A Sustainable Future for Local Beer

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Uinta returns to Live Green SLC! Festival this year with its solar-powered beer trailer. Photo: Ryan Stuchly

With bizarro weather patterns, rising temperatures and a seemingly mad dash toward the end of fossil fuel supplies, many of this planet’s inhabitants would agree that Earth’s environment is in trouble. We know this, and yet, the knowledge can be overwhelming to accept. When I feel the crushing horror of the post-environmental future, I reach for my favorite liquid anesthetic: beer! Ales and lagers, especially the locally brewed craft variety, are great comfort in times when every source of information seems to make the picture worse.
   
Brewing beer itself is not the most environmentally friendly business—it’s a complicated process involving a lot of water, energy and movement of heavy materials. It invariably comes with a lot of waste, which is why a local brewery working hard to offset these costs, while bringing you a high quality product, means so much to people here in Utah. Uinta Brewing has been doing its part by working toward energy self-sufficiency for over a decade. “Like any business, we all have impact and I think it’s our duty to try and do what we can to limit it,” says Lindsay Berk, Uinta’s marketing manager. She’s talking about the several high-profile moves the brewery has made covering a variety of different types of impact.
   
It started back in 2001 as Uinta moved into a new production facility on 1722 South Fremont Drive in Salt Lake. With a new building came new options, including the ability to consume electricity more responsibly. Uinta’s owner, Will Hamill, used the opportunity to make Uinta Utah’s first 100% wind-powered business by purchasing wind power from a wind farm in Wyoming—a huge achievement in this conservative state. Uinta also wanted the public to know about their efforts. “It was a big thing to talk about,” says Berk. “We wanted other companies to follow suit and do the same—to set an initiative for how it should be, watching what we’re doing as businesses.” It was then that the now familiar “Earth, Wind and Beer” entered the public discourse.
   
This milestone set the standard for what was to come as environmentally focused efforts have now become the norm at Uinta. Last year, the brewery made the move to include even lower impact solar power into their utility needs. By investing at great expense in new energy-generating technology attached to the facility’s roof, they could draw directly from the most ubiquitous and cleanest source of power anywhere. “We installed 126 solar panels on the roof, which provide for about 15 percent of our electrical capacity,” says Berk. “And we left room to be able to expand and become more solar going forward. It’s a new direction, and we wanted to be involved in it.”

Resources, as well as energy, are important to Uinta. The brewing process uses a lot of delicious malted barley, the dry material of which is left behind. Many breweries send this byproduct to the landfills, but since their inception, Uinta has been creating relationships with local Utahns to do something more creative with it. “We donate our spent grain to local ranchers,” says Berk. “We get great bacon out if it.” The grain ends up as high-grade animal feed, adding quality to locally produced food products.

Packaging is always a concern in the brewing industry and unlike Europe, where a large majority of the glass bottles containing beer are reused multiple times, we have a big problem with the waste our drinking habits produce. The industry move to aluminum cans and alternative packaging is illustrative of this economic reality. Uinta has taken steps to lessen their impact by creating a brown-glass recycling program that’s open to the public. They accept any brown glass at a large bin at the brewery and then, “We work with local post-consumers on getting it recycled versus it going to a landfill or being transferred out of state for recycling,” says Berk. This focus on local options also helps limit the energy impact of transporting very heavy materials.
   
On seemingly every front, Uinta is making an effort to do its part for the environment. As one of the largest breweries in the state, their long-term goals set trends and dictate the standard. “Ten years ago, we never would have thought solar would have been a resource we could utilize so easily,” says Berk. “I think we’re going to continue to jump on every opportunity to cut down on our impact.” In the effort to publicly call attention to that fact, and the plight of the environment in general, this will be the second year where Uinta provides beer for the Live Green SLC! Festival at Library Square. Their beer-serving trailer, with its refrigeration and carbon dioxide service will be 100% solar-powered and also provide electricity for the nearby stage where musical acts will perform. This contact and exposure to the public is important because the consumer is the most important factor in moving forward for a sustainable future. Most of us don’t have the option to do as much as we’d like to lessen our impact, so being able to consume responsibly is a great benefit. “Everybody likes to say that they’re doing their part,” says Berk. “Whether they’re lessening their impact or just drinking beers [from companies] that are doing their part.” Keep it up, Uinta, for all our sakes.
 

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