You could consider Robert Pierce a regular at Madison's Ale Asylum. However, he's not there for the same reason as those enjoying a pint or two at the bar. Pierce stops by the northeast-side brewery three or four times a week to load his truck and trailer - not with cases of beer, but rather with spent brewer's grains. He feeds it to worms in his organic fertilizer, compost and produce operation.
Pierce is best known as the manager of the South Madison Farmers' Market. He's also active with Growing Power and the youth-oriented Program for Entrepreneurial and Agricultural Training (PEAT).
Pierce considers the used grains ideal worm bedding for making organic fertilizer. In a week, he picks up three to four tons of spent grains. He takes it all to his McFarland farm, where some goes to the worms for making natural fertilizer and the rest is mixed with wood chips to make compost. Both products go toward growing produce that is sold at five area farmers' markets and sent to local food pantries.
Many local brewers are environmentally minded and report that making "green" beer is good business. Some make substantial financial commitments to reducing carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. With Earth Day in mind, here a few Wisconsin brewers who strive for a greener bottom line in the brew house.
This farmhouse brewery near the small St. Croix County town of Wilson gets nearly all of its electricity from a 120-foot, 20-kilowatt windmill. Even in the coldest month of winter, owner David Anderson's electric bill was just 81 cents. In windy periods Anderson sells excess power to Xcel Energy, and in May 2009 he actually got a check for $137 back from the power company. Dave's BrewFarm recently entered the Madison market with its Matacabras ale.
Central Waters Brewing Company
This Amherst brewery boasts 1,000 square feet of solar panels that heat water for brewing and warm the interior of the brewery. Energy-efficient lighting helps reduce electric costs. The brewery is even conscientious about purchasing its beer bottles from Saint-Gobain Containers of Muncie, Ind., which leads the industry in recycled bottles. The brewery's solar panels inspired the name of the brewery's red ale, Shine On, and a portion of the proceeds from sales goes to the Midwest Renewable Energy Association.
New Glarus Brewing Company
Many fans of Spotted Cow know about the new brewing facility at New Glarus. Behind all the beer is a $1.7 million system for handling wastewater. The brewery's copper-clad Bavarian brew kettles were retrofitted to be more efficient in energy use and capturing steam for heating brew house water. In 2009, the brewery received a Shared Savings Award from Alliant Energy for green building practices that cut greenhouse gas emissions and energy equal to 145 average-size homes for one year.
On the outside, the new brewery equipment looks like the type of grain bin found on an average Wisconsin dairy farm. But the recently installed silo allows malt to be purchased in bulk, which is not only cheaper, but dramatically reduces the impact of excess packaging and transportation. With it, Ale Asylum reduced 24 separate truck deliveries down to a single delivery. Gone, too, is the excess waste of nearly 1,000 bags that the smaller purchases required.
Wisconsin Brewer's Guild Barley and Hop Cooperative
A number of Wisconsin Brewer's Guild members are working directly with hop and barley producers to contract for locally grown raw materials. Buying local reduces transportation and process costs and carbon emissions. Milwaukee's Lakefront Brewery makes its Local Acre with 100% Wisconsin-grown ingredients. South Shore Brewery's Nut Brown Ale shows off a roasted-malty sweetness from barley grown near the Ashland brewery. And Black River Falls' Sand Creek Brewery just released One Planet Ale, made with Wisconsin barley and wheat, and local honey collected from a farm near Madison.