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D.C.’s Sustainable Microbreweries

A fun way to keep your environmental conscious

By Maxwell Hawla | 2/16/17 12:39pm | Updated 2/16/17 2:49pm
Jaclyn Merica/American Word Magazine

No matter how dedicated you are to the cause, managing to keep up an environmentally sustainable day-to-day gets frustrating at times. Personally, the more I learn about recycling, composting and green consumption, the more clueless I feel about environmental action. Stepping out of campus’ paradisiacal bubble to witness littered streets and trash cans full of food can turn even the most positive person cynical. I especially cringe at the endless piles of beer cans, wine and liquor bottles, half-eaten meals and napkins that I know restaurants will leave unsorted and indifferently toss into the same dumpster at the end of the night.

While it’s no panacea to all of the above, local breweries offer a pragmatic yet fun way to curb some of foodservice industry’s environmental impact. This is especially true with Washington,D.C. brewing. An excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint is buying local products. Local purchases require minimal shipping and therefore minimize carbon emissions and energy consumption. On top of this, D.C. microbreweries are making a valiant effort in reducing their own companies’ carbon footprints.

Local beer readily awaits your purchase. With a steady increase in popularity the past several years, a variety of local menus and liquor stores feature dozens of D.C. microbreweries’ beers. More often, it seems vendors will sell bottles or cans, but plenty have different products on tap as well. Additionally, many breweries’ headquarters incorporate an on-site bar and/or gift shop for people to come try different brews at an affordable price-buy growlers for refill, pint and highball glasses and even clothing.

Take a few steps into 3 Stars Brewing Company’s warehouse in Takoma and you’ll be overcome with the smell of hops and yeast - it’ll become readily apparent how active they are. On the particular day I toured the microbrewery’s facilities, someone had chosen it as the venue for their birthday party. Amidst a gift shop, a tasting room and a large space full of brewing machinery, people congregated around wooden picnic tables to enjoy each other’s company over a few beers brewed in the very same room.

And this isn’t unique to 3 Stars. The main entrance of Hellbender Brewing Company’s warehouse in Manor Park leads into a pub packed with people. Every table was full when I visited. The two bartenders on staff never stopped moving and multiple groups of guests had even convened around tables to watch sports games on T.V. The brewers aim to create a sense of community to promote their local edge to consumers. In supplying transformative spaces like these, breweries like 3 Stars and Hellbender combine the desires of all customers to create a unique, holistic experience.

However, local brewers aren’t solely interested in promoting themselves. Jon Mitchell, my tour guide at 3 Stars, wore a baseball cape labelled #MadeInDC. Upon further research into their website, the Made in DC Program promotes and supports “the city’s makers” for denizens to “discover locally-made products making the District unique.” Their list of local businesses includes many of D.C.’s microbreweries, and all of them comprise a movement bigger than themselves for the public to buy local.

What’s especially great about D.C’s local breweries is that their close proximity is merely the beginning when it comes to their efforts to support environmental sustainability. Many brewers implement varying levels of sustainable practices into their production processes.

“We care about the environment,” says Mitchell. He continues to specify their effort to collect rainwater, “as a brewery, we have to be conscious of how much water we use.” Collecting rainwater reduces their water consumption and waste. 3 Stars has also made a point to switch much of their production to cans, which “[they] like because they’re more recyclable and save energy costs.”

While 3 Stars takes these basic environmental measures, Hellbender Brewing company brings their sustainable consciousness to another level. Their manufacturing process includes fine grinding their materials to reduce processing time 75 percent, a mash filter press to save grain and water and reduce carbon emissions, using their own yeast instead of importing from another vendor, reconfiguring their house lights to use less electricity, and collecting rainwater. Almost every stage of their production involves some type of sustainable modification.

“I’m pretty passionate about [sustainability] being a former scientist,” says Ben Evans, one of Hellbender’s co-founders. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to bring to starting a business, and brewing has been an interest of mine since I was nineteen.” Hellbender is even looking into grown their own hops and equipping their warehouse with solar panels on its roof.

Unfortunately, when it comes to holding businesses accountable, many companies argue that environmental regulation often mean higher production costs and therefore running the risk of a reduction in profits. While this isn’t wrong, Evans explains, “it initially is more of an upfront cost but down the road we’ll be saving money.” He cites a reduction in electricity costs and using 15 percent less grain per batch as an eventual offset to initially spending about 25 percent more on equipment than a traditional brewhouse. “For us, we’re thinking more in the long-term.”

Hellbender emphasizes sustainability to be such a prominent part of their business model that their website has an entire page about their environmental commitments.

Odds are alcohol consumption is not the first thing you think of when going green. But a lot of people drink. As it is a huge market around the world, the more money going toward local and/or sustainable breweries (or vineyards and distilleries for that matter), the better. These days, it’s imperative to revise every nuanced aspect our lives with sustainable practices.

In effect, when you vote with your dollar for local breweries in D.C., not only do you vote for local business in general, but also their sustainable practices. To me, cracking open a can of local beer sounds like a wonderful way to give environmental degradation a one-two punch to the jaw.