How to make your homebrew more sustainable

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nick-the-mash

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Making your home-brewing more sustainable

The sustainability of our food and drink is an ever-present issue, and the brewing industry is no different. Brands as large as Guinness to the aptly-named Small Beer Co are finding ways to reduce their inputs, non-brewing outputs and even optimising on packaging. This is an issue dealt with across the industry, but it’s something which can be looked at on the homebrew level as well – here are a few pointers.

Switching to all grain
Considering more sustainable and viable ingredients for your beer can really reduce the environmental impact your home brew input has. Moving to all grain brewing from extract brewing for example, reduces the additional processing which goes into producing extract. It also doubles up by eliminating the need for manufactured single-use extract packaging – so is a win all round.

Re-purpose your spent grain
You also need to consider your outputs throughout the process. Grain makes great compost, as we all know, but did you know you can also use it for baking? From amazing sourdough to standard sandwich loaf. You can even jump on the latest Lockdown Trend and make some banana bread with your leftover grain, for a treat after a long day’s brewing.

Reusing yeast
One of the more expensive parts of homebrewing, aside from the equipment, is buying yeast, and there are few better ways to slash your brewing bill than learning to reuse yeast. There are two ways to do this – reusing fresh washed yeast, or by making a yeast starter. Fresh washed yeast in particular is great if you’re starting your new brew within a week or so. However, you will need to know the specifics about harvesting and washing.

Harvesting and washing yeast
I find the best way is to start by using a conical fermenter, rather than a flat bottomed one. This means that when you have racked off your brew, the bottom cone will be filled with ‘spent’ yeast. Except it’s not spent – it’s just eaten all the sugars you gave it in your wort. It’s really better thinking of the yeast as sleeping.
The day before you bottle, to speed up the process, boil a litre of water and once cooled, store it in a sealed bottle in the fridge. This will come in handy when you’re harvesting. You’ll also want three mason jars.
After you have finished brewing, firstly sanitise everything you’ll be using. Bring the boiled water down to room temperature. Then take your fermenter with its yeast-cake at the bottom and shake and swirl it up. If the trub isn’t moving, take the boiled water from the fridge, add a bit, swish around and decant into one of the mason jars. Then seal the jar and put in the fridge for an hour. The solution will separate into three layers. The top one is yeast/water. The middle is yeast. The bottom is trub. Carefully pour the top two layers into your other two jars and discard the trub.
Put a loose seal on the jars and leave in the fridge for another hour. These should now just have two layers, yeast/water and yeast. Give the outside a quick spray with sanitiser and tightly cap and put in the fridge – they’re ready for your next brew. On brew day just take the jars out of the fridge – the yeast needs to be at room temp before pitching - carefully pour off the top layer of liquid, and swirl into your wort.

Chill more efficiently
Water usage during the chilling process before putting your wort into a fermenter can be high, but there are a few ways to reduce this. You’re probably already using a chilling coil (which uses water), but you can also try using freezer packs or even filling plastic bottles with water and freezing. As long as you sanitise these before use you can put them into your wort to chill it as your transfer. I also like to reuse my chiller water by capturing it in a large bucket which you can use to clean your kit afterwards, or even use it to water the garden.

Consider kegging
We all dislike bottling. It’s tedious and slow but it also requires several bottles for a given volume, all of which need to be cleaned and sanitised; and unless you are using swing tops, generate waste in terms of bottle caps. Kegging is better on all of these fronts, and even if you don’t want to sprint for a Corny keg, kegging kits can be purchased for much better prices than even 5 years ago. You can even reuse the pre-filled ones you can buy at any supermarket by replacing the bung at around £1 each.

Sanitise with Star San (or similar)
No rinse sanitiser not only cuts down the amount of water used, it’s just easier to use all-round. Star San, Chemsan and Puro San are all no-rinse, contact sanitisers which save water in two ways. Firstly – they don’t need rinsed. But less obviously, as they are contact sanitisers they can be sprayed onto all of the surfaces your beer will come into contact with. There is no need to sanitise all of the dead-space in the middle of your fermenter – the beer doesn’t touch this! By mixing up some solution into a spray bottle for cleaning the sides of a fermenter, you can reduce your water use for fermentation by a factor of 30!

Grab that CO2
And lastly – a personal favourite, simply because it’s overlooked so much. Grab that CO2. Let’s start with what really happens during fermentation: Yeast+ C6 H12 O6 γ 2 C2 H5 OH + 2 CO2. In other words, yeast eats sucrose and turns it into ethanol (C2 H5 OH) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide is what bubbles out of the top of the airlock. But it’s also what we purchase to purge our kegs. A single fermentation can produce enough CO2 to purge five kegs, bringing savings not only to the environment (from CO2 cartridges) but also to your wallet. To capture CO2 simply put a mylar balloon (the ones typically used for children’s cartoon characters at fairs, rather than your standard birthday balloons), over the end of your airlock during fermentation.
 
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Chill more efficiently
Water usage during the chilling process before putting your wort into a fermenter can be high, but there are a few ways to reduce this. You’re probably already using a chilling coil (which uses water), but you can also try using freezer packs or even filling plastic bottles with water and freezing. As long as you sanitise these before use you can put them into your wort to chill it as your transfer. I also like to reuse my chiller water by capturing it in a large bucket which you can use to clean your kit afterwards, or even use it to water the garden.

This is currently a big thinking point for me. With my plate cooler I use around 60 litres of water to cool the wort sufficiently. I do try to re-use some of this water for cleaning, but a lot of it still goes to waste.

I am reluctant to start dropping things into my wort. My current thinking is a cooler box with two ports fitted. Hoses connected to ports and plate cooler. Pump connected in-line to pump the water into the cooler. Cold water fills the cooler box. Ice packs or frozen plastic bottles into the cold water. The warm water exiting the plate cooler goes back into the cooler box and is re-chilled.

I hope I could get away with as little as 10 litres of water using this method.

The reason I haven't done this yet is that I'm brewing wheat beers outside mostly at the moment. The ambient temperature is around 3 - 4 degrees. There's no real hop aromas or oils to lock in with wheat beers, so I'm using the no chill method. Last time it took about 3 hours for the wort to cool sufficiently to transfer to the fermenter, and about another three hours sealed in the fermenter before reaching yeast pitching temperature. Saved a lot of cooling water!
 

phildo79

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To capture CO2 simply put a mylar balloon (the ones typically used for children’s cartoon characters at fairs, rather than your standard birthday balloons), over the end of your airlock during fermentation.
And then what contraption does this need attached to in order to purge my kegs?
 
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And then what contraption does this need attached to in order to purge my kegs?

There's a couple of threads on here already discussing Bruloonslocks. Maybe there are some ideas there.

Another option is to ferment under pressure and then transfer to keg. If one doesn't have a pressure capable fermenter, but do have kegs, then just a spunding valve (circa £30) is required.

My last wheat beer was fermented in my usual fermenter, but then after four days, when most of the yeast had dropped out but there were still slow bubbles coming from the airlock, I transferred to a corny with spunding valve fitted. Now, three days later, the keg is holding nice pressure. Eventually I'll end up with lovely carbonated beer without having to connect my CO2 bottle. While I didn't use all the CO2 generated from the first four days of fermentation, at least some of it is going to good use.

I have to admit my motivation was not environmental, rather I was concerned with the amount of foaming wheat beers make when transferring them to bottles or kegs at the end of fermentation. This was my method to reduce that oxygen exposure. Re-using CO2 was a nice side effect.

photo_2020-12-13_10-41-50.jpg
 

phildo79

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There's a couple of threads on here already discussing Bruloonslocks. Maybe there are some ideas there.

Another option is to ferment under pressure and then transfer to keg. If one doesn't have a pressure capable fermenter, but do have kegs, then just a spunding valve (circa £30) is required.

My last wheat beer was fermented in my usual fermenter, but then after four days, when most of the yeast had dropped out but there were still slow bubbles coming from the airlock, I transferred to a corny with spunding valve fitted. Now, three days later, the keg is holding nice pressure. Eventually I'll end up with lovely carbonated beer without having to connect my CO2 bottle. While I didn't use all the CO2 generated from the first four days of fermentation, at least some of it is going to good use.

I have to admit my motivation was not environmental, rather I was concerned with the amount of foaming wheat beers make when transferring them to bottles or kegs at the end of fermentation. This was my method to reduce that oxygen exposure. Re-using CO2 was a nice side effect.

View attachment 37408
I already ferment under pressure and close transfer using a blow tie. I suppose I could use the co2 in the fv to purge the keg but then you are just filling the fv up with co2 when you attach the gas to do the closed transfer. Seems a bit like six of one...

If I had more kegs I could use the remaining co2 to purge them, I suppose.

It's the whole balloon thing that intrigues me.
 
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Tap water is to all intents and purposes 100% sustainable. The only relatively small part that isn't, is the energy and chemicals use to purify it to a standard fit to drink and pump it round the system.
A typical water consumption for one person is 150 litres per day. I imagine most brewers using water for cooling use no more than 150 litres in total across a brew, outwith that which makes up the wort. So assuming one 23 litre batch lasts a month for one person thats about 3% of the typical water consumption, less if you use less than 150 litres per brew.
So to put this in context, other than 'every little helps', it's not worth losing any sleep over it, unless you are in the middle of drought and want to do your bit.
As for re-using ex supermarket mini kegs, experience tells me that's fine for one re-use but after then you are borrowed time as to whether your beer will develop a metallic taste after the lining has failed.
 
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I spent the first 26 years of my life mostly in rural Australia. I have some innate psychosomatic reaction that makes me cringe every time I see water going to "waste."
The situation regarding water sustainability in drought prone countries like Australia and countries in Africa is different to that in the UK and many other Northern European countries, where in some parts there is an abundance of rain (ever been to Bergen?). So since this is a predominantly UK brewing site I was referring to brewing here. If you brewed in another country outside the UK , the situation could well be different.
 

nick-the-mash

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It's the whole balloon thing that intrigues me.

The ballon is just a handy way to capture the CO2 which comes off the process - there are no doubt other methods, but a mylar balloon is available to anyone who has a card/gift shop near them!
 

muppix

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The situation regarding water sustainability in drought prone countries like Australia and countries in Africa is different to that in the UK and many other Northern European countries, where in some parts there is an abundance of rain (ever been to Bergen?)

Must say we’re not exactly short of the wet stuff here either, in fact if anyone wants to send me a bucket I’d gladly return it filled. ;)
 

JohnB

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I live in the driest part of the country and it always makes me cringe when I come to cooling the wort. I use a coil and volumes of cold water. I salvage some of the hot water for clean-up time, but I still dump several gallons of hot water. In a real brewery that hot water would go back into the next mash - but I can't drink that much beer . :onechug:

However on an environmental scale homebrew is a pittance, just my bank balance. But when you see 50 acres (at around 10,000 plants per acre) of cauli's/cabbage/brocoli being ploughed in simply because they got "Too Big!" for the supermarkets, or they had too many or the international price dropped - now THAT is a crying shame and consider the effort! seed sowing, planting out, the running cost of doing this, the manpower wasted, a year to grow on to size, and the supermarket just says - Not going to pay you (the farmer)! they are grown on contract for us, so we can do what we like. Now that is sick and I wouldn't worry about a couple of gallons of water! I'm lucky I know the farmer and I can fill my car boot with veg if I want. But I think of the millions across the world who would love to have those plants. So the next time you go into a "super? market!" and see a basket for the donation of goods for lost and helpless, just remember it was the super? market that invented food poverty in Britain!

So Nick makes some excellent points in the OP and things we can all consider to make our brewing more personally sustainable, So thanks, Nick, we can all do our bit - even if our stupidmarkets "Talk the talk" but aren't prepared to "Walk the walk".
 

St00

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I made and ESB recently and then once it was kegged and bottled I pitched the fresh work for a Barleywine directly on top.
Whilst I admit my reasons were primarily laziness and money saving, it does come under sustainability.

I run my counterflow chiller water through an immersion chiller, which sits in a bucket filled with ice and use as much of the hot water for clean up as I can. It's not perfect, but I don't like to waste anything if I can avoid it. I've also pitched the slurry from the Fermzilla for a saison.
 

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