Besides an overly complicated political system, Belgium is also known for its chocolate and beer. The latter also make up for the sh*t weather we get most of the time. But, climate change is there to endanger the future of our national points of pride. Cocoa supply, on the one hand, will soon fall short, while the key bacteria in the Brussels air to produce the famous Lambic beer are going extinct.
More than enough reason for Belgian-based beer multinational AB InBev to do its share in reducing its environmental impact. For four years, they have been testing and refining a new brewing method aimed at cutting energy and water usage in their research brewery in Leuven. And it seems the effort paid off. Get yourself a beer from the fridge and read on!
One of the crucial steps in brewing beer is the boiling process. It introduces the bubbles in the beer and initiates the fermentation process. Boiling is (what a surprise) an energy-intensive process. On top it also costs a lot of water that leaves the factory via the steam vent. Reducing water and energy consumption was easier said than done: during decades of brewing they simply had already optimized the process to its limits. There was only one way to solve this seemingly unsolvable problem: ditching the boiling process altogether.
That required a serious dose of out-of-the-beer-crate thinking. In the end, “Boiling is the sacred formula of beer brewing”, the R&D director of AB InBev told the Guardian. Luckily, it could count on its small army of scientists and laborants (Leuven has a high density of smart people**) to create the bubbles in a different way that would still ensure the characteristic taste of our favorite Belgian beers.
The solution lies in heating up the beer to just below the boiling point and subsequently blowing CO2 or nitrogen through it to generate the bubbles. After proof-running the technique in the research facility in Leuven, it was piloted in the brewery of Jupille (Belgium) and Magor (UK). The results are great: a considerable reduction in energy consumption and an 80% reduction in evaporation of water. AB InBev estimates the implementation of the new technique in all of their factories will lead to 5% greenhouse gas emissions of the company and a water usage reduction by 1200 Olympic swimming pools per year.
Since they know in Leuven that sharing is caring, the company pledged to help other breweries become more sustainable by licensing the technique. Small breweries get the license for free, while larger ones will have to pay a fee, which AB InBev will reinvest in innovation and research to further green up the production of beer.
Make no mistake: there is a long way to go before such a giga-brewer can be called sustainable. Opposite to local craft breweries, the big guys typically don’t source their ingredients locally if they can get it cheaper elsewhere, and are directly or indirectly contributing to mono-crop agriculture and possibly unfair wages for farmers. Despite that, each step forward should be celebrated. With a good Belgian beer of course. Cheers!
** the fact that I am from Leuven doesn’t mean this statement is biased in any way