Sustainable beer purchasing

Pullman Disposal, which manages our local waste pick-up, recently announced that glass is no longer accepted as part of its single-stream recycling. This is disappointing as a resident, but after poking around a bit, not surprising.

Pullman sells and sends a large amount of sorted recyclable material to China.

China, as part of a new National Sword policy, has implemented stricter control on imports of contaminated scrap and recyclables. When things like paper are contaminated by glass shards, they can't be recycled effectively and recycling is no longer profitable.

This doesn't make it impossible to recycle glass in Pullman, as we can drive it a few miles out of town and dispose of it on its own, but it does add that hurdle of inconvenience.

How does beer consumption fit in?

Beer bottles make up the largest share of glass in our recycling bin every other week. The best way to avoid frequent trips out to the dump is to avoid consuming beer in bottles. And, as this 2008 article "The eco-guide to responsible drinking" attempts to show, it seems reasonable there are more ecological ways to drink beer than from a bottle.

Here's how I'm going to approach sustainable beer in 2018:

  • Look for cans over bottles. Aluminum can be recycled more efficiently and cans are lighter to transport.
  • Buy beer from local breweries. The shorter the distance the beer travels, the better.
  • Use growlers. Kegs are super efficient for distributing beer and can be reused for years. Growlers are filled from kegs and can also be reused for years.
  • Homebrew! Brewing new beer is fun and it doesn't have to be distributed in anything.

The approach that covers the best combination of variety and sustainability is probably going to be walking the half mile down to our local brewery to refill my growler, buying aluminum cans of beer from other regional breweries, and spending more time in 2018 making my own beer. 🍻

Homebrew Batch 1: Brewcraft Dry Hopped West Coast IPA

Our move to Pullman brought us a second kitchen and a nice little cellar room that make for a perfect brewing location. I had been wanting to try brewing for a while, and in August I finally went all in and got setup. The results of my first brew are listed below. It was based on a Brewcraft USA kit rather than an original recipe so that I could get used to the process.

Overall the beer was a success. I was happy to overlook a few taste quirks because it was my first beer, and we’re already down to the last 2 bottles. I wouldn’t be as happy if this was my 4th brew, but I’ll take it as a first shot.

Brewing Details

  • Fermentables: 6lbs Briess CBW Pilsen Light Dry Malt Extract, 1lb Brewers Crystals, 1lb Crystal Malt 40L
  • Bittering hops: 1oz Columbus pellets, 1oz Nugget pellets
  • Aroma hops: 1oz Nugget pellets, 1oz Chinook pellets, 1oz Centennial pellets
  • Yeast: Safale US-05 Dry Ale
  • Brew to bottle: 20 days [Aug. 25th, 2013 – Sep. 14th, 2013]
  • Original Gravity: 1.060
  • Final Gravity: 1.015 (?)
  • ABV: 5.9%
  • IBU: ???
  • Yield: 5 gallons

Brewing Notes

I didn’t actually record the final gravity on paper, mostly because I had no idea what to pay attention to at the time. My recollection is that it is 1.015, so that’s what I listed above and hence what the ABV is based on. The kit anticipated an OG of 1.069 and a FG of 1.014, so I was a bit off on both sides.

Similarly, I completely missed on the IBU as I had no idea I could properly calculate the quantity and timing of hops into a useable number. The kit says it anticipates an IBU of 90, but I can’t imagine I followed proper procedure enough for it to turn out that high. That kind of bitterness definitely doesn’t come through.

The “Cold Break”, a major lesson learned

New brewers make new brewer mistakes, right? I hadn’t really realized ahead of time how important wort cooling was to the process of making beer. My batch took forever to cool down–several hours–because I wasn’t prepared. I even made an ice run to the convenience store in the pouring rain to try and speed up the process a bit.

This may actually be the most important tip for a first time homebrewer. The longer it takes to cool the wort down to fermentation temperatures, the longer it sits exposed to the elements of your brewing room before you can add yeast and seal things up. There is a good chance that some not perfect bacteria made its way into the wort at this point and affected the taste somewhat.

Ever since this batch, I’ve made a focused effort on achieving a quick cold break. Not only will it help the brew, but it shortens the amount of time it takes too!

Bitters, Aromas, IBU: Hops and timing

I didn’t understand the purpose and timing of bittering hops and aroma hops yet, so I don’t think I did to well for an IPA on the first round. I kind of guessed with what I had and with what the kit provided me. Thanks to readings on the Internet and more thorough reading of an amazing book,  I now have a greater understanding of this part of the process and that has lead to more focused efforts in my own recipes. I should now do a much better job of determining the IBU of the brew as well as its expected flavor during the brewing process.