break-even point over one to three years for breweries that buy these devices. SBT and Alfa Laval suggest that breweries will recoup their initial expenses through reduced shipping costs and without having to own, wash or transport empty kegs.
However, these economic incentives do not always translate into obvious environmental benefits. For example, a BrewVo customer is based in the Pacific Northwest. Once this brewery receives its bagged concentrates from Colorado, it blends and canned its beer at its plant on the west coast. before ship the now fully hydrated drink to the east coast. To avoid such situations, says McGovern, “we’ll have to work with brewers to help them along the supply chain.”
Of course, there are other ways to make the transportation process more sustainable. Initiatives such as Conscious Container in Northern California and the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative aim to establish systems to ensure that glass bottles are actually reused, instead of ending up in landfills, as nearly two-thirds of products currently do. glass. According to Caren McNamara, founder of Conscious Container, packaging, which contributes more than a third of beer emissions, “is the last mile when it comes to sustainability.” Beer concentrators should be able to at least help solve part of this problem.