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Beer & Benevolence: Protecting our most precious ingredient

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 9:26am

Here at Dogfish head, we’re known for brewing with nontraditional ingredients like figs, pears, brown sugar and grapes. Since we opened in 1995, we’ve mined the entire culinary landscape to come up with our off-centered ales, but there’s one ingredient that anchors everything we do: water.

As much as brewers obsess about their hops, grains and yeast, we use more water than all three of those combined. For every barrel of beer we brew, we have to pull 4.5 barrels out of our well. The math is easy: no water = no beer. That’s why we try to do everything we can to protect this precious resource.

“Like a lot of other small, independent businesses, craft brewers take stewardship and sustainability very seriously,” says Mark Carter, Dogfish Head’s Beer & Benevolence guru. “Brewing is so water-intensive that it makes sense for us to focus a lot of our effort on water.”

Here are a few ways we make the most of our most precious resource:

  • IRRIGATION: For starters, we don’t just let our wastewater go down the drain. It’s all recaptured and sent to local farms. At the farms, the water is used in spray irrigation, where it soaks into the soil and recharges groundwater.
  • RAIN BARRELS: Instead of trashing the dozens and dozens of giant plastic ingredient barrels we go through, we donate them to organizations like the Center for the Inland Bays and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources to make rain barrels. A house that sees an inch of rain in 24 hours can produce more than 700 gallons of runoff, and rain barrels help collect and store that water. It can be used to water lawns, wash cars and clean gardening tools. Meanwhile, water bills are lowered and streams and rivers are protected from litter, fertilizer, pet waste and motor oil. 
  • NATIVE PLANTS: On April 12, about two dozen Dogfish co-workers and their friends partnered with the Delaware chapter of The Nature Conservancy to plant 500 shortleaf pine trees at the nearby Ponders Tract. The Ponders tract was once used by a lumber company for loblolly pine timber production. Now, The Nature Conservancy is transforming the loblolly plantation into a native coastal forest of oak, hickory, tulip poplar, sassafras, red maple and other hardwoods. The native trees dramatically cut stormwater runoff, prevent evaporation, encourage soil stabilization and help clean water before it makes it to local streams and rivers.

Yup, these efforts make us feel good inside, but in a not-so-roundabout way, they should make you feel good inside, too. Remember: no water = no beer.

"Beer is 90 percent water, and we can't avoid a certain amount of waste," says Carter. "But instead of looking away and plowing forward, we're thoughtful about how we handle it and strive to become a ripple in the pond of re-use and education." 

So, let's raise a glass to Earth Day, and keep the spirit alive year-round!

barrelsThese drums, which originally held ingredients for our off-centered ales, will soon be used to capture rainwater.