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Permaculture home brewing?  RSS feed

 
Sam Hubert
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I haven't seen anything on here about a more permaculture approach to home brewing, and perhaps making beer, or any other type of recreational alcoholic drinks lies outside the scope of permaculture, but many of us do enjoy drinking and brewing beer, so I was wondering if anybody had anything to offer on this topic? Creating your own beer certainly uses exponentially less energy than the beers you would buy at the store. A few things I've been doing to try to lower my "beer footprint" are:
Growing your own hops, and eating many of the young shoots that the rhizome sends up in the spring. They're similar to asparagus, delicious, and need to be cut anyways to create one main vine for optimal hop production.
Using the spent grain! Makes excellent chicken feed (assuming no hops were added to the wort), can be used as a medium for growing mushrooms, added to many recipes for spent grain baked goods that are incredibly chewy and delicious, or simply added to the compost pile.
Watering the garden with water from the wort chiller. Lots of water is required to chill the wort, and we use it to water our gardens. Our veggies and fruit trees love brew days!
We don't have enough land to grow our own grains, but this would be ideal.

Although making beer might seem trivial given the bigger problems we are trying to solve, I think it is important to realize that many people love beer, especially with the growing craft beer movement. Humans have been drinking beer for thousands of years and some historians theorize that civilization was created around the goal of creating fermented beverages, i.e. beer, (although this may be a fringe theory).
And finally there are opportunities for creating medicinal herbal beers, as was once very popular before hops became one of the only herbs used. For example I'm currently working on a Tulsi IPA and many other brewers are starting to incorporate medicinal herbs into their brews once again. Any thoughts on this subject and how one might achieve a beer that is more in line with permaculture principles would be much appreciated!
 
Jessica Gorton
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Location: Central Maine - Zone 4b/5a
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You don't need to grow it yourself to lessen your footprint - I don't know where you are located, but here in Maine there's a newish but flourishing movement towards growing and selling local grains. I haven't seen local barley yet, but I can buy local wheat flour, oats and cornmeal that was grown and processed within 60-100 miles of me, right down the street at my local orchard. There's also a few people around here getting into the hops business.

My husband has just gotten started making beer, and the one thing I'd like to change is making the move from plastic buckets to glass carboys - he's resistant because they are so much harder to clean, but I dislike fermenting anything in plastic.

Sandor Katz has some wonderful stuff on brewing beer, wine and mead in his newest tome, The Art of Fermentation, with a great section on herbal wines. I can't wait to try my hand at some of that!

Know also that you don't necessarily need to have long ferments to make yummy alcoholic beverages. This kind of fermentation started as a way for people to make water safer to drink, and most of what they were consuming was only fermented for a short period of time, with only a bit of alcohol in it. To start with something really sustainable, all you need is a good crock and the ability to stir regularly...
 
John Saltveit
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This is a great topic. There is already an interesting thread on fermenting spent grains.

Portland where I live , has many organic breweries. It's a big deal out here. we're not called "Beervana" for nothing.

I love the idea of reusing the water, maybe filtered through mycelium that was grown on the spent grain!
John S
PDX OR
 
Sam Hubert
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Yes, there are some great things happening with breweries in the Portland area softening their footprint. I grew up in Portland and Hopworks Urban Brewery seems to be leading the charge, using all organic ingredients and winning just about every sustainability award in the state Also, another resource I just thought of is a book called Sustainable Homebrewing by Amelia Slayton Loftus that includes many great spent grain recipes. I'd love to see a brewery that operates its own farm, bringing organic beer and permaculture food to people in brewpubs that use permaculture design building concepts. That could certainly get the ball rolling in terms of the wide spread awareness and acceptance of permaculture. Let's bring it 10 steps beyond where the farm to table restaurants are at. Brewing might be one industry that will never be all good or totally regenerative, but we can sure make huge improvements from where we are now.
 
Cj Sloane
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Sam Hubert wrote:Brewing might be one industry that will never be all good or totally regenerative, but we can sure make huge improvements from where we are now.

I heard recently that some breweries will let you refill their bottles so you save the deposit and reuse the bottles- saving resources & energy.
 
John Saltveit
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Yes, they do it a lot out here. They even have sales on slow days, like Tuesdays, fill your "growler" for cheap.
John s
PDX OR
 
C Gallas
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I've been brewing for about 10 years and a few things I could add here are:

1. Brewing & Kegging homebrew allows you to re-use a container for a lifetime. When I was buying craft beer all those one use cans and bottles although recycled have a huge energy suck in creating, washing, etc. - with a keg, we can refill it and reduce waste. We plan on putting soda water on tap as well. Bottles can be reused as well but lots of water waste in washing.

2. Trying brewing multiple batches in one day - the hot water from your wort chiller of your first beer can be used to mash the grains of your second beer (will probably have to heat it up a little) but stacking functions happen alot on a multiple brew day.

3. There are local grains starting to come out of my state by small farmers - http://valleymalt.com - the even have a CSA - support those folks

4. Getting a group of people together to introduce them to something that is made from scratch and showing fermentation techniques that may run into other parts of their lives is priceless. It can help build community, alot of people enjoy beer.

5. The water reuse is a good one

6. Growing hops also great, I have an 8 year old cascade hop bush that produces a ton of hops and has adapted to my climate.

7. I try to brew seasonally, for instance I will be brewing my pumpkin beer soon which will use local sugar pumpkin that a farmer I know has grown - what a great conversation starter about organic pumpkin and local farming as well as the history of pumpkin beers which goes back to colonial times when grain was a premium.

8. Theres endless experiments you can do with making whatever type of beverage you want - I make a low Alcohol Saison about 2.5% (saisons were beers consumed by farm workers in Belgium going back centuries called farmhouse ales) for the summer. Again saisons are another conversation starter to talk about agriculture.

9. I've seen people brew on large rocket stoves if using wood to boil interests you.

Beer and fermented beverages have so much history tied to Agriculture that I find it a great conversations starter as well as just an interesting topic to learn about - alot of old farming/country brewing books are out there.

Alcohol does not have to be a huge part of homebrewing - you can brew beers as low as 1% ABV once called Biere De Table and served at the dinner table for the family to enjoy with meals - I recently added millet to the mash of one of those beers and it was very tasty - the beauty of making your own is that you can make whatever you want, 1% ABV, honey can added, herbs, fruit, endless possibilities.
 
Luke Burkholder
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All good points C Gallas. I think about the permacultreability of beer in three ways:

1) Ingredients
Barley (or other grains) seems like the hardest part, because even if you find or grow grains according to permaculture principles, you still have to malt them. That being said, there are some organic malts available, malted by producers who claim to use all renewable energy.
Hops are easy. They are a hardy perennial that you can grow in your backyard. Totally permaculture without even trying.
Honey is a great thing you can add, and it's getting easier to find sustainable, local, raw honey. Raw honey can even be a source of wild yeasts!
Other spicing and flavoring ingredients can be grown or wild-harvested, like spruce tips, juniper berries, even (apparently) creeping charlie.
This also includes the use of the leftovers: spent grains are awesome in compost (typically high in protein so nitrogen rich) and they are just about sterilized from the mashing process, so they are primed for fungiculture.

2) Process energy (mostly heating water)
You have to heat water for mashing, heat it again for sparging, heat it some more for boiling, boil the crap out of it for an hour, then dump all that heat out. Anything you can do to generate that heat in a more sustainable and efficient way will be an improvement. Heating with wood on a rocket stove is a great idea. Also solar heat; I'm going to experiment with a (danger ahead) Fresnel lens. You can also experiment with styles of beer that minimize the boiling step or skip it all together.

3) Water consumption
This does not count the water that actually goes into the beer itself, but all the water that goes into all the other steps for cleaning and cooling. Some breweries that are concerned with sustainability will report a ratio of gallons of water consumed to make a gallon of beer. From what I am remembering now, getting that under five is an accomplishment. Obviously if it is done without harsh chemicals, pretty much all of that water can be cycled directly back into whatever soil needs watering, some of the water will even contain delicious sugars soils love. Cleaning uses a ton of water that I don't really know how to eliminate, I try to soak things and reuse that water as long as it's not dirtier than what I am trying to clean, and have everything lined up and ready to go so that I have the water running as little as possible for my final rinse. For the cooling water, you can use a device called a coolship that spreads the hot liquid in a thin layer for fast cooling. This also allows for the collection of wild yeasts, and is considered level 9 kung-fu ninja brewing. You can also just wait a long time for things to cool off, or get a more efficient heat exchanger. I have not considered using the hot wort to heat more water, but that is so crazy it just might work.
 
Nick Kitchener
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I'm growing out some pre industrial era malting barleys with a mind to eventually brew with it. The plants are taller, and tend to have deeper root systems although their yield is typically lower than modern commercial varieties.

Brewing may also include making cider (and cider vinegar) which makes good use of a perennial crop.

I just completed making an apple processing station that uses an old garbage disposal to pulp the apples. It worked exceptionally well.


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Nick Kitchener
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Brewing beer doesn't have to be hugely energy intensive.

The wort cooler isn't a necessary part of brewing if you're prepared to put up with a little chill haze, and studious use of insulation to retain heat during the mashing process goes a long way toward brewery efficiency.
 
Ann Torrence
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Nick Kitchener wrote:
I just completed making an apple processing station that uses an old garbage disposal to pulp the apples. It worked exceptionally well.


Personally, this is one use for which I'd opt for a new garbage disposal, but the concept is well-proven by other home brewers.
What are you using for a press?
 
John Wolfram
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Nick Kitchener wrote:I just completed making an apple processing station that uses an old garbage disposal to pulp the apples. It worked exceptionally well.

That's a nice looking apple grinder. Have you noticed the black output spout getting clogged when you grind drier apples? I ended up taking a saw to that plastic part on mine to change the 90 degree turn into 45 curve. It's a bit messier, but has few clogs.
 
Nick Kitchener
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This was an exceptionally clean disposal and I spent a lot of time making sure it was spotless

We did run through some dryer apples but didn't experience any clogging. We found they were a waste of time pressing though and moved on to other jucier ones.

It was our first time pressing and we used an old style press and put the pulp in a bag. We realised that there was too much juice and it was causing issues while pressing so we squeezed the bag out before pressing. It was almost a waste of time pressing considering the percentage of extra juice we got relative to the time and effort involved.

We got about 75 - 80% juice for a given volume of apples in the end (a 5 gallon pail of apples yielded about 4 gallons of juice). I was pretty amazed. Coming from a beer brewing background I was also horrified in the lack of available sanitary control...
unsanitised apples having the juice squeezed out in a wooden press that was older than me, and then the juice flowing exposed to air out of the press, and into an open bucket.

It's still brewing, but it seems healthy and vibrant. Must have been the hand washing

On the garbage disposal, I've read reports that the newer ones operate faster and have a finer grinding mechanism that is counter productive to cider making. I chose the second hand one not because of this, but because it was an experiment and $20 for the disposal unit sure beat $200 for a new one. I got the solid oak table for another $20 and a hand full of parts made the experiment to roughly $50. It worked really well although the disposal is not a continuous operation model and so it needed a rest to cool down after processing 5 gal of pulp. We processed about 20 gallons of pulp all up and it didn't miss a beat.

To put that into perspective; we processed roughly 1 tree worth of apples and we have 15 gallons (60 L) of apple cider brewing. The apples had enough sugar in them to produce a %5 alcohol product and I'm using my share to make vinegar so I'm adding some additional sugar.

It took 4 to 5 hours to process mainly because of our press and figuring out a system. All up we spent probably 25 mins grinding the apples, another 30 mins squeezing the apples, 30 mins transferring and handling, and the remaining time was driving the press.
 
John Wolfram
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Nick Kitchener wrote:We did run through some dryer apples but didn't experience any clogging. We found they were a waste of time pressing though and moved on to other jucier ones...
We got about 75 - 80% juice for a given volume of apples in the end (a 5 gallon pail of apples yielded about 4 gallons of juice). I was pretty amazed.

That yield is amazing. Just for comparison, last year when I was doing apples, two pails of apples would yield 1 pail of apple slurry, and then 2 pails of apple slurry would be pressed into 1 pail of juice. No wonder you didn't have any clogging problems.
 
Nick Kitchener
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they were small apples but super juicy. We just dropped them in the top!
 
Devon Deshotels
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Nick, looks like you've got a pretty good set-up. I'm certainly impressed. Let us know if you make any up/downgrades....

As for beer brewing, I am on BIABrewer.info's forum (same username). Brew In A Bag requires much less equipment for all-grain brewing and pretty soon I think that's the route I'm going to take. Right now I'm doing extract kits with a friend of mine who has all the equipment. Since joining biabrewer.info I've discovered a "no-chill" method using sanitized "cubes" which are put in the ice-box or snow... until you get to a reasonable pitching temp at which you'd funnel into a carboy. No wasting gallons of water with your wort chillers... I guess one could use glass carboys if there's enough room in the fridge. They talk of "squeezing" out the excess air from the cubes but I suppose the space could be flushed with compressed carbon dioxide instead. I've also heard of folks using rain water for their boils.....
I'm new to homebrewing and there are just so many resources out there and so many people taking so many different approaches, sooner or later I think I'll get to a most simplified brewing technique. That's my hope anyways. Keep this thread going!!!

on another note, I'm kicking the idea around to get a wild honey bee swarm and make a wild fermented mead with wild sugarberries and elderberries. it should be....wild. anyone have any suggestions or advice on this? i have no experience in making mead but as it is probably the oldest of our fermented beverages I find it is most appropriate in a permaculture sense. i would use a crock maybe?

so, go ahead, lay it on me folks.

d
 
Nick Kitchener
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Mead can be tough because of the anti-bacterial properties of honey and the general lack of nutrients.

If you add fruit to it then that issue is somewhat solved, although it detracts from the pure mead character IMHO.

I made a mead ale once. Basically mead made to 6%, but I added some water that had been boiled with hops, and then dry hopped it as well. Not so much so it overwhelmed the mead but enough to balance it out. It was very good.

A crock is a porous ceramic jug and is very difficult to sanitise and keep infection at bay. It's great for vinegar but not too sure about it for fermenting. You might want to go for a glazed ceramic.
I was once in Argentina visiting some really old wineries, and they used to use the cured skin of an ox to ferment their wine in. Sort of like this:


 
Bill McGee
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Ben Franklin: "Beer is proof that God loves us."

I like this.
 
Devon Deshotels
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I wonder if they got any unique flavors from using the ox hides. Thanks for the advice on the mead.
I am going to need some more experience before I start thinking about all this too much....
 
Peter Ellis
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I am going to bet a nickel that the oxhides were an expedient choice for an area that did not have lots of wood for making barrels - and not a choice made out of any preference for the character the hides might add to the product

As for brewing mead, I know a number of people who started with mead and expanded to do beer and ale. I think relative difficulty is probably a perception related to which end a person started on. One friend used to routinely make a "quick mead", about a week from start to finish, that was effectively a honey soda pop. Lots of carbonation, minimal alcohol content, sweet and easy to drink.
 
Sam Hubert
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Just heard in this podcast with Mark Shepard done by Scotts Mann (awesome podcast by the way) that the British Isles were brewing beer with Hazelnuts before the Romans conquered them (Hazelnut Brown Ale, anybody?) and the Scots were making Scotch out of Chestnuts before the Romans conquered as well! It would be exciting to find replicas of those old recipes that are based on perennial tree crops!
 
Peter Ellis
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Amusing. I just listened to that podcast today. Not entirely sure it can be called Scotch if it isn't made with malted barley, but I did get Mark's point.

I may have to shake a tree or two and see if any recipes fall out.
 
Galadriel Freden
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We just bottled up last autumn's apple cider--it'll have to age for another couple of months though, I think. We gather the apples from local wild trees (there are a lot of them around here), and "press" them using a juicer we got off freecycle. This batch was approximately 6 or 7 liters, gathered from mainly two trees. We're also still drinking year-old elderberry wine (from autumn 2013) from local wild elderberries. I love brewing my own alcohol, particularly when it's basically free
 
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