Alcohol – Mixing Ethics and Pleasure

Imagine having a frosty tumbler of pale ale before you on a hot, humid day. Beer – what’s not to love? One of the most pleasant surprises about adopting a “greener” lifestyle is that it’s surprisingly easy to drink beer and be socially responsible about it. The same goes for wine. The crafts of beer and wine making are among humanity’s oldest arts (the oldest known text in the world is an ancient beer recipe), so it makes sense that they should be ecologically sound.

When looking for environmentally friendly beer options, your best bet is to patronize your local or regional breweries. The Twin Cities, and Minnesota in general, are blessed with a profusion of small breweries, including the Summit Brewing Company, James Page Brewing, Minnesota Brewing (makers of the Grain Belt and Pig’s Eye brands) and the August Schell Brewing Company, just to name a few. The reason that local breweries are preferable comes down to transportation. Simply put, it takes fewer resources for locally produced beer to get to you than it does for, say, Milwaukee- or St. Louis-born beer to be trucked all the way to Minnesota. In addition, beer made for local consumption by regional breweries has less travel and shelf time, thus reducing the likelihood of added preservatives. In general, small craft breweries (such as Summit and Page) tend to pride themselves on limiting their ingredients to the four traditional natural components of beer: malted grain, yeast, water and hops. Some local breweries even offer the boiled mash of malted grain (a by-product of the brewing process) to farmers as compost.
What You Can Do
Drink locally produced beer to reduce resources used in transportation.

Brew your own beer or wine.

Drink organic wines.

Recycle your empty beer or wine bottles.

Take the Summit Brewery tour to learn more about where the stuff you’re drinking comes from.

Vegans and vegetarians, beware, not all beer and wine is made free of animal products. Many wines, especially red wine, are processed with animal blood. Beer is often processed with animal lard. (See: FOOD: Vegan)

One way to have complete control over what goes into your beer is to learn the art of home brewing. After a modest initial investment (my kit cost me about $70), home brewing rapidly becomes an economical way to produce large amounts of high-quality beer. Typically, the ingredients for a batch of beer cost between $20 to $30, and produce about 50 bottles of beer. An added “green” benefit is that home brewing allows you to reuse your old beer bottles (provided that they’re not twist-cap bottles), which cuts out the recycling third party. While the process of making beer sounds mysterious and difficult at first, the truth is that many beer styles are quite simple to make. Many types of ale require no skills more technical than boiling a pot of liquid and cleaning a lot of buckets and bottles. The key lies in the ingredients, and the staff of any home brewing shop would be glad to help you with those. In fact, most of these shops offer ready-bundled beer kits containing malt, yeast and hops for each specific kind of beer. There are several home brewing shops around the Twin Cities, and I have had nothing but good experiences with the staff in each one I’ve visited.

Wine can also be made at home, using equipment similar to what you’d use to make beer. Most home brewing shops can tell you all you need to know about wine making. When buying wine at a liquor store, it’s more difficult to buy locally, since Minnesota’s climate is not well-suited wine country and local wine production has never approached beer brewing in size or capacity. However, the very nature of wine makes it an environmentally sound product. It’s difficult to factory-farm grapes, or to mass-produce the delicate fermentation process. Some wineries specialize in producing organic wines, and the staff at any liquor store with a large wine selection should be able to help you find them.

And remember: when consuming alcohol and trying to be “green” about it, don’t forget to recycle your cans or bottles!