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The Green Brewhaha: Sustainability at Fort George Brewing

| Wednesday December 15th, 2010 | 0 Comments

What’s your name and the name of your brewery?
Jack Harris, Fort George Brewery and Public House

How long have you been in the business?
Fort George opened March 11th, 2007 after nine months of construction and a year and a half of planning.

Where are you located?
Astoria, OR

What makes your brewery sustainable?
Sustainability is becoming a buzzword like green or community that makes people feel good, but is poorly defined. My understanding of the concept would include efforts to minimize our ecological footprint, promote positive economic behavior and support local or at least regional self-sufficiency. In no order of importance or impact here is what I feel we have done to promote sustainability.

A) We have decided to make our stand here in Downtown Astoria by refurbishing historical properties rather than develop new property with new construction. The local agencies have bent over backwards to make this possible and to help us navigate the twisted corridors of finance, zoning and code. We always knew our town was progressive, but they have really come through to help us convert an old auto-body shop and now a dealership into a brewery block in the heart of downtown.

B) We have never gone through the certification process, but all of our beers are made with an organic base malt. This is a “best-practices” ideal that supports organic agriculture without compromising the quality of our beer. The restaurant is not wholly organic, but we pick a few high-use items, hamburger buns and french-fry potatoes, to use organics. One of our goals is to be a working-class, affordable pub and going 100% puts us out of that price range. The beer is affordable because of our huge silo that allows us to purchase in enough quantity to somewhat mitigate the expense.

C) We buy local and use local labor whenever possible. We just finished a huge brewery expansion in the building next door. Our entire expansion was built by local contractors and subs. We use bread from our local bakery, buy our fish from the local fish-monger and our grain and hops all come from the greater Northwest. I don’t know what we would do if we were in Michigan or something, because everyone gets their grain and hops from the greater Northwest.

D) We should have a canning line up and running by next year, and a primary reason for getting a canning line rather than a bottling line was beer quality, but the environmental advantages of aluminum over glass are compelling. The weight of transport, recycling rate and efficiency and the lack of broken glass at your favorite swimming hole all came into consideration. The lower Columbia is awash in aluminum smelters as well.

E) We upgraded all of the gas heat for the new brewery to high efficiency, on-demand and high-pressure steam. We could have made the old, used equipment work, but in the long run, the less gas you burn, the lower the bill. We also upgraded the power to higher efficiency 480V 3-phase, a considerable upfront expense, but again, easier on the equipment and monthly power bill.

F) Finally, we try to keep our money as local as possible. Local artists, craftsmen, designers, gardeners – our pub is filled every night with the folks who have put this place together and keep it going.

What’s your biggest sustainability challenge?
Money. One can be creative and recycle and compost, but once that low fruit has been picked, it takes money to save the world. We are a small business, supporting 25 folks as their primary source of income, so we have to be careful about how much we want to spend to say we are sustainable and how much to save so we can give raises and bonuses. You can only do your best and make decisions that seem to make sense with the information you have at the time. We would love to be all organic, but don’t feel like we can accomplish our mission at the same time.

Forget finances- what’s your brewery pipe dream?
We are in discussions to put a solar water heater on the roof. That would be great, but it is a long-shot. Even here in Astoria they have run the numbers and we could make a lot of hot water with solar power. The hold-up comes again, back to money. The company basically relies on the tax credits available to do this from the state of Oregon and those are just about depleted and not expected to be renewed. We don’t have the resources to do it ourselves. Given all the resources in the world, we would be solar and wind powered, we would have state of the art heat recovery systems on the boiler, kettle and hood fan. We would compost everything on-site and our hops would grow fat and green up the sides of our buildings. We have a large tank that will eventually capture the roof rainwater and hold it for summer irrigation. Everyone would walk or ride their bikes here and dog poop would smell nice and go away on its’ own. You told me I could hope for anything.

What is the one thing you want Triple Pundit readers to know about your brewery?
Triple Pundit readers might be interested to know that we do have a growth limit. We have no interest in being Widmer, Deschutes or Budweiser. Getting bigger for the sake of getting bigger is not what we are about. In fact maybe that is what sustainability really is. Finding a way to get better without having to get bigger. We would like to cap our distribution to an area that would encompass Seattle, Boise and Ashland, roughly the drainage area of the Columbia River. On the theory that you never really buy a beer, only rent it for a little while, everytime one of our pints was consumed and passed along to a toilet, urinal or tree, it would theoretically find its’ way back down to the lower Columbia and flow right by the brewery, completing the cycle.

What’s your favorite brew?
The one in my hand! At the moment that would be a Celebration Ale from Sierra Nevada, courtesy of my business partner who handed it to me.


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