Pursuing females’ fancy: the beer industry’s quest to win over women

Michigan Beer Guide featured this article in their January/February 2012 issue, as part of a series I’m writing on Women & Craft Beer. This is the longer version of the article; you may read the published version at the Beer Guide website. It is reprinted with permission.

As any craft beer enthusiast or MBG reader can tell you, women – classy, intelligent women – do indeed enjoy drinking beer. Couple this fact with the statistic that, depending on who’s compiling the calculations, women make or influence 80 to 90 percent of all purchasing decisions, and it seems you have a no-brainer, all-win situation: market beer directly to women! And yet, beer marketing and advertising has traditionally focused on men, ignoring or objectifying women (or both). However, marketing gurus do, from time to time, get the bright idea to target women in their campaigns, with decidedly different outcomes.

Marketing beer directly to women may be somewhat of an anomaly, but it’s not a new idea. The history of beer and its promotion is long and fascinating, but let’s approach this scene after the end of Prohibition. Even then, a few savvy admen saw women as an untapped market. Exploiting the female trend to strive for slimness, Acme launched a campaign in the 1930s touting their beer as “dietetically non-fattening.” Although the ads featured illustrations of slim, pretty women that would be attractive to men, the message was aimed squarely at women.

During and after World War II, beer-marketing efforts directed at women really took off, with two different and quite opposing dynamics at play. First, as men left to fight during the War, more women were obliged to work outside of the home. Second, after the War, the mythical American family – featuring the hard-working husband, doting home-making wife and charming kids – was conceived and promoted. Both the confident, self-reliant persona attached to the first scenario and the compliant housewives connected with the later were featured in various campaigns.

A Miller High Life ad from 1952 depicts a poised female golfer who clearly makes her own decisions about how she spends her time and what she quaffs. However, ads featuring women as consummate wife and hostess are in far greater abundance. A 1950s series from Schlitz, united by the slogan, “If you like beer you’ll love Schliltz,” features beautiful, smiling ladies cheerfully carrying out their wifely duties, from fetching a tray of Pilsner glasses to hosting the perfect party to offering a cold one to a fly-fishing husband.

Bud also tapped into the ultimate hostess idea in 1956, with two women not necessarily enjoying beer themselves, but enviously gossiping about how their excellent hostess only serves Bud. A different, prolific campaign from Budweiser straddled both realms. The “Where there’s Life … there’s Bud” series prominently featured women; sometimes enjoying beer alongside a man, but also often having a beer poured for her by a man just outside the frame.

Let’s fast-forward through the next few decades, shall we? There’s no need to discuss (or display) here all the big-breasted, scantily-clad, suggestively-posed women who have decorated the ads for fizzy yellow fermented beverages over the years. Our common knowledge of this spectacle is the very thing that makes “marketing beer to women” noteworthy.

Recently, a few companies have seemingly “seen the light” once again, and so have devoted tremendous energy to capturing the female market. However, a glimpse at two specific endeavors may make female beer lovers cringe.

First up we have Animée from Molson Coors, launched in the UK in the fall of 2011 and available in three variants, including crisp rosé and zesty lemon. As the press release explains, this “lightly sparkling and finely filtered beer” aims to “make beer a real choice for women.” The result of input from over 30,000 women and two years of concentrated industry research, Animée beer and its brand plan are designed to be “feminine and sophisticated without being patronizing.” As a woman who enjoys beer and knows scores of others who do the same, this concept baffles me. Is another alco-pop really the answer to wooing women over to beer? I agree with Molson Coors that they, along with all brewers large and small, “need to repair the reputation of beer among women.” But is this the way to do it?

Next we have Chick Beer, “a beer just for women,” brewed and available in and around Maryland but hoping to take female drinkers across the country by storm. Because women certainly don’t want to carry a six-pack that looks like a six-pack, this beer comes in a hot-pink carrier disguised as a clutch, rimmed with faux bling. The font is sassy and full of curlicues, and the labels depict a little black dress, “just to be absolutely certain that no one could mistake it for dude beer,” as their website explains. Because all women hate calories, this beer has less than 100, but still tastes “soft, smooth and full-bodied.”

This type of marketing comes across to me as basic condescension, narrowly defining women as “chicks” who are predominantly concerned with appearances – just as ads with bikini-clad women pigeon-hole men. The notion of including women in the marketing of beer is a splendid one, but recent efforts such as these seem to only reinforce stereotypes and propagate the segregation that already exists.

Of course, these products and promotions aren’t geared toward women who already like beer; they’re trying to capture female attention. If a brew dreamed up exclusively for women serves as a “gateway” to real, craft beer, than I’m all for it. But honestly, I just don’t believe that products and advertising pandering directly to a woman’s “girlie side” will spark a revolution in female beer-drinking. And as Charlie Papazian put it in a HuffPost Denver article on Chick Beer in September 2011, “It seems quite contrary that if you want to attract anyone to beer – you offer them something that tastes less like beer.”

Women by and large may indeed be repelled by beer, due to its image and the way it’s been marketed; there is certainly room for growth in the “female beer drinker” market. The concepts that beer is a masculine drink and that all beer tastes the same are presumptions that it will certainly benefit marketers to dispel. However, flamboyant attempts to attract an isolated segment of the market seem like a backwards way to approach the situation.

The focus should be on integrating women, not singling them out. Exclusionary advertising might create a buzz in the short-term, but perhaps advertising should just be geared toward promoting a superior product to the entire community. Let’s have less sexism and gimmicky advertising, not more. We need campaigns that respect women simply by not objectifying them or ignoring them, and by offering true great taste to everyone.

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Sisterhood of the Suds

This was featured in the November/December 2011 issue of the Michigan Beer Guide, as part of a series I’m writing on Women & Craft Beer. This is the longer version of the article; you may read the published version at the Beer Guide website. It is reprinted with permission.

Stitch-n-bitch circles, scrapbooking sessions, the Red Hat Society, all-female book clubs, mommy-and-me groups, and the list goes on: clearly, women thrive on sharing experiences and maintaining close circles of like-minded companions. For any interest, hobby or passion, there is likely an all-female group devoted to enjoying it together. And with craft beer stealthily making its way onto the collective female radar, it makes sense that groups of women who gather to appreciate and learn about microbrews are popping up everywhere.

Across the board, women’s beer groups emphasize inclusion and shun snobbery. These clubs exist to promote beer enjoyment among experts and the uninitiated alike, and hinge on creating a friendly, encouraging environment.

On the national level, there are several all-woman, beer-centric groups, each with its own unique focus. Perhaps the most well known is the Pink Boots Society, whose mission is to “inspire, encourage and empower women to advance their careers in the Beer Industry through networking and education.” Members of this Society include any female who earns any portion of her income through the beer industry, whether she’s a brewery owner, bartender, or anything in between. There are about a dozen members of the Pink Boots Society residing in Michigan, ranging from Certified Cirerone Annette May to brewers, writers and owners.

For women not employed within the beer industry, but simply interested in enjoying craft beer, there is the affiliated Barley’s Angels. This group is designed to “foster beer appreciation in women, teach women’s role in beer history, encourage women to homebrew, and inspire the next generation of potential women beer professionals.” There are currently chapters in at least six states including Illinois and Minnesota, as well as in Canada, the UK, Australia and Argentina.

Christine Jump, producer and host of the audio interview program Craft Brew Cast, sponsored the very first Barley’s Angels group. “I thought that I didn’t like beer for three quarters of my life,” recalls Christine. “The idea that I could help other women discover the marvelous variety of craft brew was a very easy sell. My hope is that women will discover that craft beers are so widely varied; there is literally something for everyone.” Another “consumer-focused,” national group is Girls’ Pint Out, established to promote “solidarity between beer drinkers of the fairer sex;” they have chapters in at least five states.

Both consumers and professionals may join Women Enjoying Beer (WEB), “an education based company that develops and serves the female beer consumers … [and] works with professional beer community members to accurately and successfully market beer to women.”

Some groups are based more on face-to-face interaction, and feature monthly events like brewery visits and themed beer tastings. Others, such as Ladies of Craft Beer, are geared towards fostering online communities of women.

In addition to national groups, there are myriad local groups across the country. For example, there’s Women’s In Pursuit of Ale (IPA) Club of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, Beer for Babes in New Jersey and Ales 4 Females in Colorado. In Michigan – a state simply awash in superior craft beer – the female beer appreciation group scene is in its fledgling stages. However, we’re off to a respectable start.

Detroit has Detroit Draft Divas, which launched in the spring of 2011 under the direction of Copper Canyon Brewery head brewer Todd Parker, who identifies himself as “consultant, liaison, and mascot” for the club.

Todd set out to “establish a Metro Detroit area group for like-minded women interested in craft beer … women interested in learning more about beer and brewing in a more comfortable setting,” and the group has more than met this goal. “I am very happy with what we have done. We have created a group that has some dedicated members, and set up a communications structure to get the word out. It is not huge yet, but with time, it will only get bigger.”

The Divas meet at a different location each month; events may include a brewery tour, an informational gathering followed by lunch (and a few pints, of course), or a party at an area brewery. According to Cindy Hegenauer, a founding member of the group, there are currently about 25 regular attendees, representing “almost the whole spectrum of female craft beer drinkers.”

On the other side of the state, Grand Rapids is home to the PussyCat Beer Guild. Inspired by the Pink Boots Society and initiated by HopCat owner Michele Sellers and HopCat staff, the Guild dates to the summer 0f 2008. “We hoped to encourage women to be open and bold about their appreciation for good beer, whether they’re a brewer, an aficionado, or simply just interested in learning more,” explains Sheryl Rose Marshall, who is involved in running the club. “We’ve realized that goal in varying degrees over the years, and continue to attract new members and interest in what we do.”

Ladies of the PussyCat Beer Guild

Meeting attendance usually hovers below 10 women, although there were 20 females at the largest meeting and there are more than 50 “members” in the Facebook group. “Feedback has been excellent,” confides Sheryl. Sheryl admits that there is a certain amount of preaching to the choir, as “nearly every woman who has come to a meeting was already on the craft beer bandwagon in some way.”

But, all members ultimately benefit from the enthusiasm and combined knowledge of the group. “We’ve had a few women who had never homebrewed and were excited to attend our off-site group brew days to learn how. Once in awhile, someone will come in and say she only likes a certain type of beer, but we’ve been successful in encouraging her to try new things by evaluating what it is that she likes about the beer she does drink, then finding a beer in a different style with the attributes she expressed as desirable.”

On a side note, “men often comment that they wish the woman in their life would get involved with us,” says Sheryl.

Also in Grand Rapids is the Ladies Ale Society at Schmohz Brewery, where 50 to 80 ladies attend meetings. Begun with a beer tasting event in October 2010 and scheduled for a meeting in early November 2011, this Society centers on encouraging women “to try beers that they normally might be steered away from,” says Schmohz “Beer Engineer” Chas Thompson. “Too many times, I see ladies being overly influenced by male companions and not getting the opportunity to try very many things,” Chas says.

Although not the brewery-home of a structured club, Wolverine State Brewing Company in Ann Arbor hosted their first “Real Women Drink Beer” event in June 2011. The female-centric night was such a success that similar events are now in the works on a twice-yearly basis, with the next get-together scheduled for February 2012.

As director of sales and marketing E.T. Crowe (also known as The Beer Wench) explains, “I know the traditional ‘Ladies’ Night’ is a ploy to get women in by offering them drink specials. I wanted this to be a true Ladies Only Night where we could gather, meet, drink, learn and relax with a little pampering action.” Notice how she just slipped the “learning” right in there? Perhaps lured by free massages, munchies and henna tattoos, it was the first visit to a “beer bar” for many of the ladies who attended.

"The Beer Wench" leads a tour at Wolverine

“I worried a little that I’d get my regular crowd,” continues E.T. “Nothing wrong with regulars mind you! But I really wanted to offer this as something new for women who would never in a million years consider coming to a “tap room” to meet their friends to enjoy a craft beer. I would guess the crowd was split 20/80, with a solid 80 percent either completely new to the place or to craft beer generally.”

Women living far from the bustle of Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids or Detroit should not count themselves out. It only takes a handful of members to create a successful women’s beer appreciation group. Starting a group can be as easy as visiting a local brewery and talking with a brewer, bartender or female mug club member about when an inaugural meeting could occur, and how to get the word out. Social web sites like Facebook, Meetup and Google and Yahoo Groups also make ascertaining interest, building membership and inter-group communication simple and quick, whether or not there’s a brewery nearby. And, already-established national or international groups are yet another option for finding a female beer clan.

Women and craft brews are a perfect match, and women flourish within groups of “sisters;” female clubs devoted to the enjoyment of craft beer are a natural culmination. Michigan, as The Great Beer State, has a bright future ahead of her, full of passionate groups of ladies who appreciate, evaluate and enthusiastically quaff our outstanding brews.

Drinking for two?

I wrote this for the July/August 2011 issue of the Michigan Beer Guide, as part of a small series on Women & Craft Beer. This is the longer version of the article. It is reprinted with permission.

You’re enjoying a favorite brew at a local Michigan brewpub when you glace across the room to see an obviously pregnant woman sidle up to the bar. Instead of asking for a glass of water, she orders a honey-hued ale and proceeds, gleefully, to take a sip. Is this woman crazy? Is she the worst mother-to-be imaginable? Doesn’t she care about the health of her unborn child?

There are extremely rigid social mores surrounding alcohol in our country, and perhaps the most severe of these revolve around motherhood. From formal statements issued by health organizations to glaring looks that speak volumes, pregnant and nursing mothers get the message in no uncertain terms: “even one drop of alcohol will endanger your child!” While the impetus behind admonitions of this nature may spring from a sincere desire to keep babies safe, the effect is to make an expectant or breastfeeding mother’s body public property, and to demean her ability to make informed decisions.

Do a quick online search for recommendations on drinking alcohol while pregnant or breastfeeding, and you won’t find many US-based resources that even allow for a few ounces of beer. This total-abstinence policy arose after researchers identified fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in the 70s; the Surgeon General issued warning statements about drinking during pregnancy soon after. The government made no distinctions about quantity: from that time on, any and all drinking during pregnancy became taboo in the US.

This (Photoshopped!) pregnant lady is promoting Brazil’s Nova Schin non-alcoholic beer.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns, “drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause a baby to be born with birth defects and have disabilities,” and that “there is no known amount of alcohol that is safe to drink while pregnant.” True, alcohol-related birth defects and disabilities are real, tragic, heartbreaking, and are 100 percent preventable. But is a pregnant woman really taking a gamble with her baby’s health by consuming half a glass of beer with her dinner?

In November 1996, the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) published Guideline No. 9, consisting of conclusions and recommendations concerning alcohol consumption during pregnancy: “No adverse effects on pregnancy outcome have been proven with a consumption of less than 120 [grams] of alcohol (around 15 units) per week [1 unit = 1/2 pint].” The RCOG didn’t give pregnant women license to be lushes, however; they recommended limiting consumption to no more than one drink per day.

A study that evaluated over 130,000 pregnancy outcomes, published in 1998 in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, showed that moderate alcohol consumption (2-14 well-spaced drinks per week) during the first trimester of pregnancy is not associated with increased risk of fetal malformations.

On a more personal and less scientific note, when I was an au-pair in the Netherlands, the mother I worked for told me that her doctor actually recommended an occasional glass of red wine during pregnancy. (In Europe, they do in general have a different, more flexible attitude toward pregnant moms and alcohol.)

I am emphatically not implying that moms-to-be should exploit the upper limits of the studies mentioned above. A fetus is affected by what a mother drinks, and it is ignorant to claim otherwise. The point here is that fear-mongering abounds in the US. Under the supposition of minimizing risk to their babies, pregnant women are expected to attain some “perfect behavior” that includes forswearing soft cheese, canned tuna, fresh apple cider, salad bars, sushi, sprouts, herbal teas, lunch meats, diet soda pop, coleslaw, caffeine, tap water, stress, pesticides, house paint, cleaning fluids, hot tubs, electric blankets, most prescription drugs, microwaves, getting overheated, hair dye, X-rays, roller coasters, reptiles, nail polish, sleeping on one’s right side and changing cat litter boxes, to name a few. Sure, some of these warnings are imperative, but just reading this list makes me crave a tranquil moment, savored over a few sips of craft beer.

So how does an expecting mom navigate this sea of prohibitions? In the case of alcohol, studies clearly demonstrate that a mother’s heavy drinking is dangerous for a fetus. However, negative effects of an occasional, small tipple have not been shown.

I believe that, overwhelmingly, moms have their babies’ best interests at heart, and so although these are not decisions to take lightly, they are decisions mothers can be trusted to make. By no means do I think that pregnant women are entitled to a nice beer buzz every once in a while. But for women who delight in the camaraderie or the feeling of small celebration that is often linked to imbibing, an occasional, diminutive drink can help them feel like themselves again; like they’re not being cut off from their old life and friends by their unborn baby. Half a glass of beer with dinner once a week, a champagne toast at a wedding, or a small glass of wine sipped on date night are pleasures of life that I believe pregnant women should feel empowered to decline or embrace.

Did I drink when I was pregnant? The short answer is, not really. I knew that, for me, half a beer would only work to leave me craving more, rather than to satisfy. I did, however, attend two Michigan Brewers Guild festivals while pregnant. At each, I kissed a few well-chosen samples, wetting my lips enough to know I was really, seriously looking forward to a pint of Short’s Hangin’ Frank [update: now renamed ControversiALE] or an evening with Jolly Pumpkin’s Madrugada Obscura.

A French poster from yesteryear reads (by my own loose translation), “Beer is nutritious. This one is drinking, This one does not drink.”

Which brings me to the next phase: breastfeeding. The entire time I was pregnant, I had a misty, rose-colored fantasy of enjoying frosty craft brews with my friends while my new baby slept sweetly in another room. Cut to reality: my baby screams unending with colic, and it dawns on me that I can’t just freely swig high-gravity beers while breastfeeding. In fact, most of my online searches cautioned me not to drink at all.

However, drinking while breastfeeding is not off-limits. Quoting an article from the June 1996 Journal of Human Lactation, “a mother who chooses to drink should feed her infant before drinking. Usually breastfeeding occurs about every two to three hours. In that time frame, the alcohol from one drink (12 oz. of 4.5% beer, 4 oz. of 12% wine, or 1.5 oz. of 86% proof liquor) is out of her system before another feeding occurs. The mother’s milk is then alcohol free.” So, there are options if a mom just craves a beer; if a long night of brews with some friends, or perhaps a beer festival, is in order, it’s best to pump beforehand so baby has plenty of untainted milk to drink, get a sitter, “pump and dump” for comfort’s sake if necessary, and enjoy!

An old ad for Blatz reads, “A case of Blatz Beer in your home means much to the young mother, and obviously baby participates in its benefits. The malt in the beer supplies nourishing qualities that are essential at this time and the hops acts as an appetizing, stimulating tonic.”

Nursing moms clearly have plenty of latitude, while pregnant moms should exercise restraint. In the October 2007 issue of the British Medical Journal, an obstetric consultant asserted, “there is no evidence that alcohol in moderation causes harm to unborn babies.” Moms-to-be have enough on their plates (or taken off their plates, as the case may be) without worrying about whether one small glass of homebrewed chocolate stout is going to cause birth defects. And, according to any levelheaded research that actually addresses this matter, it won’t.

Most mothers want to make the best choices possible for their babies, and to make those decisions, they should be equipped with facts – not blanket statements and scare tactics. A mom shapes a child for a lifetime; let’s supply her with the real facts and trust her to start right from the very beginning. That pregnant woman at the brewpub, who has done her research and weighed the facts, likely won’t even finish half of her glass. So let’s send a smile her way as she revels in a few sips of local, handcrafted beer.

This one’s for the ladies

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

Chicks don’t like beer. Step outside of the craft beer community, and this misconception runs rampant. Only, it’s not exactly a falsehood. Although I know lots of  women who absolutely adore microbrews, in general, beer is not the female drink of choice, so what’s going on? To get to the heart of this matter, I interviewed over a dozen female beer drinkers, allowing me to take a highly subjective and unscientific look at women and craft beer.

To begin with, let’s consider women and beer in general. According to last year’s Gallup poll, just 27 percent of women prefer beer over wine or liquor (compared with well over 50 percent of men). In other words, when given a choice of alcoholic beverages, nearly three-fourths of women will not choose a beer. And who could blame them? For those 27 percent of women who prefer beer, and the rest who don’t, “beer” very likely means a mass-produced fizzy yellow beverage. Statistics from the Brewers Association corroborate this notion: the American craft brewing sales share in 2010 was 4.9 percent by volume and 7.6 percent by dollars; either way you slice it, it’s a small share of all beer sales. Clearly, there are whole swathes of people out there who, despite having an affinity for libations, do not have a clue about craft beer.

It’s no surprise, then, that the majority of American women would rather sip a cocktail or a glass of wine than crack open a beer. It all starts with and comes back to the flavor, but that’s not the whole story. There’s also the fact that macrobrew beer is predominantly marketed to men: ponder the legions of commercials featuring “guys being guys” and sharing a few brewskis, commercials in which women are either major buzz-kills or vapid, bikini-clad eye candy. Add to this the stereotypes of beer-bonging frat boys, beer bellies, and guys swilling down yet another cold one while shouting at the TV screen, and the tale becomes more complete. Overall, the beer scene can be less than attractive for women.

But, it doesn’t need to be this way, and in many circles, it isn’t. Gallup also tells us that the percentage of women who prefer beer over wine or liquor rose 6 percent from 2009 to 2010, so the relationship between women and beer is on the mend. And I imagine that craft beer, with its welcoming and vibrant society, wonderful array of offerings, and more sophisticated character, is at least partially to thank for this uptick.

In contrast to “big beer,” female drinkers and craft beer are a natural combination. After all, women were historically the first brewers. And, if women are seeking delicious beverages, the world of craft beer offers an almost unending assortment of widely-varying options.

In an effort to examine on a very small scale the relationship between beer, craft brews and the fairer sex, I interviewed ladies in attendance at the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival. With a sample size of approximately .2 percent, my findings are far from iron-clad, but a few interesting trends and points did emerge.

I started by asking the all-important question of how each woman first “discovered” craft beer. As it turns out, there was a pretty even split between ladies who came to craft beer on their own or with girlfriends, versus those who were introduced to the scene by a male partner. When boyfriends or husbands turned a woman on to craft beer, it was usually because he started brewing himself, and she got sucked in.

What I found most interesting was when ladies learned of craft beer through get-togethers or events; these ranged from a beer club to a homebrew class staged at a library. So yes, reaching out in friendly ways and “beer evangelizing” does work! In one case, it was the Festival itself that brought an adventuresome lass to craft beer: Annie came from Chicago with her girlfriends to experience the Beer Fest. “This is something totally new for me,” she confided. “My girls brought me out for this; they told me it’d be a great time. This is going to be my first one and I can’t wait!” When I spoke with her, she was in line to sample her first sip of craft beer ever! For me, this is exciting stuff.

Next, enthusiastic answers about favorite beer styles easily shattered the illusion that all women prefer lighter beers or those that are sweet and fruity. Yes, some women did prefer Kolsh- or Pilsner-style beers, and others craved brews with strong fruit flavors. But the female palate is far from uniform. For example, Lauren from Ann Arbor is a self-proclaimed bitter beer addict who declared, “I like my beers to hurt!” One pattern that arose is that many women identified their taste in beer styles as seasonal, ranging from strong stouts and porters in the winter months to refreshingly hoppy IPAs in the heat of summer.

Finally, every lady I spoke with confirmed that it was the flavor of corporate domestic beer that had kept her away from the beverage, but once she tried craft beer, she was hooked. For example, Laura from Grand Rapids said that she used to prefer mixed drinks until her then-boyfriend started brewing; now, she explained, “Craft beer is my beverage of choice, but I don’t drink domestics.”

“I eschewed beer for most of my life,” shared Patti from Ann Arbor. “I drank Labatt’s from time to time. But, then I had craft beer, and was like, ‘Oh my God!'” Said Bobbi from Grand Rapids, “Before [my husband started brewing], I’d drink wine or liquor. I didn’t enjoy those mass-produced beers; I didn’t find them tasty, so I didn’t drink them at all.” Once  she was introduced to craft beer, however, she never looked back. Craft beer, she said, “has become our hobby and our passion. I always buy craft beer now; Michigan craft beer.”

The message that women actually love beer, specifically craft beer, came across loud and clear. Of course, these ladies were at a craft beer festival, so this is no great revelation, and of course my results are skewed. But the point is that not one woman expressed that she was just there because her husband or boyfriend dragged her along; these ladies were present to experience craft beer on their own terms. Connected with this is the actuality that, once they are exposed to it, women are often extremely receptive to and appreciative of craft beer. This makes it clear to me that the craft brewing community must make a concerted effort to reach out to the female population. This is a huge, virtually untapped segment of the population; I would take careful note of this if I owned or worked for a microbrewery.

Craft beer is flavorful; craft beer has nuance and depth and finesse; craft beer has yet to be dominated by male-centric, perhaps sexist marketing campaigns; for these reasons and more, women and craft beer are a perfect match. All that’s needed is some beer-advocacy and friendly educational efforts to distinguish craft beer as a very different entity from commercial brew, to help overcome the general female rejection of beer as a whole, and to allow ladies to truly appreciate all that craft beer has to offer. The rest will take care of itself. I’m a believer. I can imagine a world where one day, a double IPA or an imperial stout are known as “chick drinks.”

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.”

Happy Fifth Anniversary, Hideout Brewing Company!

In honor of one of my favorite brewery’s fifth anniversaries, I’m posting the piece I wrote for the Michigan Beer Guide when the Hideout first emerged. This was originally published in the May 2005 issue of MBG as “Discover Grand Rapids’ Newest Hideout,” by me, Brenda Cooke. Some details may be out of date, but most everything still rings true! Reprinted with permission of MBG.

If you live in or ever visit West Michigan, you may get the sense that you’re still stuck in the days of prohibition, due to the conservative climate and curious laws dealing with the sale of alcohol. Fortunately, West Michigan beer lovers can now tip back a few pints at the new Hideout Brewing Company, a prohibition-themed microbrewery where the delicious beer flows freely.

Approaching Hideout BC, you may get a sense of an exclusive speakeasy due to the off-the-beaten-path setting and the drooping pines that silently guard the entranceway. Once inside, the brewery has an expansive feel, with the lounge and bar area downstairs and the second floor loft located just above the bar. Former patrons of the Hair of the Frog Brewery, which used to operate in this building, may remember the location. However, owner and brewer Ken McPhail has worked hard to change up the look and the feel of the new brewery. The comfy, homemade chairs and poured-concrete bar remain the same, but now there are rich red and orange walls set off by massive photographs of gangsters and bootleggers; the new décor promotes a laid-back and cozy feeling.

But of course, the beer is what I’m here for. I was quite happy to be living in these post-prohibition times as I sampled Ken’s six beers, and found each one to be satisfying and true to style. The 5.5% ABV Smuggler’s Hazelnut Stout is a dark, opaque brew with a strong hazelnut flavor accentuated by coffee and cream that finishes clean. Ken believes in keeping things local: this stout is brewed with Hazelnut Crème coffee beans from the Schuil Coffee Company in Grand Rapids. Ken’s second stout offering is the 5.6% ABV Cement Shoe Stout, dark as the bottom of Lake Michigan, featuring a good balance of hops and malts; full-bodied, yet clean and refreshing. The clear, deep brown 5.6% Nitro Stout is the Cement Shoe on nitrogen: it has a lasting, creamy head and boasts roasty notes with a hint coffee. In the traditional Pilsner style, the golden 5.2% Purple Gang Pilsner is hoppy and slightly sweet with a crisp finish. Hop lovers will want to try the 6.6% ABV amber-hued Bootleg IPA, and are sure to enjoy the classic, faintly oaky flavor complimented by a touch of creaminess and a long finish. Slightly cloudy, the Crusaders’ Weisen weighs in at 5% ABV and is crisp and bright with a hint of lemon. The beers are offered at the bar in pitchers, pints, 12 oz. glasses, or in a sampler of five; get them to go in growlers or kegs.

If by chance you’re looking for something other than beer, Hideout tenders a variety of different homemade libations. Sauvignon Blanc, White Zinfandel and Shiraz are all available on draught. A hearty ~13% ABV mead is not too sweet, and is made from honey gathered in nearby Hudsonville, MI. The lightly carbonated cider owes its crisp flavor to locally grown apples from Robinette’s in Grand Rapids. These selections are a real treat for West Michiganders; as Ken observes, “no one else in town offers homemade wines, ciders, and meads.”

The drinks served at Hideout Brewing Company are so tasty for good reason. Each one is hand crafted by Ken McPhail, who has a long and rich history in the world of brewing. Ken homebrewed for 10 years before getting into the business, and then worked his way from the bottom up, beginning in the packaging and cellaring area of the Kalamazoo Brewing Company. He worked for Bell’s in Kalamazoo in the mid-1990s, and remembers back when it was just “a hole in the wall.” At West Side Brewing, NY, where he got to meet with top representatives from Anheuser-Busch, he gained a perspective of the “other side” of the brewing scene. From 2000 to 2003, he brewed for Big Buck Brewery in Grand Rapids.

Ken explains that he’s “been tracking the industry for a long time” (so it’s not surprising that he has “read the Michigan Beer Guide since it first came out”). Over the years, he’s been able to form a good “sense of how breweries start out and grow.” Now the proud owner of his own brewery, Ken describes his business as a “throw-back, grassroots brewing company [that is] more comparable to a home-brewery than to a commercial brewery, or even a microbrewery.” Ken brews his beers in an old-fashioned system with a homemade, tilt mash tun and a 5-barrel kettle. The open top fermentation offers “a nice way to brew that supplies more flavor.” Ken comments, “it’s a nice thing that Grand Rapids actually has a brewing community. I want to carry on that grassroots brewing tradition.”

This brewery is Ken’s baby: he runs the show, from brewing beers to tending bar to dealing with vendors. “It began as a one-person operation,” remarks Ken, but is quick to add, “My wife’s been helping me a ton.” [Writer’s note: Boss Lady Laura McPhail is certainly an indispensible part of the business!] But Hideout BC isn’t Ken’s only baby…his 2-year-old daughter will be joined by a brand new bundle of joy by the release of this publication. Ken worked furiously to get the brewery up and running, and his hard work certainly paid off when Hideout celebrated its grand opening on June 11, 2005 with food, live music, and beer specials.

Visitors to Hideout Brewing Company can relax in the non-smoking bar area downstairs, or play darts and foosball and perhaps enjoy some live music in the loft upstairs (which is smoker-friendly). Available munchies include soft pretzels and free popcorn. Hideout Brewing Company is located at 3113 Plaza Dr. NE in Grand Rapids, just north of the intersection of Plainfield Ave. and I-96. From Plainfield, turn east onto Lamberton Lake Dr. (look for Hansen Collision on the corner), and then make the first right onto Plaza Dr. After the few bends in the road, the brewery (which shares the building with Blue Spa, formerly Hubba Tubba) will be on your right. For more information, give Ken a call at 616-361-9658, or visit the web site: www.hideoutbrewing.com.

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!

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.

Drink local (and choose your container carefully)

Here’s the third installment in my Michigan Beer Guide series focusing on great beer and living sustainably. This piece is reprinted with the permission of the Michigan Beer Guide. Cheers!

By now, we’ve all heard the call to “eat local.” But what about making the choice to “drink local?” As with the choices we make about the foods eat, the decisions we reach concerning which beer to drink can have an immense effect on the health of our planet.

The “eat local” call to action is based on the ideas that locally-sourced food is fresher, and it promotes better air quality by eliminating the need for long-distance air or ground transportation. Although it’s a hotly debated topic, eating local may even be better for air quality and reducing pollution than eating organic. Also, choosing local foods strengthens local economies by keeping money in the community.

We reap similar benefits when we make the choice to drink local. But, this may be easier said than done. Most beers, whether microbrewed or mass-produced, are not made with ingredients grown on the brewery’s doorstep. Grains are usually transported in, and although local hops are catching on, the majority must still be sourced from the Pacific Northwest or European countries such as Germany or England. There are exceptions in the world of brewing; for example, many German beers are made with relatively local ingredients. That’s great for Germans, but this local advantage is lost when German beers are shipped over the ocean.

Clearly, there are several aspects to consider in the quest to drink local. Ingredients are one of these, and transportation is another. With trucks and vehicles spewing greenhouse gasses as they bring us food and drink, transportation is a major environmental concern, and the container holding your beer is one part of this puzzle.

Glass, the material preferred by many fine breweries to hold their wares, is heavy. The heavier the cargo load, the more fuel is required for transport, resulting in more greenhouse gas emissions. A May 2009 article on Treehugger.com, “Eat Local, Drink Local Beer,” shares the following numbers: A 0.5 liter of German Hefeweizen from Munich in a glass bottle weighs roughly 0.75 kg. Trucking this beer from Munich to Hamburg, then shipping it to New York, results in 82 grams of greenhouse gas emissions per bottle. Transporting the beer to the center of the country could add up to 28 grams of gas emissions per bottle.

While an empty glass bottle tips the scale at about 6 ounces, an empty beer can weighs less than an ounce, which amounts to a great weight difference when considering a whole shipment of beer. From this perspective, if you choose to purchase a beer that was created any significant distance from where you eventually consume it, aluminum is the preferable container.

To evaluate the greater environmental picture, step back from the local issue and the weight question to judge the materials themselves.

As a raw material, glass wins out over aluminum. Glass is made from silica, which is relatively accessible, while the bauxite required to make aluminum is mined at high environmental costs.

But that’s not the end of the story, or at least it shouldn’t be. Recycling is a crucial part of “drinking green,” so please recycle, regardless of whether or not a 10-cent deposit was involved. In the aluminum versus glass debate, the former gains a clear advantage in the recycling arena.

Overall, Americans recycled over 54 percent of their aluminum cans in 2008, according to the Aluminum Association. In states like Michigan, where a deposit is required on bottles and cans, up to 97 percent of empties are returned.

As a result, most beer cans contain 40 percent recycled aluminum, which is great news considering the fact that a can made from recycled aluminum requires 95 percent less energy to manufacture than one made from virgin materials.

American beer bottles, on the other hand, typically contain only 20 to 30 percent recycled glass, and the energy savings for creating a bottle from recycled glass as compared to a bottle from virgin materials are only about 26 percent. But recycling glass still has enormous merit. According to the Glass Packaging Institute, over a ton of natural resources are conserved for every ton of glass that’s recycled, and for every six tons of recycled container glass used, a ton of carbon dioxide is reduced.

Taking weight and material production into account, aluminum is the better container choice for non-local beers. The problem is, only a small percentage of craft beers are available in cans. In Michigan, Keweenaw Brewing Company currently bucks the bottle trend. But to enjoy most craft brews, glass is the sole option lining the shelves. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Americans got our act together and rediscovered reusable glass bottle programs? For now, that may be wishful thinking. The best choice for minimal environmental consequence, then, is to just drink beer locally.

Drinking beer at the location it’s actually made is ideal. This eliminates the transportation dilemma, and of course ensures you the freshest beer possible.

But if you’re thirsting for craft brews from across the state or halfway around the world, you can enjoy these with less environmental impact by making a few easy choices.

First, frequent a pub that’s nearby. You can completely negate any environmental benefits of drinking local if you drive a significant distance to enjoy a particular brew. A bar within walking or biking distance is best, but even if you have the drive, the closer, the better.

Second, sample those coveted beers on draught. Although kegs are indeed heavy, a 15.5-gallon keg actually averages out to about 3 ounces of packaging per 12-ounce serving, about half the weight of one glass bottle. And, filling reusable glasses from a keg precludes the use of dozens of bottles or cans. Kegs are also reusable and refillable, lasting up to 20 years. When it’s time to return home, simply fill up a reusable growler.

One useful, though potentially difficult, way to determine your beverage’s eco-friendly status (or lack thereof) is to consider its life cycle, or all the environmental impacts produced by or required for its existence. A March 2008 article in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment focused the life cycle of an Italian lager. According to this assessment, drinking beer on draught instead of from a bottle lowers the environmental impact by 68 percent.

Of course, for the ultimate in local brew, brew your own. Purchase ingredients locally if possible, keg your beer or reuse your glass bottles, and enjoy great beer without ever leaving home.

Homebrew is likely the best “drink local” option, with draught beer brewed onsite at a local brewery coming in a close second. Locally-brewed draught beer at a nearby pub ranks next, followed by any draught choice enjoyed at a neighborhood establishment. Beer from afar in aluminum cans places after that, and sadly, non-local beer in glass bottles finishes off the list as the least environmentally friendly choice.

You may not be ready to swear off all Belgian beers, but you can make a commitment to make a difference in the New Year by making more choices to drink local. You’ll support your local economy, support creative local brewmasters, and enjoy a uniquely local experience.

Down the drain: the crucial connection between brewing and water conservation

This is the second installment in a series that I’m writing for the Michigan Beer Guide, focusing on great beer and living sustainably. For the Beer Guide, I write under my pen name, Brenda Cooke. This piece is reprinted with the permission of the Michigan Beer Guide. Cheers!

To make excellent beer, you’ve got to start with pure, great-tasting water. Any good brewer, from the head of brewing operations at a national corporation to an occasional dabbler in the kitchen, understands and honors this tenet. In the Great Lakes region, it may seem like we’re blessed with an unlimited supply of this essential ingredient. Yet although the Great Lakes represent over 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, the supply is not boundless. As brewers and craft beer lovers, in order to safeguard this resource for the future, we must view our fortunate location as a responsibility and a privilege rather than a license to waste.

In the process of brewing beer, the leading area of waste is water use. Depending on your source, the industry standard is around six to 12 gallons of water consumed for each gallon of beer produced, with some estimates coming in much higher. “One consulting firm estimated the real water footprint of brewing beer to be 20 gallons of water to yield one gallon of beer, when the water used in malting barley is factored into the equation,” shares Lucy Saunders, beer and food writer and developer of the Web site beercook.com.

Undoubtedly, the most water-intensive component of the brewing process is washing and sanitizing. From brew kettles to utensils to hoses to fermenters, everything that comes in contact with the ingredients must be sanitized, and that demands water. Water is also lost in the long boiling process, released in the form of steam. Finally, cooling the wort with a heat exchanger is a favorite method of many brewers. In a heat exchanger, cold water runs through tubing to cool the hot wort. Depending on how the resulting hot water is handled, this method has great potential for either water reuse or for waste.

Although the brewing process inevitably demands significant quantities of water, it’s vital that the brewing industry is at the forefront of efforts to preserve water quality. Since beer itself is over 90 percent water, we must conserve the main ingredient if we’d like to continue to enjoy our favorite beverage.

There are environmental benefits to conserving water, but there is also a financial incentive. A recent article in the Virginia Gazette, entitled “Is brewery water next big issue?,” focused on the subject from an economic standpoint. This article dealt with Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Williamsburg brewery, which uses more than three million gallons of water a day and well over one billion gallons of water each year. Struggling with utility costs, the brewery underwent a consumption analysis. As a result, the Williamsburg brewery implemented new procedures for reclaiming water in brewing and packaging processes, decreasing total water consumption by 20 percent in a just few months.

Sauders further illustrates the economic angle, stating that water rates in Milwaukee County in her home state of Wisconsin will go up by 28 to 36 percent next year. “If some simple operational changes will let brewers save 15 percent, then those costs can be minimized with just a little effort.” Saunders stresses that the cost benefits will quickly make up for any initial investments.

Much to their credit, many craft breweries across the world are already built upon standards of sustainability. Of course, all craft brewers are not automatically staunch environmentalists. However, they are often independent, open-minded and intimately tied to their own regions and communities, three factors that are likely to lead to questioning outdated, wasteful industry models and developing new values and methods.

For example, Long Trail Brewing Co. of Vermont employs unique processes that allow them to use only two gallons of water to make a gallon of beer. At New Belgium in Colorado, the methane produced by process water treatment fuels a combined heat and power engine. Odell Brewing Company in Colorado hopes to use only 2.9 gallons of water for each gallon of beer in 2010.

Although breweries of all sizes are striving to use water efficiently, there will always be room for improvement. “I think it’s too easy to waste water through inattention; using water as a broom instead of using a floor squeegee, for example,” says Saunders. If breweries are going to attain the water efficiency rate recommended by the United Nations of five gallons of water to make a gallon of beer, efficient water use must be a cornerstone of all brewing practices.

Water conservation is an international concern, but recent events focused a spotlight on this issue in states surrounding the Great Lakes. Specifically, about a year ago, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact successfully established new water conservation and environmental protection standards for water use within this region.

“The Great Lakes is the perfect place to showcase the need for water efficiency,” observes Thomas E. Pape, technical advisor to the Alliance for Water Efficiency. “In the past, everyone considered water conservation as an issue only affecting the ‘Wild Wild West.’ Yet the Great Lakes represents the greatest fresh water reserves in the world, and now it is known that even this massive resource is under dire threats,” continues Pape, who is not only a national expert on water conservation, but is also a certified beer judge and an avid homebrewer. “The Great Lakes issues bring forth the shocking truth that every area of the United States needs to be concerned with water efficiency. If the Great Lakes Region has a problem, it proves that our country can no longer assume that a safe and reliable water supply is a constant.”

“We live on a thirsty planet, and there are water wars already raging in other parts of the world,” confirms Saunders. “Local breweries need to be aware of water conservation techniques that can save water and save money.” To that end, Saunders is organizing the Great Lakes Craft Brewers & Water Conservation Conference, scheduled for late October 2009 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“The Great Lakes Compact requires that all businesses in the basin begin conserving water,” explains Saunders. “I’ve been worried about the costs of water, combined with the costs of raw materials and potentially increasing taxes, creating a real financial burden for small craft brewers.  The state of emergency drought we experienced in Wisconsin this year was so severe, it seemed like a good time to reach out.” The conference will focus on the legal and economic impacts of the Great Lakes Compact for craft brewers, with sessions on water conservation, retrofits for water efficiency in small brewhouses, best practices and designs for cost savings and reuse of water.

Craft brewers aren’t the only ones who must be concerned with conserving water. Homebrewers can also respect this precious resource with a few simple changes. Making prudent use of washing and sanitizing water is an easy way to start. For example, spray down the inside of a pot or bucket using a spray bottle filled with sanitizing solution rather than filling the vessel with sanitizing solution. Saunders recommends investing in a pressurized nozzle for your kitchen sink and using burst rinsing for cleaning and sanitation.

If you use a wort chiller, collect the resulting hot, clean water in carboys or camping jugs. You can use this water for cleaning, or allow it to cool and then use it for watering your lawn or gardens. Pape adds that all beer lovers, brewers or not, can also play a huge part in water conservation: consider the hidden water waste in the later cycle of the beer, the disposal. To put it bluntly, with an average disposal rate of 17 pints of water to dispose of one pint of beer, think before you flush.

“The Great Lakes region has many, many, many important issues regarding water, and brewing is one of them,” concludes Pape. “A reliable, pure and safe water supply is vital to beer production. Sustainable brewing practices must include efficient water use. The means of creating the beer and the beer’s total impact on the environment is as important as the taste of the beer itself.”