Episode 16: Sustainable Beer with Katie Wallace (New Belgium Brewing Company)


Is there a combination out there more heavenly than sustainability and beer? We certainly don't think so, and Katie Wallace of New Belgium Brewing Company agrees. She joins us on the first episode of our Net Impact National Conference series to explain how New Belgium makes such sustainable (and tasty) beer. Cheers!

What We'll Cover

  • Fast Facts on the Beer Industry
  • How do you make sustainable beer?
  • Sustainable Beer Companies
  • Sustainability at New Belgium
  • About Katie Wallace


Fast Facts on the Beer Industry (1)

In 2015, the U.S. beer industry shipped (sold) 206.7 million barrels of beer – equivalent to more than 2.8 billion cases of 24-packs of beer. In addition, the industry shipped approximately 2 million barrels of cider, equivalent to more than 28.3 million cases. We can’t dismiss cider! Also in 2015, 85 percent of all beer was domestically produced, and 14 percent was imported from more than 100 different countries around the world. The U.S. beer industry sells more than $100 billion in beer and malt-based beverages to U.S. consumers each year.

Let’s talk breweries. There were 4,824 reporting brewery facilities/locations in the United States in 2015. This is an increase of about 700 from 2014 reports. Almost a quarter of these breweries were classified as brewpubs that only brew beer for direct to consumer sale on brewery-restaurant premises.

States with the most breweries: California (788), Washington (383), Colorado (352)

States with the fewest breweries: North Dakota (11), Mississippi (14), Rhode Island (15)

The share of market for the top five brewers and importers has changed significantly over the past five years. Since 2009, more than 7 percent of the market has shifted from large brewers and importers to smaller brewers and importers. The continued growth in small upstart breweries makes the U.S. beer market a dynamic and competitive industry. There’s a great podcast episode of How I Built This with Jim Koch, the founder of Sam Adams Brewery that goes through the super interesting history of craft brewing here in the US.


How do you make a sustainable beer?

When we think about sustainable beer, we can define it along the following lines, which actually mirror the sustainability frameworks of companies that produce other types of goods as well:

  • Inclusion of locally sourced materials
  • Energy used in production
  • Sustainable company organization practices

We’ll focus on this intro on locally sourced materials - the most flavorful component of your beer (2). We’ll be talking to Katie at New Belgium for more on the other two.

Materials used in making beer are really pretty simple. It’s really just barley, hops, yeast, and water, before adding in all the fancy stuff on top.

Hops to this day are grown predominantly in the Pacific Northwest. Some brewers note the difficulty in finding hops grown outside of Oregon and Washington, which an article by Grist lays out really well. This difficulty has led to new demand for local hops, which is bringing the crop back to some of its old stomping grounds. Local malted barley is also a challenge.
Even breweries that aren’t sourcing their main ingredients locally are finding ways to incorporate regional flavors. For example, the Grist article covers how Brooklyn Brewery infused European malts and Belgian dark sugar with raw wildflower honey from New York for its bomber-sized, cork-finished Local 2, making it an immediate favorite.

Local water is obviously a huge concern as well. The most water-intensive part of the beer making process, however, is in the agriculture. Growing the barley and hops to make just one gallon of beer requires an 590 gallons of water (4).

Somewhat surprisingly, fully organic beer hasn’t really become much of a thing. It’s an added cost without a difference in flavor. New Belgium Brewery, who we’re pumped to talk to later, learned this lesson the hard way when it had to cancel its gold medal-winning, certified-organic Mothership Wit because, according to its website, “consumers didn’t want to pay more for the increased cost.”


Sustainable Beer Companies

Top 10 Sustainable Beer Companies (3) as ranked by TriplePundit (stay tuned for our interview with Nick Aster!)

10 - Great Lakes Brewing Company
9 - Bison Organic Beers
8 - Alaskan Brewing Company (In 1998, it became the first craft brewery in the U.S. to install and operate a CO2 reclamation system)
7 - Brewery Vivant
6 - Lakefront Brewery (the first in the U.S. to produce a certified organic beer)
5 - Full Sail Brewing
4 - Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
3 - Brooklyn Brewery (was the first New York City company to use 100 percent wind-generated electricity)
2 - Yards Brewing Company
1 - New Belgium (hayooooo)

Sustainability at New Belgium Brewery (5)

Reuse: New Belgium reuses the barley once they’ve extracted all the starches and sugars from it. Once it’s dried, they sell it to farmers who then feed it to their cattle in place of virgin grain, saving 30,000 tons of CO2 per year! This means less water used for crops, less fuel used for farm equipment, and fewer emissions

They also use a uniquely cone-shaped kettle to cook the grains that go into the beet. It uses 65% less energy than a traditional unit.

On top of all this, New Belgium uses a steam capturer to capture the steam coming off the brew kettle and use it to preheat the incoming water, reducing the amount of energy needed to start the next batch of beer. 

They then recapture the water they use to clean the inside of the bottle to wash off the outside once it’s all packaged, saving millions of gallons of water each year. New Belgium actually uses half as much water as the industry standard! They also treat all of their wastewater on-site.

How can you as a beer lover drink more sustainably?

Easy answer: drink locally! With more than 2,100 craft breweries in the U.S., the Brewers Association estimates that almost every American lives within 10 miles of one.

Even if a craft brewery isn’t using local hops and barley (and in some cases you may not want them to since such a big water user), drinking its beers means you’re pumping money back into your community’s economy instead of relying on greenhouse gases to bring your beer to you.

Support breweries that take sustainability seriously. Treating their employees right, reducing energy use in their operations, etc.


About Katie Wallace

Katie is the Assistant Director of Sustainability at New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, CO. She has a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, which she describes provides a scientific understanding of human flourishing.

At New Belgium, Katie devises the strategic direction of sustainability efforts, facilitates collaborative problem-solving, and drives progress on established goals. She also serves on New Belgium’s management team and does consulting for other business looking to become more sustainable. 


Sources Cited:

  1. https://www.nbwa.org/resources/industry-fast-facts

  2. http://grist.org/food/beyond-the-pale-ale-a-guide-to-sustainable-beer/

  3. http://www.triplepundit.com/2014/09/3p-weekend-top-10-sustainable-u-s-breweries/

  4. http://qz.com/403386/heres-how-much-water-it-takes-to-make-californias-craft-beer/

  5. https://www.newbelgium.com/sustainability/