Brew Your Own

Posted on February 28, 2011 by Jacob

This weekend featured my first brew day in almost a year. I’ve been brewing my own beer now for about eight years and it’s a hobby I really enjoy, although I can’t figure out why I took so long between beers. I ran out of my last beers several months ago and where I live, it’s really hard to find decent beer if I don’t make it myself.

This post is appropriate for a green blog simply because homebrewing is innately green in some ways. You have full control over your ingredients and there is a growing selection of organic malts and hops on the market now. You can even grow some of the ingredients on your own if that’s your thing, although you’ll probably leave the malting up to the professionals. Also, you’re making the beer where it will be consumed, so the whole food miles thing is taken care of. However, there are a few things you can do (and avoid doing) to make your brewing process a little greener. A quick word of warning. This post isn’t for someone looking to start brewing unless they’ve already read up on the basics of the craft. Instead, this is aimed more at people with a little experience looking to make their hobby a little more energy-efficient. 

First, I’m a fan of kegging my homebrew in 5-gallon soda kegs, but I have to say that bottling is the greener option. This is contrary to the way things work in commercial brewing. When the pros bottle the beer, many of those bottles will end up in the landfill and glass is an energy-intensive product to start with. Kegs, on the other hand, are returned to the brewery to be cleaned and reused. In fact, it’s illegal to not return a keg when you buy one for your party. You actually buy the beer, but you’re only renting the keg. For homebrewers, a couple of unique considerations make bottles the better option. First, the best way to acquire your bottles is to save the bottles from the commercial beer you and your friends drink. Just avoid those twist-off caps. Those bottles don’t recap so well for a homebrewer. By reusing these bottles, you’re saving them from a landfill and if you take care of them, you’ll never need to buy another bottle as long as you homebrew. Another advantage of bottles comes in refrigeration. With a keg, you basically need a dedicated beer fridge. Unless you live alone and are very efficient with your groceries, you just aren’t going to have room for even a 5-gallon keg in your regular fridge. If you’re going for the green angle, avoiding the second fridge is probably a good idea. With bottled homebrew, you can stick a few bottles in the fridge and leave the rest of your bottles in your basement or a dark closet that won’t experience too many temperature changes. The beer will be fine and you won’t use any excessive refrigeration.

If you’re brewing from extract, this next tip is not for you. If you’re mashing your own grains, however, forget the pumps. I know. I drool over the hardcore setups too, but perfectly good beer can be made with a couple of drink coolers and a tiered setup that allows you to take advantage of gravity to move hot water and wort (unfermented beer). Also, if you go with the cooler, you reduce the amount of fuel you use to keep the mash warm. You do lose the ability to easily change the mash temperature, but most of the beers you’ll ever make won’t need those fancy mash steps anyway. Really, the heating of the mash and boiling of the wort should be the only non-human energy expended on making a beer until you stick it in the fridge to drink.

Plan your brews around the weather. If you’re setting your thermostat for ideal energy efficiency, your home is going to have a wide range of temperatures throughout the year and many of those temperatures will be simply too warm or too cool for certain styles. The real problem is is the yeast. Most ale yeasts perform best in the mid 60s to low 70s. Lager yeasts prefer winter temperatures. That doesn’t mean you have to stop brewing in the summer. Saison yeasts, used for a variety of beers from Belgium, only truly flourish at temperatures your house or apartment will experience in the summer. If saisons aren’t your thing, just brew enough in the spring to last you until the fall.

Finally, easy with the cleaners. It’s true that you’ll have to use some sort of sanitizer for every batch you make, but you really don’t need chemical cleaners for every piece of brewing equipment every time. Honestly, if you clean as soon as you’re done brewing, water and a cloth can easily clean your kettles and mash tun. You’ll want to be a little more fastidious with your fermenters and bottles, but there are safe chemicals out there for the homebrewer.

Update 3/6/11: I can’t believe I forgot the whole idea that inspired this article. Brewing does produce a lot of waste in the form of spent grain. You can avoid this by buying extract, which is basically dehydrated wort, but there’s something special about taking grain and water and turning it into beer on your own. What I do with my spent grain is let my chickens and guineas feast on it. My flock will go through the remains of a 10-lb grain bill in a day and a half. This is basically how many professional brewers deal with the issue. Many have agreements with local dairy farmers who’ll stop by the brewery to pick up all of the spent grain to feed to their cattle. Before I had the birds, I actually composted the stuff, and it composts well. Finally, spent grain can be worked into bread dough to add a little texture and flavor to the resulting loaf. The stuff freezes well so you won’t have to use it all at once either.


  1. My fiance is looking to get back into homebrewing after a hiatus, and I’m very, very excited about it for many of the reasons you mentioned (but also for the good beer)

    February 28th, 2011 at 10:54 am
    Comment by The Modern Gal
  2. I’d totally do this if we had the room, but will have to wait until I live in a house. Great post!

    February 28th, 2011 at 1:05 pm
    Comment by Courtney
  3. I can understand the yeast vs. temperature thing from bread baking. Some days are just too cold to get any decent action, whereas other days are too warm and you have to be quick about it.

    One of these days I’ll finally get going on some brewing. I love beer too much not to.

    February 28th, 2011 at 2:38 pm
    Comment by mickey
  4. The main difference with bread and beer is that the yeast being too active in the bread doesn’t create offensive smells in the finished product. Ferment too warm in beer and you end up with some unpleasant stuff (or dead yeast.)

    February 28th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
    Comment by Jacob
  5. What do you do about labels? Do you only brew one beer at the time so that you know what is in the bottle even if the labels are different?

    February 28th, 2011 at 9:35 pm
    Comment by Julie
  6. Sharpie marker and an abbreviation of the style on the cap. Labels are a waste of time and resources unless you’re giving bottles as a gift.

    March 1st, 2011 at 9:12 am
    Comment by Jacob

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