The Green Brewhaha: Sustainability at Bison Brewing

What’s your name and the name of your brewery?

Daniel Del Grande, Owner and Brewer of Bison Brewing.

How long have you been in the business?

I’ve been a craft brewer since quitting my corporate engineering job and going to brewmaster school in 1997. But I didn’t fully “leave” engineering. I’ve taught brewery engineering at the brewmaster school, American Brewer’s Guild, since 1999.

Where are you located?

We are a little bit of a gypsy at the moment. We have an office in Berkeley still, warehouse in Petaluma, and brew at several breweries now. I outgrew my Berkeley brewery in 2008 and couldn’t expand due to local zoning issues, so now I use surplus capacity at big breweries in California. How green is that! I get the brewery inspected and certified organic, then send them my malt and hops and labels and kegs, and then go there to brew the beer.

What volume of beer do you produce and where do you distribute?

We sell our organic beer in bottles and kegs in 15 states. We don’t plan to add to many more in 2011.

What are your plans for growth, if any?

Organic beer is finally making sense to customers of grocery stores and restaurants, so buyers are increasing our placements up from maybe one item to three or four items per store. Many new stores are adding organic beer.

What makes your brewery sustainable?

Our biggest impact on sustainability is converting farmland from conventional to organic agriculture. A household that commits or organics and drinks the equivalent of 25 cases of organic beer a year can help organic brewers convert 1/12 – 1/16 of an acre from conventional to organic agriculture.

We use 100% recycled paperboard.

Using spare capacity in the beer industry makes those facilities more efficient, and alleviates the need for Bison to build its own brewery until we can right-size an efficient organic urban brewery and invest in the green technologies that are so prevalent in the beer industry. I don’t want to build a brewery on the cheap because it is not energy efficient, but I need to be a bit bigger to cash flow properly.

What’s your biggest sustainability challenge?

The biggest lifecycle impact of craft beer is the bottle. As consumers, we all could do better at glass recycling, which is poor nationally. We are getting better, but could to a lot further. Certain urban areas like the SF Bay Area have high rates, but if municipalities would do a better job, the glass manufacturing plants would have more glass feedstock rather than mining fresh sand.

Any new sustainability projects in the pipeline that have you excited?

In 2011, the draft beer business is really looking up as green restaurants add organic beer; draft beer is the most sustainable package. We are also looking to get a brewery on the East Coast certified organic so we don’t have to send our beer via rail and truck across the country.

Forget finances- what’s your brewery pipe dream?

I would build an urban zero waste, green brewery on a brownfield contaminated site, probably along the shoreline of SF Bay, with a railspur for grain and glass delivery, rooftop solar hot water (breweries use lots of hot water), micro wind turbines, biodiesel steam boilers, upcycling of broken glass and cardboard, on-site mushroom production on the spent grain (sold in local stores), and wastewater treatment that could discharge into adjacent open space or municipal irrigation. Tons more ideas, but those can be implemented right off the bat. This brewery design isn’t a pipedream because these technologies are no-brainer business decisions that have payback periods of less than 3-4 years. Plus, I love mushroom pizza.

I’d also like to see the beer industry embrace returnable bottles. We can build bottle collection/cleaning businesses near urban areas, reuse the wastewater, and ship cleaned bottles to regional breweries. The glass bottles would have to be thicker to withstand the handling, heat sterilization, and multiple capping, but the energy use would be a third of the current required to melt down recycled bottles and reuse them. This procedure does use a lot more water to clean and sterilize, but wastewater can be cleaned and reused for landscaping if the urban planning is done ahead of time.

What’s your favorite brew?

My Bison Organic Honey Basil

Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit and editorial director at 3BL Media. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC to Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

2 responses

  1. I just reread my own comments 3 months after the fact and noticed an incomplete sentence: “convert 1/12 – 1/16 of an acre from conventional to organic agriculture.”

    Thanks for reading and supporting the organic beer niche. Your patronage makes a difference.

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