Brewers Association

Crafting a Sustainable Future

Great Lakes Craft Brewers and Water Conservation Conference: Crafting a Sustainable Future

By Michael Horne

With additional reporting from Tom Geilfuss

On a rainy October morning in Milwaukee, with the 1,180 cubic miles of Lake Michigan’s fresh water lapping at its shores, the city once known as the Beer Capital of the World played host to the first Great Lakes Craft Brewers & Water Conservation Conference.

Sponsored by the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., with support from local beer distributor Beer Capitol Distributing, Inc., the conference offered practical systems for water savings offered by panels and presentations, as well as discussions of public policy surrounding the Great Lakes Compact.

The 120 attendees of the conference learned from speakers ranging from brewers and water specialists to legal experts and government officials, including Wisconsin’s Secretary of Commerce, Dick Leinenkugel, the keynote speaker.

The imperatives for conservation come from Mother Nature, governmental agencies and economic realities. Those who attended the conference came from across the nation, from Virginia and New Jersey, to Colorado and California. The conference was organized by Lucy Saunders, an advocate of craft brewing who saw the need for regional awareness of the Great Lakes Compact’s new rules and water conservation. “Brewers have been rocked by huge increases in ingredient costs, and adding more fees for water and wastewater disposal could be harsh,” Saunders said.

The Great Lakes Compact

Conference panelist Todd Ambs, administrator of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, was the lead negotiator for Wisconsin during the lengthy negotiations for the Great Lakes Compact. The Compact governs the states and provinces surrounding the Great Lakes to keep local controls over the use of the continent’s largest source of fresh water. Ambs noted that the Compact, for the first time, requires all participating governments to monitor and report their water use to create a baseline from which to measure future consumption and conservation patterns.

“If you want water [from outside the watershed], you must demonstrate why and what you’re doing to conserve it.” Ambs called the Compact the “engine that will return industry to the Great Lakes.”

Matt Parlow, Professor of Law at Marquette University, amplified the comments of Ambs. “The Compact was carefully thought out to withstand legal, constitutional and international trade agreement scrutiny. It relies on good, sound science and is likely to be good for the environment.”

A panel of scientists and hydrogeologists, led by Dr. Robin Shepard, looked at the way the Great Lakes natural resources naturally led to the expansion of brewing. Shepard is the author of several guide books to craft breweries, research that grew out of his field visits to different watersheds in the Great Lakes.

Panelist Gary Ballesteros, vice-president and counsel of Rockwell Automation and board member of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, outlined why brewers must face the new political realities of the precious resource:

“Water conservation is important in this region to make our keeping it more defensible,” Ballesteros said.

Viewed in the context of a 2004 quote by World Bank Vice President Isamil Serageldin, “Many of the wars of the 20th century were about oil, but wars of the 21st century will be over water,” it was clear to brewers at the conference that water conservation will be one of the biggest battles they will face in upcoming decades. An important question the panelists attempted to answer was “What can a brewer on the front lines do?”

Conserving Water in the Brewery

Panelist Russ Klisch, president of Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery, says he uses about 7 barrels of water for every barrel of beer he produces. He expects about a 13,000 barrel output this year from his brewery on the Milwaukee River. His most recent quarterly water bill was $5,000, and the proposed 28.5-percent water fee hike in the city has his attention. Klisch listened along with the others as Jeff Edgerton, assistant brewmaster of Bridgeport Brewing Co. explained some of the efficiencies made at the Portland brewery, established in 1984.

Back then, Edgerton said, “Water was not a big priority. Our brewery was designed to get beer out of the door—not for water efficiency.” But now, he said, “water conservation and wastewater are big issues.”

Edgerton learned there was no need to clean the bright tanks after each brewing, since the beer was sterile. He figures this saves six to eight tank cleanings per week, resulting in a savings of 10,200 gallons per year and labor costs. Brew kettles, however, must be cleaned after each use. Edgerton saved 45,000 gallons per year by modifying nozzle heads. Bridgeport traditionally used water to remove oxygen in the tanks, but saved 250,000 gallons per year by purging with CO2 instead.

With an expenditure of $70 for materials and two hours of labor, Edgerton installed a timer on a float switch to save 571,000 gallons per year.

Bridgeport now reclaims rinse water from the empty bottle rinser to use as coolant and as the external bottle wash to remove foam from filled bottles. The $750 investment resulted in a savings of 424,000 gallons per year. For the first six months of 2009, Edgerton said, these procedures saved 543,000 gallons, or about 11.7 percent of Bridgeport’s water bill.

Fred Strachan, Supervisor of Water Process and Systems for Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, gave some insight into how Cal Water’s largest customer conserves resources. Strachan recommends that brewers work with their local utilities to reduce water consumption.

The first step is a water audit, he said. The second is sub-metering within the various stages of the brewing process to track actual use at every step, on site.

“A broken 3/8” tube [Strachan found one hidden behind a wall] could cost 280,000 gallons per year,” he said. He modified a water broom to use 5 gallons per minute, rather than 15 gpm, and reduced his spray guns from that level to 3 gpm. He washes the brewery’s solar panels when their performance drops below 90 percent and condenses the steam from brewing kettles to heat incoming water. Strachan uses wort—not water—to clean his new kettle hops, saving 1,000 gallons per batch.

It’s not just the incoming water that must be monitored and conserved, he said. Much waste in a typical brewery comes from its restaurant and taproom operations. Strachan said adding bathroom faucet aerators saved him 208,692 gallons; using dual-flush toilets saved 76,296 gallons; switching to an air-cooled ice machine saved an incredible 834,768 gallons; and a modification of the pre-rinse spray on his dishwasher saved 261,052 gallons. Other examples can be found in Strachan’s presentation, posted online at

Sierra Nevada’s goal for 2009 is to use 5 gallons of water per gallon of beer produced, with an ultimate target of 3.5:1, considered to be the theoretical limit, Strachan said. As a practical matter, he said, brewers should look for the “low hanging fruit first—fixing plumbing leaks and changing how folks use hoses.”

The afternoon concluded with a tour of the Discovery World museum, which is dedicated to creativity, science and technology (including a new fermentation lab). Staff archaeologist Kevin Cullen spoke about the archaeology of brewing and ancient water technology, which attendee Bill Sherwood, facilities manager of Stone Brewing Co. World Bistro & Gardens, called “local gems.” Sherwood also created a poster for the conference, outlining water recapture and reuse at the Escondido, Calif. brewery and restaurant.

The evening’s reception featured special guest speaker Jake Leinenkugel talking about improvements in water savings and natural resource protection. Through a variety of mitigation techniques, the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company has saved more than 60 percent on water usage since 2001, and is honing in on the streamlined usage ratio of 5:1, the ratio recommended by the United Nations.

Water Purification

On the second day of the conference, the group had an early start at WE Energies’ Public Service Auditorium in downtown Milwaukee to hear Doug Odell, co-founder of Odell Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colo., and Troy Rysewyk, manager of Pilot Brewing Services for MillerCoors, discuss water savings and strategies. Rysewyk also gave an overview of future technologies for filtration and reuse of water, increasingly important alternatives to wastewater disposal.

The group then traveled two hours to New Glarus, Wis., for a “behind the ropes” tour of the new Hilltop Brewery from founders Dan and Deb Carey of the New Glarus Brewing Co.

The highly efficient wastewater treatment plant, normally closed to tours, was opened for inspection and detailed discussions of water purification by treatment plant manager Randy Barr. Brewmaster Dan Carey gave several tours of the entire brewhouse, generously donating samples from the taproom for thirsty attendees.

In the main brewery’s elegant tasting room, social media maven Ashley Routson discussed brewpub kitchens, dishwashers and water saving strategies for those with foodservice operations. A veteran of restaurant management, Routson pointed out that change starts with positive feedback. “Set up a reward system to encourage employees to save water, and you’ll see results fast,” she promised.

Attendee Tom Flood, Properties and Sustainability Manager of the Saint Louis Brewery/Schlafly Beer, summed up, “Besides valuable new information from the presenters, there were so many tips shared in between during casual conversation. It’s nice when ‘competitors’ are able to forget for a while those market dynamics and come together to share their experiences, especially about something as vital for our future as conserving water.”

According to Doug Odell, the Brewers Association’s technical committee is discussing how to address water usage best practices, as well as metrics for wastewater treatment. “All we have to do is apply our natural penchant for innovation and we can change the norm,” said Odell. “Many of us have made good progress but there is more we can do through collaboration.”

Michael Horne is a freelance writer and political blogger at



No comments.

Zach Yunker

Zach Yunker

General manager of Sockeye Grill and Brewery in Boise, Idaho. More