As we settle in to what may be another year of below-average rainfall here in California, brewers need to be concerned about how far they stretch their local water supplies. Not only for their own bottom-lines, but for the good of the planet.
Brewing takes a LOT of water. The average water-to-beer ratio is 7:1 — that is, every barrel of beer requires SEVEN barrels of water to brew.
Patrick Delves and the crew at Seismic Brewing Company in Santa Rosa decided to do something about that.
Delves, Director of Sustainability and Logistics, recently told craftbeer.com that he believes they can achieve a 2:1 ratio “by combining innovative technologies and industry best practices.”
Wow. How exactly will they do that?
Literally from the Ground Up
Delves showed me around the brewery recently, illustrating how every square inch of the 13,000 sq. ft. facility was designed for maximum efficiency.
The brewhouse itself was made in America, which saved on the costs and environmental effects of shipping. All piping was done by hand and is thoroughly insulated to save energy. The floors are sloped, to maximize drainage and increase workplace safety.
Without getting too sciency, during the brewing process, glycol, a coolant, needs to be chilled, and liquid CO2 needs to be vaporized. Seismic’s brewery features a unique parallel heat exchange system that does both simultaneously, further reducing energy usage.
As wort boils in the brew kettle, approximately 10% of the water is typically lost to evaporation. The brewery features a custom-built condenser above the kettle which captures the steam and converts it back into water.
The entire brewery is powered by Sonoma Clean Power, which harnesses geothermal energy from local geysers.
But, Seismic’s (not-so) secret weapon in reducing water consumption is the Cambrian EcoVolt MINI.
Say who-what now?
Basically a large shipping container in the back of their parking lot, the EcoVolt MINI removes roughly 99% of contaminants from the brewery’s wastewater, which they then reuse for other brewery functions.
And those sloping floors and the kettle condenser? The water recovered from those processes are also piped to the recycling system for reuse.
All this has reduced their water-use ratio to about 4:1. But there’s one last hurdle to overcome to achieve their water-use goal.
Removing the “Ick” Factor
“We had showcased some of the reclaimed water before at events to show what we were doing. For the [California] Craft Beer Summit [in Sacramento], I really wanted to take it to the next level, which was brewing with that water,” said Delves.
Seismic did a comparison tasting at the Summit— two beers, same recipe, one made with city water, and one with recycled water.
They partnered with Barrel Brothers Brewing, in nearby Windsor, to brew the beer.
“Christian Toran, our head brewer, is good friends with their brewmaster, Wes Deal. As soon as we shot the idea over to them, they were all for it. We all sat down and talked about what kind of beer we wanted to do.”
Would it be the industry workhorse, an IPA?
“No, we want the water to be showcased here. That’s how we landed on this bastardized Helles/Pale American Lager. Not much in the way of malt, not much in the way of hops, just let the water speak. Just create these really clean, crisp styles, and show people that there’s really not that much difference [in the water].
What I noticed between the two beers was the beer brewed with recycled water was much crisper and had a little more linear acidity to it. The city water brew had a little bit plusher mouthfeel, a little bit more well-rounded on the palate.”
The response at the Summit?
“I’d say roughly 60-70% of people preferred the recycled water beer. Which was really encouraging, actually. When you made that big reveal to people and you’d get that ‘Aw, no way!’, you could see the wheels were turning. Very rewarding.
Really, we all drink and bathe in some form of reclaimed water. It’s just getting that ‘ick’ factor out of people’s heads.”
Since brewing with recycled water is a legal “grey area” in California, there are no immediate plans for future brews. Seismic is instead focusing on working with the state legislature to help clarify existing regulations.
If clarification includes a packaging disclaimer indicating the beer was brewed with recycled water, would that be a deterrent in the marketplace?
“It’s tough,” says Delves. “If you’re putting that on the side of a package and you’re not explaining it too much, that again gets back to that ‘ick’ factor. We’ve shared this beer with a few people at different festivals, and inevitably you get a few that go ‘What are you brewing with?’ And you have to say, ‘No, really, it’s okay.’ It’s just an education thing.”
Aside from the recycled water project, Seismic’s beer-style tent is pretty big. Since starting operations in May 2017, the core lineup has leaned toward the standard styles — kolsch, pilsner, a couple of IPAs, and an Oat Pale Ale.
But bigger beers are coming.
They’ve recently released an imperial stout, and a double-IPA will debut in time for SF Beer Week. Seismic also has plans for a Belgian Pale Ale or Grisette, and a German IPA.
A “German” IPA??
“Using German hops like Mandarina Bavaria and Callista and Ariana. What’s awesome about these German aroma varieties is that they bring all these Pacific Northwest qualities — floral components, tropical components, citrus,” says Delves. “But you’re still able to maintain some of that nobility, some of that grassy, spicy quality, and sometimes that can shine through in some of these beers.”
In the meantime, look for Seismic’s beers mostly in the North Bay, although they plan to “shake up” more of the Bay Area and beyond in the near future.
Sorry guys, couldn’t resist recycling an old joke.