RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. – Sacramento’s water stores are low and residents have been asked to cut their consumption by 20 percent. But what do you do when your livelihood is almost entirely dependent upon using water?
For David Mathis, founder and brewer of American River Brewing Company in Rancho Cordova, it was something he considered long before Gov. Brown uttered the word “drought” in January.
“When we started the build-out in 2011 and put everything in place, I was looking toward the future on what can I put in place now, what can I do to monitor and maintain the use of water,” Mathis detailed.
On average, American River Brewing Company brews about nine to 10 times per month. Their 15-barrel brew system uses roughly 460 gallons of water per session, which equates to approximately 4,600 gallons of water per month in the production of beer. On the surface, the simple solution to accommodate the call for water reduction would be to scale back production. But to cut back on water use in the brewing of beer would not only impact American River Brewing by handicapping Mathis’s ability to meet growing demand for his beers, but trickle down to affect his employees, customers and the local business economy entirely. Therefore, Mathis had to finding other ways to reduce water use, and more importantly, curb waste.
“You have to use an X amount of water every time you brew. There’s no way around it. It’s the nature of the beast,” Mathis explained. “With what we’re doing here, we’re limited on funds, we’re limited on actual room to fit in a good water recovery system. So it’s all about practice, it’s all about principles.”
From cleaning to crafting beer, water conservation measures are evident across all facets of his business. Elbow grease and consciousness are substituted in place of water and convenience. The outside of spent kegs are cleaned by hand with a bucket and cleaning pad. From there, the kegs are transferred into an automated washer that cleans out the remainder of the metallic shells.
“The keg washer is completely automated so you’re not running water on a consistent basis. About every 15th cycle, the rinse water is added to it. So you’re putting little shots of fresh water in there, and you’re not just draining water and refilling it,” Mathis explained.
Additionally, the majority of the floors in the facility, including the tasting room, are dry swept with an occasional damp mopping to clean up any stains. Only an approximately 20-foot-by-20-foot area where the main production of beer takes place is cleaned regularly with chemicals and water to ensure proper sterilization and quality control. But even then, Mathis says he and his team are vigilant about conserving resources.
“We use a measured amount of water, we’re using a mop, we’re using the chemical to clean the floor and then squeegee and brushing. It’s a lot of manual labor. It would be real easy to just take hot water and start spraying the floor down.”
Even the floor of the production area itself did not go overlooked in terms of efficiency during the build out. In addition to protecting the concrete and making it easier to clean the space, the epoxy floor coating used on the substrate saves water by eliminating absorption of chemicals and water into the porous concrete beneath.
While strict policies governing water use in cleaning the brewery play an integral part in American River Brewing Company’s efforts to save water, Mathis says one piece of equipment helps him save thousands of gallons per month.
“One of the processes that I put in place was to have a multi-stage heat exchanger. So it’s not just water-cooled, it’s also glycol-cooled.”
An exchanger transfers heat away from beer following boiling, an essential part of the brewing process.
In brewing, crushed grain is transferred into what is called a mash tun – basically a big pot designed to hold beer at a specific temperature so the hot water can leech as many of the sugars from the crushed grain as possible. Following a period of an hour or more in the mash tun, the hot sugary water, or wort (pronounced wert) is then transferred to the boil kettle where other ingredients, most commonly hops, are added to the mixture and boiled for about 60 to 90 minutes (some beers use a longer boil time). Following the boil, it’s essential for the beer’s clarity and flavor to reduce the temperature of the hot wort as quickly as possible. That cooling, or “knockout” phase, is where glycol comes into play.
Glycol, or ethelene glycol, is a class of organic compound belonging to the alcohol family that is often used as a medium for heat transfer. Mathis says Glycol cools the wort down to a desired temperature extremely fast. Without the use of glycol, a constant flow of cold water would have to be used to absorb heat and transfer it away from the beer. That takes considerably longer, equating to hundreds of gallons of water used in the process. According to Mathis, the use of glycol saves anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of water per month.
American River Brewing Co. is not alone in their use of glycol, nor in their approach to conserving resources. Mathis credited his brewing brethren for their unified approach to the current water crisis, “Honestly, [the breweries] are all pretty much aware what our natural resource levels are like and what it takes to make beer. We’re not wasteful people. We’re not just dumping water on the ground.”
There is always more that can be done, though. Mathis said he is constantly researching new methodology, equipment and strategies implemented by other breweries that can be utilized in his Rancho Cordova location.
Until then, Mathis vowed American River Brewing Company would hold true to their principles and practices to help the region through the current crisis by conserving resources while providing individuals with great craft beer.