In 2019, we continued to beat industry averages in all 5 of our sustainability benchmarks. We also increased the amount of Riggs grown grain used in our beer by 40%. Between 2016 and 2019, we used 62,481 pounds of Riggs grown grain in our beers, making us Illinois’ #1 user of locally grown brewing ingredients.
By the spring of 2020, we will quadruple the amount of land planted with grain destined to become Riggs Beer. Every day, we strive to find new ways to limit our resource use as well as maximize our local grain use, all while maintaining our beer’s quality.
We believe in transparency and accountability. Previous years’ sustainability reports and all supporting documentation are available upon request.
Our sustainability report is broken into four categories: Benchmarking Performance, Local Grain & Sustainable Agriculture, Last Year’s Efforts, and This Year’s Efforts.
For the third year in a row, Riggs Beer Company outperformed industry standards in all five benchmarking categories. 2019 saw improvements in 3 of the 5 categories.
Each of these categories will be examined more closely below. “Industry Averages” were taken from the most recent edition of the Brewers Association “2017 Sustainability Benchmarking Update”, which is available for download on their website: (https://www.brewersassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/2017-Sustainability-Benchmarking-Report.pdf)
The “Industry Averages” that we used to benchmark our performance against were the median values taken from page 45 of the report, from breweries that produced between 1,000 and 10,000 barrels per year. Riggs Beer Company’s production volume in 2019 was 2,212 barrels.
Industry average chemical use data is compiled by our chemical supplier. They survey several breweries in our region to establish the benchmark.
At 75.9 kilowatts, we have the largest brewery solar array in the State of Illinois. This array allowed us to make each barrel of Riggs Beer with 93% less purchased electricity than the average brewery of our size. In total, our solar array offset 92% of the electrical power that was used by the tap room and brewery in 2019.
The data in the Brewers Association report does not differentiate between electricity usage and purchased electricity, so we asked them for details regarding brewery-generated, renewable energy. They informed us that only 14% of the reporting breweries produced electricity on-site. Within that subset of breweries, the average offset rate was only 3% of their total usage. Given these details, it makes our offset rate of 92% seem even more impressive.
Gas (Therm) Use
We saw a slight decrease in our gas use per barrel. This is due to the increase of wholesale beer sales that we saw in 2019. Increased production, specifically for beer sold off-site, helped to offset the baseline gas demand that we have at our facility.
We also saw a slight decrease in our water use per barrel, compared to last year. Again, this is likely due to our increased wholesale sales of beer offsetting our tap room water usage.
In 2019, CO2 use per barrel remained at less than half the amount of the industry average. The relative increase over last year can mostly be attributed to the relative increase of our wheat beer production in 2019. Due to wheat beer’s higher target carbonation levels, as well as its higher fermentation temperatures, we use a bit more purchased CO2 to finish its carbonation as compared to our lager beers.
To accurately benchmark our chemical use, we rely on a survey conducted by our chemical supplier. For this year’s survey, they compiled data from 20 breweries in Illinois and Indiana that produce at least 1000 barrels of beer per year. In 2019, Riggs Beer used less than half the region’s average amount of chemical per barrel of beer produced.
Local Grain & Sustainable Agriculture
As shown in the chart below, we’re committed to using more Riggs grown grain each year. In 2020, we will quadruple our brewing grain acreage from 16 acres to 65 acres.
In 2019, we did a collaboration beer with Urban Chestnut Brewing Company. This beer was a Session IPL, or “SIPL”. Batches were brewed both in Urbana and St. Louis. Both batches were brewed with 100% Riggs grown grain. The separately annotated grain on the graph above was from the batch brewed in St. Louis.
Each year, we compile data about our farming practices and how they ultimately impact our beer’s quality. One characteristic that we look for in brewing grain is a low protein content. A grain’s protein content is influenced in part by how much nitrogen the plant has access to in the field. We are now convinced, based on 4 years of agronomic data and corresponding lab analysis, that our best practice is to apply no nitrogen fertilizer to our wheat and barley crops. We’ve found that our wheat and barley, when planted in a crop rotation with a legume, receive the optimal amount of nitrogen from the residual that is left over from the previous crop. Eliminating nitrogen fertilizer application is a win-win-win: reducing costs, improving beer quality, as well as improving water quality downstream.
2019 marked the second year of our participation in Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District’s “STAR” program. STAR is a conservation evaluation system that evaluates a farm’s practices. Last year, the wheat field adjacent to the brewery again achieved a 3 star rating, but we are confident that we’ll be able to get 4 stars next year.
Last Year’s Efforts
Waste diversion has been our top goal for the past two years. We’ve continued to make progress, but there’s still plenty of work to do.
Admittedly, we’ve made almost no progress on food truck waste diversion. Food truck waste continues to make up half of our solid waste each week. We will continue to engage with the trucks, local government, and anyone else that might have an idea how we can reduce this waste stream.
Last year, we added aluminum and styrofoam recycling at the brewery. We’re lucky to have a Solo Cup factory right here in Urbana. They recycle clean styrofoam, a waste product that is not accepted by most recycling facilities.
We also provided plastic beer cup recycling services for two of our largest off-site events last year: The Illinois Marathon and Mile at the Pines. We will continue to provide recycling collection and delivery services for events that we take part in.
This Year’s Efforts
From the very beginning, we’ve said that beer quality is more important to us than the use of local ingredients. What good is it to brew a sub-standard beer with local ingredients? No thanks.
That’s why we don’t use local grain in our German Lagers. We just don’t think that we could make great Helles or Oktoberfest with Illinois barley. That might change in the future, but for now we’ll focus on using our home grown grain in beer styles where we know it works.
In 2020, 3 of our seasonal beers will be brewed with exclusively Riggs grown grain. Two of which, Illinois Kölsch and Wet Hop, will also be brewed exclusively with hops from Hallowed Hops Farm in Lewistown, making them both 100% Illinois grown beers.