Riggs Beer Company
2018 Sustainability Report
2018 was a great year for Riggs Beer Company. We set new production and sales records. We added Jessica Schluter, our fifth full-time employee, to our team. We started a partnership with the Illinois Marathon as its official beer sponsor. Among last year’s many highlights was becoming the first and only brewery to ever win the Illinois Sustainability Award.
This year’s report will focus on what has changed since 2017, which means that much of the technical information regarding our sustainable practices that we included in the initial sustainability report has been omitted. If you would like to read about the details that were included in the 2017 report, please just contact us here at the brewery. Moving forward, we will be happy to provide the public with all of our past sustainability reports.
Our sustainability report is broken into four categories: Benchmarking Performance, Local Grain & Sustainable Agriculture, Last Year’s Efforts, and This Year’s Efforts.
Once again, Riggs Beer Company outperformed industry standards in all five benchmarking standards in 2018. Last year saw improvements in Purchased Electricity Use, Gas Therm Use, and Chemical Use. We saw no change in our Water Use and a slight increase in our CO2 Use.
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 were the median values taken from page 45 of the report, which were from breweries that produced between 1,000 and 10,000 barrels per year. Riggs Beer Company’s production volume in 2018 was 1,957 barrels.
Industry average chemical use data is compiled by our chemical supplier. They survey several breweries in our region to establish the benchmark.
The most drastic reduction in resource use in 2018 was seen in purchased electricity per barrel of beer produced. 2018 was the first year that our 75.9 kW solar array was fully operational. The solar array offset 90% of the electrical power that was used by the tap room and brewery in 2018.
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 90% seem even more impressive.
In addition to activating our solar array, we saw improvements in our electricity usage by optimizing the heating systems in two of our detached buildings. Adding remote temperature sensors to both buildings allowed us to lower the set temperature of the electric heaters without us having to worry about damaging the temperature-sensitive contents of those storage buildings.
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 2018. Increased production, specifically for beer sold off-site, helped to offset the baseline gas demand that we have at our facility.
Water use remained the same when compared to the previous year. That wasn’t bad though, as we used 17% less water per barrel as compared to the industry average.
In 2018, 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 significant increase of our wheat beer production in 2018. 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.
Admittedly, the our chemical use figure this year is artificially low. We used our chemical so sparingly in 2018, that we did not need to refill our bulk storage tanks at all. These tanks will need to be refilled sometime during 2019, which will cause next year’s figure to be artificially high. With that being said, our average use over 2017 and 2018 combined came out to be $0.80/bbl, which is nearly 3 times lower than the regional average.
Local Grain & Sustainable Agriculture
Our commitment to using Riggs-grown grain has never been stronger. As shown in the chart below, we used over 18,000 pounds of locally grown wheat, corn, and barley in our beers last year. We planted 16.2 acres of brewery grains in 2018, an increase from 6 acres in 2017.
Last year was also the first time that we grew some of our brewing grain without the use of nitrogen fertilizer. We grew 8.3 acres of spring barley by utilizing nitrogen that was fixed in the soil by the previous year’s crop of soybeans. Being a legume, soybeans naturally deposit nitrogen into the soil during their growing cycle. We now plan to grow all of our future barley crops without the use of applied fertilizers. This will reduce costs and energy inputs, as well as improve water quality downstream from our farm.
In 2018 we brewed “Illinois Kölsch” for the very first time. Fitting the theme of “Official Beer of the Illinois Marathon”, it was brewed with 100% Illinois grown grain and hops. All of the grain in this beer was Riggs grown barley and wheat. We added another layer of local-ness by brewing Illinois Kölsch exclusively with hops from Hallowed Hops Farm, located in Fulton County, Illinois.
We also brewed “Red IPL” for the first time in 2018. And for the first time ever, we used locally grown grain that wasn’t Riggs grown. We sourced 220 pounds of a red corn variety called Bloody Butcher from a local farmer named Rick Davis to create this new beer.
Last Year’s Efforts
Waste diversion was our main sustainability goal for 2018. We made limited progress on this goal, but still have plenty of work to do in the future.
We worked with our friends over at Illini Recycling to divert all of our cardboard as well as all of our plastic malt bags from the landfill in 2018. We estimate that the diversion of these materials totaled approximately 300 cubic feet.
Each year we throw a big anniversary party, Riggs-Fest. Due to the size of the festival, we are required by the city to switch to plastic cups for the duration of the event. Last year, for the first time, we set out recycling bins for the thousands of plastic cups that were used at Riggs-Fest. All of those cups were sent to Illini Recycling. Because we used #1 plastic cups, and we kept them segregated, Illini Recycling was able to send those cups to a higher value recycling stream than commingled plastic.
We also brought our new cup recycling bins to two off site events: The Mile at the Pines and Corn-Cross.
One night each month, Blue Dragonfly Catering brings a meal to the brewery that is paired with our seasonal beer release. We are thrilled to announce that Blue Dragonfly has converted to serving their meals at Riggs Beer Company with reusable plates and silverware. This simple step has cut our landfill waste on beer release nights in half.
This Year’s Efforts
Waste diversion will continue to be our main focus in 2019. Cup recycling will continue at the events where we started it last year. We will work with event organizers to add cup recycling to our two largest off site events: Illinois Marathon and Sweetcorn Festival.
In 2019, we will add aluminum and styrofoam to our recycling program at the brewery.
We will also continue the conversation with our food truck and catering partners to limit the amount of non-recyclable and non-compostable packaging that they use. This goal won’t be easy to achieve, and to be honest, it is unlikely that we will see much progress in this area unless change is demanded by the consumer and/or local government.