Riggs Beer Company 2017 Sustainability Report
Here at Riggs Beer Company, we have two passions: brewing and farming. Growing up on our family’s 5th generation farm, we were instilled with the value of passing on our farmland in a sustainable way to the next generation. As brewers, we have been fortunate enough to have worked at breweries that made strong commitments to sustainability. Many of the environmentally minded actions that we have taken here at our brewery were inspired by other companies and people that we admire.
Since the day we started writing a business plan for Riggs Beer, sustainability has been one of our top priorities. We think the best way to bring transparency and accountability to our sustainability efforts is to publish an annual sustainability report that will capture four main topics: Benchmarking Performance, Local Grain & Sustainable Agriculture, Last Year’s Efforts, and This Year’s Efforts. This report is our first attempt at an annual sustainability report. Although we are proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, we have plenty of room to improve and are committed to doing so.
Although the brewing process is inherently resource intensive, we have implemented several measures to maximize efficiency. We compiled data from the all of 2017 for the four main areas of brewery resource use (electricity, water, gas therms, and CO2). We then compared those figures with latest available data regarding industry norms for breweries of our size. We were thrilled to see that we outperformed the median values inall four categories. In the paragraphs below, we will detail the systems that we implemented that helped us outperform the standard. Industry averages were taken from the most recent edition of the Brewer’s Association “2016 Sustainability Benchmarking Update”, which is available for download on their website: (https://www.brewersassociation.org/best-practices/sustainability/sustainability-benchmarking-tools/)
The innovative design of our glycol coolant system has lowered our electrical demand in comparison to other breweries of similar size. We used a cooling design which is common in larger breweries, but is uncommon in smaller breweries. We are able to use a relatively small chiller because we paired it with an oversized glycol reserve tank. This means that our chiller runs nearly all of the time during the summer months, just keeping up with the load. This arrangement is much more efficient than having a larger chiller that must cycle on and off multiple times per day. Our glycol reserve tank is located inside of our walk-in cooler, so energy loss from the tank is mitigated.
Furthermore, during the remodeling of our building, all lights were retrofitted with LED lighting.
In 2017, we used approximately 61.5 kWh of electricity per barrel of beer produced, which is lower than the Brewers Association median in 2016 of 70.4 kWh per barrel (brewery size 1,000-10,000 barrels/yr).
Gas (Therm) Use
There are three main types of brewhouse design: electric heated, direct fired, and steam fired. Steam fired brewhouses have multiple advantages, one of them being that they are the most energy efficient. Our use of a steam-fired brewhouse is one major reason for our relatively low use of gas.
Our building is separated into two parts, the tap room and the production area. The production area has a seperate thermostat, which drastically reduces heating and cooling costs. During the winter, the heater is set to 60F. During the summer, it is not air conditioned. We use a “Nest” thermostat to properly manage room conditions in the tap room when we are not open for business. The thermostat can also be controlled from our cell phones, which allows us to make sure that it is set correctly at all times.
In 2017, we used only 3.0 therms per barrel compared to the Brewer’s Association 2016 median of 3.6 therms per barrel.
Water makes up over 90% of beer, by volume. So naturally, brewing beer uses a lot of water. The brewing process we use here at Riggs Beer Company, however, is very efficient for our needs, especially when compared to other breweries of similar size. Our brewery performs an efficient single tank fermentation, whereas most small breweries of similar size use a two tank production process. The two tank process can reduce production time, but requires additional cleaning (read: water use). In addition to our single tank process, we are able to drastically reduce water use by packaging our beers in kegs only. Bottle and can fillers require much more water per volume of beer packaged than kegging lines.
In 2017, we used only 6.7 barrels of water per barrel of beer compared to the Brewer’s Association 2016 median of 7.8 barrels of water per barrel of beer. Our water figures include all of the water that is used in the tap room as well as in the production area of the brewery.
We outperformed the industry standards by the largest margin in the CO2 use category. In fact, we actually outperformed even the most CO2-efficient brewery in the next larger production class (10,000-100,000 barrels). Our extremely low use of CO2 is due to two main factors. First, we naturally carbonate all of our beer. To do this, we use a spring loaded valve to trap a specific amount of CO2 that is produced by the yeast’s fermentation inside the tank. This forces the CO2 into solution, thereby drastically reducing the need to use purchased CO2 for beer carbonation. Secondly, as mentioned above, we use a single tank fermentation process and package all of our beer into kegs. The keg filling process requires a fraction of the CO2 that bottle and can filling requires.
In 2017, we used only 2.0 pounds of CO2 per barrel compared to the Brewer’s Association 2016 median of 7.8 pounds of CO2 per barrel.
Use of chemicals is required during cleaning processes, but we have implemented a system to reduce our consumption and keep our chemical usage to a minimum. Reducing chemical use provides a dual advantage; it lowers the environmental impact of chemical transportation as well as the effect that the waste chemicals have on public wastewater treatment facilities.
Our tank cleaning and keg cleaning processes are performed with equipment that have chemical recapturing tanks. This type of equipment is not standard for a brewery of our size. It allows us to recapture used chemical after a cleaning process for use during subsequent cleaning cycles.
We asked our chemical supplier to conduct an audit of his accounts and let us know how we were doing on a cost of chemical per barrel produced basis. We decided to ask for a dollar value rather than a volume because different breweries use different formulations of cleaning chemicals. The supplier agreed that dollars of chemical purchased per barrel of beer produced was a good metric to track. The Brewer’s Association does not gather this type of benchmarking data.
Our chemical supplier reported to us via e-mail on 4/30/2018 that out of the nine breweries that he was able to survey in this region, we had the lowest chemical use ( $1.05 per barrel). The average from the nine surveyed breweries was $3.01 per barrel.
Local Grain & Sustainable Agriculture
At Riggs, we like to say “On our farm, we grow beer”. Three of our four year-round beers consist of at least 20% Riggs-grown grain. Two of our seasonal beers, Barleywine and Illinois Kölsch, are made from 100% Riggs-grown grain. Since starting production in May of 2016, we have used the following amounts of Riggs-grown grain: 25,633 pounds of corn, 9,258 pounds of barley, and 8,896 pounds of wheat. By growing grain locally, we drastically reduce the environmental impacts of transporting the grain.
Wheat and barley must be malted before they can be used in the brewery. The nearest large scale malting facilities are located in Minnesota and Wisconsin. For our own wheat and barley, we use a malting facility that is located only 45 miles north of the brewery. It is a small-scale facility that is operated by a local farmer, Eric Stiegman. Our grain is transported to his farm via a grain wagon and is transported back to the brewery in 1000 pound containers that are loaded onto a trailer. This arrangement reduces the distance that the malted grain must travel by over 300 miles.
Over the past three years, we have developed a sustainable crop rotation strategy that limits fertilizer and chemical inputs. We plant our barley on bean stubble, which, as a legume, naturally fixes enough nitrogen in the soil, thereby eliminating the need for additional fertilizer. Our wheat is planted in a rotation with a cover crop mix that also drastically reduces the amount of fertilizer that is required. These crops, planted in their proper rotation, require no application of pesticides.
Last Year’s Efforts
In 2017, having only been open for one year, we decided to take the bold step of offsetting 90-100% of our electrical demand with solar power. Due to the large amount of brewing equipment that we were still depreciating, we were unable to use the tax advantages that make the purchase of a solar array financially competitive. That is why we worked with Illini Solar Leasing to install our 75.9 kW solar panel array. We are leasing the system for seven years, at which point, we will be able to purchase the system. This was the first project that Illini Solar Leasing had done, which required us to do a considerable amount of work in drafting a “solar leasing” contract that was fair to both parties. We are optimistic that Illini Solar Leasing will be able to use our arrangement as a template to more easily execute additional solar deals in the near future.
The bulk of the system is just to the north of our parking lot, with additional panels on two “solar shade” structures in our beer garden. It is our hope that the 250 foot wide array that is directly alongside Illinois Route 130 will act as a billboard for solar projects throughout the state. Construction was completed in late December, 2017
This Year’s Efforts
Riggs will continue its sustainability efforts by setting achievable goals in order to improve upon current projects as well as address new issues. We have two main goals for 2018: waste diversion and sustainability communication.
The main landfill waste stream at the brewery is actually food and food packaging waste from our taproom customers. It should be noted that we do not sell food. This packaging is brought in by customers. By the end of 2018, we will have a plan in place to drastically reduce the amount of non-biodegradable waste that our food truck partners use. We will also engage with event planners for events where our beer will be served in order to ensure that a similar approach is being taken at these off-site events.
Our secondary sustainability goal for 2018 is to better communicate our sustainability efforts to the public. As evidenced in this report, we have already done a considerable amount of the work in implementing good processes, recording the results, and comparing those results to industry standards. We now need to do a better job of communicating that to our community. If we can tell our story well, we might inspire others to take similar action in their own lives and businesses.