Garlic mustard

Eat this!

It’s Earth Day again, so let me tell you about some really great mustard! I love this stuff!

Um, what? OK, this really is some great mustard, but the product itself doesn’t have anything to do with the environment. The name, however, is a different story. In addition to being a great taste-combination, garlic mustard is an invasive plant, and it’s probably taking over a nature trail, roadside ditch, patch of forest or backyard near you.

Why should you care? Because garlic mustard takes over areas where it grows, choking out natives flowers and plants — actually killing them with its poisonous roots. So where once there may have been hepatica, spring beauties, May apple, bloodroot and trillium blooming in the early spring, now there is only garlic mustard. It’s a real threat, and it spreads like wildfire.

Pull this!

The good news is, it’s easy to identify and quite easy to pull, especially the day after a good rain. So make yourself a good, hearty sandwich (with plenty of mustard if you like), then head out and do something good for the planet. Once you know what to look for, you will see this noxious weed everywhere. It’s most effective to pull the plant before the flowers turn to seed; in southeast Michigan, today is a perfect day for a Garlic Mustard Pull. Plants are often in flower until about late May. A single plant can produce thousands of seeds, so even pulling a few plants makes a difference!

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Published in: on April 22, 2012 at 10:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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Yes, we can!

I wrote this piece for the March/April 2011 issue of the Michigan Beer Guide; it is reprinted with permission.

It used to be that the distinction between a craft beer and a macrobrew was an easy one to make: the craft beer was in a bottle, the macrobrew, a can. But almost 10 years ago, craft brewers began to challenge this perhaps illusory division, and minds have been changing ever since. Currently, several Michigan craft breweries offer their fine products in cans, and more will join their ranks in the months and years ahead.

Though many would like the claim the title of “first,” it’s generally accepted that this trend began in 2002, when restaurant owner Dale Katechis started brewing. “Dale is always one to do something different, and he saw canning beer as one of those opportunities,” recalls Chad Melis, marketing director at Oskar Blues Brewing Company in Colorado. The decision seems to be paying off: at Oskar Blues, production has advanced from 17,000 bbl (barrels) three years ago to 42,000 bbl last year, with 70 percent of their product shipped out-of-state.

“People wondered why we would consider this,” continues Melis. “Well, it’s better for the beer. It protects the beer by eliminating light, and it keeps it fresher; it has less contact with oxygen.” Light and oxygen are indeed the two big obstacles to overcome in order to maintain a fresh brew: Cans clearly keep out light better than bottles, and filled cans contain less oxygen than filled bottles. A can creates a superior seal compared to bottle caps, and by keeping out oxygen, this seal increases shelf life.

A fresher beer was a big part of the decision, but certainly not the only factor. “The other part of it was really just to throw people a curve-ball,” Melis relates with delight in his voice. “You shove a big, hoppy IPA into a can and then step back and see the reactions. People smell it, they taste it, and it’s a jaw-dropping experience.”

The promise of better-protected brew and that vibe of excitement have drawn many small breweries to can their beer in recent years. According to craftcans.com, 100 craft breweries in the U.S. currently can their beer. And, there are additional benefits that will surely draw more breweries into the realm of cans.

There’s a cost advantage: “Cans are cheaper to buy than bottles, and there’s a shipping savings, since you can get more cans per pallet,” shares Melis. Cans may also be a better choice for the environment, as they’re more easily recyclable and are lighter to ship, thereby demanding less fossil fuels. (An article in the January 2010 issue of MBG hashed out the glass vs. aluminum question from an environmental perspective.)

With all the arguments for canning beer, you may wonder why this trend is only really catching on now. Tom Duex, head brewer at the U.P.’s Keweenaw Brewing Company in Houghton, sheds light on that question. “What people probably don’t realize is that this technology is something that just recently became available for a brewery of our size,” he explains. At present, Keweenaw BC brews about 5,500 bbl a year, with about 90 percent of that staying in-state. “It’s relatively new. But as the technology grows, brewers are in agreement that you’re going to see craft beer in cans more and more.”

Canning their beer since they started brewing in 2004, Keweenaw BC has since expanded their canning line. They now offer five of their beers in cans, the fifth variety just rolling out at the end of January of this year. My first introduction to a flavorful microbrew in a can was Lift Bridge Brown Ale from Keweenaw BC, enjoyed on a camping trip near Marquette. This detail reveals yet another benefit of cans: portability.

“I’m not a fan of lugging glass around,” says Duex. “You can easily take cans more places, like the beach, or on outdoor activities like skiing, snowshoeing, golfing or boating.”

Keweenaw BC was the first Michigan brewery to can, but they didn’t remain the only one for long. Bell’s Brewery took advantage of the can’s accommodating nature in 2005, when they released their first 5-liter mini-keg.

After 12 years of offering their beers exclusively at their brewpub, Rochester Mills Beer Co. of Rochester introduced their first canned beer for distribution, Cornerstone IPA, in mid-summer 2010. Since 2008, they’ve had their Lazy Daze Lager available in cans at their pub. Once again, fresher beer, portability and superiority to glass in terms of being recyclable were all behind the decision to can. And, Rochester Mills set itself apart from bottled microbrews in yet another way: their new cans are a full 16 ounces. “We wanted to give you a full pint, just like we do at the brewpub,” explains head brewer Eric Briggeman, who oversees the brewing of Cornerstone IPA at MillKingIt Productions in Royal Oak, where the beer is brewed under contract.

MillKingIt Productions will soon also release Rochester Mills’ Milkshake Stout. In the meantime, their own Axl Pale American-style pale ale was available in a can in 2010, and their Brik Irish-style red ale is now available as well; both are sold in 16-ounce containers.

This year alone will see at least three other Michigan breweries moving into the world of cans. Arcadia Brewing Company of Battle Creek will release their first canned brew in April, followed by a second in September. Arcadia’s beers are currently available in bottles; their new canning line is part of an ongoing brewery-wide expansion. After observing the emerging trend, Arcadia elected to make the investment in this movement in December 2010, “before it really took off in the Midwest,” says founder and president Tim Suprise. “We’ve identified a number of niche market opportunities in the short term, and remain confident that broader market potential will develop as more products gain entry.”

It seems they won’t have long to wait. Grand Rapids’ newest brewery, Brewery Vivant, will release their Belgian-style brews in cans this spring. Sustainability is a core part of Brewery Vivant’s mission, and this factor in particular made cans an attractive choice over bottles. And finally, Atwater Block Brewery of Detroit also has plans to can in the near future.

With all the advantages of canning and the technology becoming increasingly available, only a few drawbacks remain; potential “glass snobbery” isn’t really one of them. “Some distributors were skeptical about how well it would be received by the general public, but we’ve had nothing but positive responses,” says Duex, a sentiment echoed by Oskar Blues and Rochester Mills representatives. “The hesitancy to pay for and try a high-end craft beer in a can is a temporary hurdle,” confirms Melis.

For those worried about a potential “can taste” to their beer, brewers involved in this process stress the fact that modern practices ensure the brew never actually comes in contact with the metal itself. “All cans are lined with micro-resin,” Duex explains. “The beer never touches aluminum.” That said, it’s always a good idea to pour a quality craft beer, whether it’s in a can or a bottle, into a glass to fully enjoy the aroma. “You want to let that baby breathe!” remarks Melis.

One valid potential obstacle to distributing in cans is the start-up cost. “There’s an initial large investment, more than a bottling line would be,” shares Duex. “Canning manufacturers also make a commitment to a large amount of empties, but in all, we have no regrets.”

Craft beer in a can isn’t exactly new, but it is a movement that’s only beginning to take hold in Michigan. Yet all indications point to the fact that the sight of local microbrews in cans sharing shelf-space with the venerated bottle will soon be commonplace. “We’re happy to be distributing beer in an arguably superior vessel,” concludes Duex. There’s no turning back now that the word is out: “You can have great beer in a can.”

Tomatoes: summer’s rubies are still gleaming

Last year, which was the first summer in our home, our garden suffered greatly from poor soil and extensive shading by surrounding trees. Not to be defeated, my husband built a lovely raised-bed garden in a new location this past spring, and filled it with rich compost. With my due date fast approaching, I wasn’t much help, but he did a great job by himself. The result was a bountiful garden which yielded glorious fruits and vegetables, including enough tomatoes both to work into practically every meal and to preserve for the months ahead.

Now, with winter almost a month away, it is a joy to reach a jar of ruby-red, homegrown organic tomatoes off our pantry shelf. While they are an ideal backbone for comfort-food dishes like chili and venison stew, they also star in another of life’s simple pleasures, homemade tomato sauce.

I was in my early 20s before I’d every attempted to make my own tomato sauce. I was inspired, however, by a beautiful cookbook I’d received as a gift, The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas. This is one of those beguiling cookbooks in which enticing recipes are interlaced with personal insights and pleasing vignettes (and yet the results never feel cloying). You get the feeling that each meal Anna creates is a celebration in itself, and you can’t help but get caught up in the vibe and want to fly to the kitchen, grab a spatula in one hand and a spoon in the other and go in search of food nirvana.

So, I was gung-ho as I completed each step for Anna’s tomato sauce, from peeling the tomatoes to roasting them to simmering away for hours. The results, of course, were heavenly,  the thought of committing once again to such an undertaking, daunting.

Over the years, I developed an easy, pared-down recipe for tomato sauce that still demands a good long simmer, but with very little prep time involved. It works equally well for a bumper crop of garden tomatoes or with jarred tomatoes. The deep, rich, tantalizing result is an asset to everything from the humblest pasta to the most elaborate lasagna.

Summer Rubies Tomato Sauce

Just do this: throw 3-4 pounds tomatoes, quartered, stem area removed (or 3 cups jarred undrained tomatoes or 28 oz. canned); 1 large red onion, peeled and cut into large chunks; and 6-8 plump cloves garlic, peeled, into a blender. Purée, working in batches if necessary; pour the results in a pot and simmer gently with the lid on, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and rich.

(Additions such as 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, to taste; salt and pepper, to taste; 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil; 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil; and 1 tablespoon each chopped fresh oregano and flat-leaf parsley are all optional. Stick with the basic trinity of tomatoes, onion and garlic and you can’t go wrong; remember, you’re not being lazy, you’re a purist!)

Acorn squash

Butternut squash gets all the love. Yet it was acorn squash we grew in the garden, so acorn squash I had to work with. Truthfully, I’d never eaten acorn squash before, other than maybe in an upscale restaurant. Turns out, acorn squash roasts up deliciously and also makes a satisfyingly wonderful soup.

The one drawback of acorn squash is its natural packaging; the rind is not as easy to vanquish as that of other squashes, due to its deep ridges. I found that quartering it and then going to work with a vegetable peeler eventually did the job.

I’m a fan of what my husband and his longtime friend once dubbed “the overtaste:” the more flavor, the better, with no danger of ever being bland. So when I set out to make my first-ever acorn squash bisque, I kept adding and adding the flavor. I’m passing along the resulting recipe, which yields a tasty, creamy soup. The recipe itself is meant to be doubled or tripled. I made this several times, and jarred the results for future winter evenings.

Acorn Squash Ginger Bisque

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 large acorn squash, peeled, seeded & cubed
1 medium white potato, roughly chopped
1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 inch fresh ginger, chopped
2 T honey
1/2 t fresh sage
1/2 t fresh thyme
1/4 t fresh ground pepper
1 t ground ginger
1/2 t salt (to taste)
1/4 t nutmeg
3 C organic vegetable broth

  • In large, heavy-bottom pot, gently heat olive oil.
  • Add in squash, potato, onion and carrot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender.
  • Add garlic and ginger, cook two minutes, then add all remaining ingredients plus 1 cup of stock, and stir well.
  • Carefully transfer mixture to blender and puree until smooth, adding broth as needed to puree and to reach desired consistency. Work in batches if necessary.

Don’t count carbs, count carbon

If you’ve ever wondered about the carbon footprint of a six-pack, read on for my fifth contribution to the Michigan Beer Guide dealing with brewing, beer and sustainability. This piece is reprinted with the permission of MBG. Be sure to pick up the May 2010 issue of the Michigan Beer Guide, featuring the 2009 State of the Michigan Brewing Industry Report. This is also the “fifth anniversary” of my contributions to MBG. Cheers!

You may consider your potential carbon footprint when planning your next vacation or shopping for a new car. But, have you contemplated the carbon footprint of your beer? Every purchase we make, from shoes to brews, can be scrutinized in view of the total carbon footprint of the product in question.

True, examining every facet of one’s buying habits in terms of the environment may seem exhausting at best, or pointless at worst. But eco-conscious beer lovers may be both interested and surprised to discover the details of the overall environmental effect of their favorite beverage. The idea here isn’t to feel guilty about enjoying beer, but to realize which facets of the “life cycle” of a beer result in the most greenhouse gases (GHGs).

GHG emissions are directly related to a product’s carbon footprint. According to carbonfootprint.com, a carbon footprint is a “measure of the impact our activities have on the environment, and in particular [on] climate change. It relates to the amount of greenhouse gases produced in our day-to-day lives through burning fossil fuels for electricity, heating and transportation, etc.”

“Alternatively empowered” and environmentally conscious New Belgium Brewing Company chose to face their carbon impact head-on by partnering with the Climate Conservancy to establish a lifecycle assessment (LCA) of the climate footprint of a six-pack of Fat Tire Amber Ale. According to New Belgium, an LCA is an “accounting of material and energy flows during each stage of a product’s life and the assessment of associated environmental impacts.” This LCA offers a revealing look at the carbon footprint of any beer.

To discover the LCA of Fat Tire, the Climate Conservancy first determined the “national average carbon cost” for producing a six-pack of beer. They then contacted New Belgium suppliers and delved into past energy bills and purchase orders to discover this particular brewery’s impact.

The assessment established that to create a six-pack of Fat Tire, it takes 3,188.8 grams of CO2 equivalents, or grams of carbon dioxide equivalent, the accepted unit of measure for the GHGs that contribute to climate change. Though the number in and of itself doesn’t mean much, New Belgium uses this number as a baseline to measure the results of future improvements to their production methods. The Fort Collins, Colorado brewery reports that they hope this tool will help improve the sustainability of both their company, and of the brewing industry overall.

To put this number in perspective, the LCA found that New Belgium emits 35 percent less GHGs than the average US beer producer. For this distinction, New Belgium earned the designation of Climate Conscious Silver (out of a rating system of Silver, Gold and Platinum).

The report breaks down the lifecycle of Fat Tire into the stages of upstream, entity and downstream. Taking a closer look at these three stages imparts a better understanding of why the carbon footprint of a six-pack is relatively so large.

First, the “upstream” stage deals with the acquisition and pre-processing of all raw materials. The scope of upstream emissions turns out to be huge, encompassing everything from packaging and non-consumable materials like glass, paper and adhesive, to consumable materials like malt and hops, taking into account agriculture, production and transportation. With so many factors to consider, perhaps it’s not surprising that upstream emissions account for 48 percent of the total emissions.

Of that 48 percent, glass manufacturing and transportation (21.6 percent of total GHG emissions) and the production and transportation of malt and barley (18.6 percent) that are responsible for a full 40 percent of Fat Tire’s total footprint.

Second, “entity” considers factors “directly associated with the manufacture and marketing of Fat Tire.” New Belgium already does a great job of limiting their emissions through such measures as using all wind power and adhering to an innovative, highly efficient brewing process. Therefore, their own operations and waste disposal account for a mere 5.4 percent of total emissions! The LCA reveals how New Belgium truly shines within their own facility and operations, acting as an inspiration to brewers large and small.

Finally, “downstream” emissions, those associated with the distribution, storage, consumption and final disposal of New Belgium’s flagship beer, account for the remaining 46.6 percent of the total footprint.

Especially in America, enjoying a beer is often inevitably linked to icy-cold refreshment. But maintaining a frosty product comes at a high environmental price: the assessment found that refrigeration represents “the most significant contribution to overall GHG emissions. … Nearly one kilogram of GHGs of the roughly three kilograms embodied by [Fat Tire] are emitted during the retail phase of the beer.”

In the end, the LCA concluded that “the business of creating any beer is linked inextricably to GHG emissions and many of these emissions are today unavoidable.” Emissions from the agricultural and packaging subsystems located “far upstream” from breweries make it difficult for the breweries themselves to manage these effects.

Beer is never going to be the most eco-friendly beverage. In fact, a government-sponsored study from the United Kingdom found that “alcoholic drinks contribute significantly to emissions, with the growing and processing of hops and malt into beer and whisky producing 1.5 percent of Britain’s greenhouse gases,” according to a May 2009 article in the UK’s “Telegraph.”

However, New Belgium did identify several areas for improvement. For example, they determined that “the production of synthetic fertilizers and related emissions from the soil are a substantial part of the GHGs allocated from malted barley,” so switching to organic barley or barley fertilized from organic sources would contribute to a reduced carbon footprint.

As for the refrigeration problem, this brewery concedes that they have little power over the design of the refrigerators used at the many retail centers that carry their beer. However, New Belgium considers that “efforts to minimize stock turnover time at retail, or the removal of some portion of product from refrigerated section altogether” might help to drastically reduce the carbon footprint of Fat Tire.

Both professional and hobby brewers can use this LCA to make informed decisions about their own operations; reducing energy consumption across the board will lower greenhouse gas emissions. However, this is only one small piece of the puzzle, and upstream and downstream factors remain largely out of reach.

As discussed in a previous MBG column, offering and consuming draft beer eliminates the problem of the single-use glass bottle. If canning beer is an option, this is also preferable to glass. Another step in the right direction is choosing organic brewing ingredients when possible. Finally, there’s an attractive solution (or fantasy) that brewers and beer enthusiasts alike can embrace: new breweries across Michigan, offering draught beer within a walking, biking or very short driving distance of every neighborhood throughout the state!

Waiting for morels …

Morels, morels, is it almost time?

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 12:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Celebrate Earth Day” festival in Jackson

Earth Day came and went, but there’s no reason that we can’t honor the principles of this occasion all year long. On Sunday, April 25, Cascades Park in Jackson will be the site of the fourth annual “Celebrate Earth Day” outdoor festival. There will be activities and educational displays, and the Cascades Humane Society will have adoptable dogs on-site, along with information on how to be a more eco-friendly pet owner. I know, because I’ll be working the event. It’s a family-friendly event that should appeal to both tree-huggers and those just looking to spend a few enjoyable hours outdoors.

Love your planet. Drink beer.

In honor of Earth Day, the following is a sort of condensed version of the various topics I’ve been fleshing out recently in different articles. Cheers!

It’s that time of year again, when the impending arrival of Earth Day focuses media attention on the environment and how to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Thankfully, in recent years, social consciousness of environmental issues and living “green” has grown tremendously, and as our impact on this fragile planet becomes more apparent each day, people are regularly making choices that support a healthy planet.

These choices are closely tied not only to what we eat, but also to what we drink. And with all the options available today, it’s easier than ever to honor the Earth while enjoying a delicious beer.

From the boiling of the wort to the disposal of wastewater, the brewing process itself requires a lot of energy. Many responsible breweries have taken bold steps toward reducing their impact on the environment; the wind-powered New Belgium Brewing Company in Colorado is a great example. Also running on wind-generated electricity, New York’s Brooklyn Brewery prevents hundreds of thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide from entering earth’s atmosphere each year. Great Lakes Brewing Company in Ohio incorporates “zero waste initiatives” into their daily operations, striving to make full use of the by-products of the brewing process. Right here in Michigan, the Michigan Brewing Company powers their steam generator with biodiesel fuel created from used vegetable oil. They brewed their first batch of “bio-beer” late in 2007, and plan to install electrical generators that run on biodiesel to gain even greater self-sufficiency

These are only a few examples of breweries that make environmentalism part of their business plan. A little research into a brewery’s philosophies and practices can help you select beer produced in a manner that respects that earth. In addition to the breweries themselves, there’s also the issue of the ingredients. Today, beer brewed with organic ingredients is quite easy to find. From craft brewers to giants like Anheuser-Busch, organic beers offer eco-conscious drinkers a chance to feel good in more ways than one.

Yet the question of the container that so loving holds your bubbly beverage must also be addressed. Silica, the substance used to create glass, requires less environmental upheaval to produce than bauxite, the raw material needed to create aluminum. So drinking beer from glass bottles is a great choice if the beer is produced locally. However, if that beer was shipped over vast distances, lightweight aluminum is probably a better choice than glass, which requires more fuel for transportation. To end this headache, bike, walk or take the bus to your favorite bar and enjoy a draught beer! They’re held in kegs that may last up to two decades. When you’ve finished your last pint, fill up a growler, then go home and bask in your virtuous drinking habits.

Perhaps the most important eco-friendly beer-related choice you can make may surprise you: drink local. Since many food items travel up to 1,500 miles before reaching our fridges or pantries, choosing locally produced food and beverages saves massive amounts of fuel. The concept of food miles refers to the distance any given food item travels via truck, ship, train or plane from the field to your plate. In general, the greater the distance traveled, the more severe the toll on the environment. In addition to promoting better air quality and reducing pollution, drinking local beer has the added benefits of supporting our local economy and guaranteeing freshness.

With all the options there are to weigh, just remember that making a positive step in any direction is better than none at all. And once you’re happily enjoying the fruits of your informed decision, perhaps you’d like to toy with the notion of making your own brew. Homebrewed beer may just be the “greenest” beer you can drink, especially if you incorporate locally purchased, perhaps locally grown, organic ingredients.

Every lifestyle choice you make has the potential to either harm or benefit the environment, especially choices that you make repeatedly — week in and week out, or day in and day out, as the case may be. You can make a difference while you enjoy a delicious brew. Doesn’t sound like such a bad combination, does it?

This article originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Revue magazine in honor of Earth Day, written by me, Brenda Cooke.

Responsible consumption … of energy

The fourth installment in my Michigan Beer Guide series examines options for sustainable choices in brewing facility operations and the brewing process in general. This piece is reprinted with the permission of the Michigan Beer Guide. Cheers!

When it comes to running a successful business, breweries across the country are proving that being environmentally friendly and upholding the economic bottom line are the prefect complement. Specifically, striving to conserve energy and choosing energy sources that do not rely on fossil fuels are two practices that more and more US breweries are adopting, and reaping myriad benefits from, every year.

Just as the Western states were forerunners of the craft beer movement, they are now setting the bar high for the rest of the US in terms of running breweries that are energy efficient, or that rely on alternative energy sources.

For example, solar power is an ideal, sustainable source of energy that California-based Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is pursuing with gusto. A large solar panel system over their parking lot combines with rooftop panels to provide nearly 40 percent of the brewery’s electrical needs. All together, the brewery’s panels represent one of the country’s largest private solar panel arrays.

Another California brewery turning to solar power is Stone Brewing Co., which recently invested in a large bank of solar panels that now blankets their facility. In Colorado, both Odell BC and New Belgium BC utilize solar power.

Yet the use of solar power isn’t limited to breweries in Western states. Just across Lake Michigan, a new solar water heating system enables Central Waters BC in Wisconsin to produce twice as much beer with no additional spending on natural gas. Purchased with the help of a state grant, the system will save the brewery an estimated $1.4 million over the next 30 years.

Although the expenditure may be recouped over months or years, the initial cost of solar panels can be prohibitive for smaller breweries. For many breweries, however, purchasing a share of their required energy from renewable sources may be a feasible option. For example, Roots Organic BC in Oregon purchases all the energy they need from renewable sources such as solar and wind power.

Wind power is a renewable energy source that some breweries are just beginning to explore, yet that others have relied on for years. Based on the standard of being “alternatively empowered,” New Belgium embraces environmentally-friendly practices across the board. And they’re not just following the trend, they’re proud to lead the way. New Belgium began purchasing electricity generated from wind power over a decade ago, and today is about 70 percent wind-powered.

On the East Coast, Brooklyn Brewery’s plant in Williamsburg, New York was the first building in New York City to be powered by 100 percent wind energy. Brooklyn Brewery estimates that each year, their use of wind power saves up to 335,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

In efforts to be more sustainable, breweries are exploring options for putting to good use what was formerly considered waste. Here in Michigan, Michigan BC generates power with biodiesel generators that run on fryer grease from Michigan State University cafeterias.

This innovation is the result of a partnering with MSU’s Bio-Refinery Training Facility, which produces the biodiesel and sends it to Michigan BC to be burned in their steam generator. While all this brewery’s beer is currently produced using biodiesel, plans are in the works to power the entire brewery with electrical generators that run on this fuel.

Utilizing anaerobic digestion to treat brewery wastewater and generate methane is becoming a popular method of promoting sustainability. Sierra Nevada uses their methane to generate electricity, thereby even producing surplus energy to divert to California’s power grid. This brewery is quickly closing in on their goal of running on 100 percent sustainable energy.

New Belgium is another brewery that collects methane from their wastewater, generating up to 15 percent of the power used by their facility in this manner.

Craft breweries may lead the way, but the big names of mass-produced beer are also beginning to jump on the alternative energy bandwagon. In 2009, Anheuser-Busch installed anaerobic digestion systems in 10 out of 12 of its US brewing facilities, including one in Columbus, Ohio and one near Syracuse, New York. Avoiding the costs of both treating wastewater and purchasing fossil fuels may be the economically-driven motives, but the result is a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Anheuser-Busch sends their recovered biogas to boilers for use in the brewing process, contributing up to 15 percent of the total fuel needs at a given plant. As Anheuser-Busch investigates utilizing local landfill gas, solar power and wind energy, a more eco-friendly face of this big brewer may continue to emerge.

Just as relying on sustainable energy sources is important, so is limiting energy demands to begin with. At New Belgium, motion-sensitive lights ensure that energy isn’t wasted, a closed-loop brew kettle reduces the consumption of natural gas, and the bikes given to employees on their one-year anniversary promote human-powered transportation.

Almost any brewery can embrace practices that promote decreased energy demands. These can just be little changes that add up over time. At Odell, for instance, skylights reduce the need for electric lighting, and the company encourages employees to bike to work or carpool. The use of energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, recycling heat from the brewing process, using outdoor air for cooling purposes when possible and maintaining an efficient refrigeration system are just a few examples of what breweries large and small can do to reduce energy requirements.

“There’s really not just ‘one thing’ that businesses need to do to be sustainable,” emphasizes Rochester Mills Beer Co. owner Mike Plesz. “There are so many different ways to weave sustainability into a brewery.” Plesz is the CEO of Pleszure Food Group, a “sustainably practicing business” which encompasses Rochester Mills; Mind Body and Spirits, Michigan’s first certified organic restaurant; artisan cookie and snack bakery Inspired Treats; and a related school that educates youth about the importance of sustainability.

Plesz advises that breweries undergo an energy audit to pinpoint areas where energy is currently squandered. “Brewers are ingenious! They have engineering minds, and once they begin to think about this, they can come up with so many ways to reduce energy use and support long-term sustainability.”

Companies closely related to the brewing industry are also following the trend to go green. Last year, Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. received a U.S. Department of Energy award for achieving significant energy reductions. Briess, a name well-known by most brewers, manufactures specialty malt, natural sweeteners and more for the brewing and food industries. Reusing waste heat for space heating and initiating new operating procedures for producing roasted malts are among the measures that contributed to a 20 percent reduction of energy usage and CO2 emissions.

As a group, the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association is committed to using biofuels and hybrid vehicles when possible, and Michigan distributors are reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by investing in energy efficient light bulbs and coolers, and by taking advantage of new building materials and designs.

Running a facility itself isn’t the only area that demands fuel. To transport in masses of brewing ingredients and transport out the resulting brew, large trucks are still the standard across the country. Yet today, trucks don’t necessarily need to run on diesel or gasoline. Stone, Odell, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Rochester Mills all have delivery trucks that run on biodiesel, a biodegradable fuel that results in a 78.5 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions as compared to petroleum diesel.

Dedicated to their mission to “Take, Make, Remake,” Ohio’s Great Lakes BC strives toward their goal of completely sustainable production in many ways, even running their delivery trucks on straight restaurant vegetable oil.

Great Lakes operates both a modified semi truck for beer delivery and a shuttle bus (affectionate named The Fatty Wagon) that run on this fuel, some of which comes from their own brewpub. According to a press release, since the semi only burns diesel to begin and end each trip, just two gallons of diesel are needed for one 100-gallon trip on the vegetable oil. The straight vegetable oil isn’t subjected to the chemical process required for making biodiesel, so it’s more cost effective and it burns cleaner.

In the world of brewing, the options for reducing reliance upon fossil fuels, from choosing wind power or solar energy to recycling heat to using energy-efficient light fixtures, are just the beginning. And, the breweries listed here are only a very small sampling of all the breweries across the country that are making a commitment to sustainable energy.

“The fact is that breweries demand a lot of energy,” concludes Plesz. “So in the end, financial and environmental sustainability go hand in hand.” Craft brewers have always been innovators, and the craft brewing industry promises to blaze the trail toward responsible energy use, one brewery at a time.

Ann Arbor’s Zingerman’s

One freezing afternoon in February, my cousin, her boyfriend and I were discussing where to go for lunch. My cousin Tracy recently moved to Ann Arbor, and everyone told her that she “had” to go to Zingerman’s Deli. I’d heard good things myself, so we loaded in the car and headed downtown.

With blue skies above, the windchill was hovering around 10 degrees, which made standing in the line-out-the-door less than enjoyable. Even though it was nearly 2 p.m., this place was still hoppin’ on an otherwise lazy Saturday afternoon.

Once we were able to wait in line indoors, we were treated to a visual and olfactory smorgasbord. Fresh, homemade breads lined one wall, and an extensive deli counter that included a mind-boggling array of cheeses lined another. The very friendly staff shouted over the din to talk about the delectable spread and offer samples.

I was delighted by the large selection of both vegetarian and fish sandwiches, but I wasn’t so thrilled with the prices. I’ll get this out of the way up-front: I don’t gripe about paying for quality, but I’d rather not pay a premium just because that’s what the local market will tolerate. Yes, this is Ann Arbor, but it ain’t NYC. Nearly $20 for a sandwich, pickle, brownie and a “free” cup of water kind of blew me away.

However, Zingerman’s is the sort of place I want to patronize. Selections like local organic eggs, housemade bread and BBQ sauce and cheeses from Zingerman’s own Creamery harmonize with my own desire to choose local, sustainable foods. Likeminded carnivores will doubtlessly enjoy the organic Berkshire pork shoulder from Apple Schram Organic Orchard in Charlotte, free-range chicken, “all natural” turkey and applewood-smoked bacon from Wisconsin’s Nueske’s; the housemade corned beef is supposed to be incredible.

For $13.99, I decided on the #33, “Benny & Zach’s Bagel Over Tokyo,” a sandwich consisting of “Stonington, Maine smoked salmon, wasabi (Japanese horseradish) cream cheese spread, tomato & mixed greens on a toasted sesame bagel from Zingerman’s Bakehouse.” (I ordered it on grilled pumpernickel, however, because I’m an incorrigible menu-changer-upper.)

We ordered with one employee, waited in another line to pay, then braved the cold again to try and find a seat in the building next door. We had to wait for a picnic table in a large, heated tent; once we sat down, we were amused by the busy servers who buzzed between the three main dining areas, trying to locate the patrons whose food they were holding. Since you seat yourself, it’s the staff’s job to find you in the cramped maze of seating once your food is ready.

The sandwich? It was good. Not be-still-my-beating-heart-I’m-in-love good, but really good. The intense crunchiness of the bread made the fillings fall out everywhere whenever I took a bite, but everything in there was top-notch. As for size, they’re not gigantic; all three of us easily polished off our sandwiches (and my cousin is teeny!). The $4.75 prepackaged Zingerman’s Black Magic Brownie that I took home with me was rich and fudgy, but rather stale.

Around since 1982 and now an Ann Arbor institution, I think it’s safe to say that Zingerman’s isn’t going anywhere. I would most certainly go back again, especially if a generous friend offered to pay! (Yet if I was driving east on I-94 and a yen for a delicious deli sandwich hit, I would probably veer off the highway before AA, and happily visit Mike’s Deli in Chelsea. The sandwiches are delicious. Their bread is Zingerman’s, their prices are not.)

If you go to Zingerman’s, be prepared to pay twice what you’d expect elsewhere; that way, you’ll leave feeling happy rather than robbed. But if you’re so inclined, certainly do visit Zingerman’s for the experience, for the chance to ogle the impressive selection of cheeses, olive oils, spreads, coffee, breads, meats, salads and more, to interact with the cheerful staff, to satisfy an East Coast craving for some “Jewish foods” like knish or latke or, of course, for a tasty sandwich.