Posted March 17, 2016
St. Patrick’s Day.
Made for each other – or so it appears. Started as a feast to honor Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick’s Day was a day when revelers were allowed to shelve their Lenten restrictions on food and alcohol. Enter beer.
Approximately 127 million Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day every year. If you’re one of them, there’s a good chance you might catch a parade, wear some green and if you’re of age, have a beer. About 30 percent of Americans head to a bar on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate. And it’s not just Americans that imbibe on March 17th. Guinness, the quintessential Irish brewer, reports consumption of its beers actually doubles globally on St. Patrick’s Day.
Beer is water, malting barley, hops and yeast – requiring lots of energy. Energy to grow, harvest and store the barley and hops in the right conditions. Energy to transport the grains to breweries. While the nation’s 4,000 plus breweries often use American-grown hops and barley, some beers require specific internationally-sourced ingredients, be it Irish barley or German-grown hops. Just getting all of the right ingredients to the brewery can be a pretty energy-intensive process in itself.
Once at the brewery, the magic begins. Behind the magic, this process:
Brewing involves carefully heating and cooling huge amounts of liquid. Malting barley and hops have to be added at just the right moments, when the liquid is at just the right temperatures, to create specific flavor profiles. The opportunity for variety in flavor is immense. Different ingredients and different temperatures all affect the taste of beer. How much or how little yeast, or when the yeast is added, can drastically change the type of beer being brewed. Producing beer can involve roasting of hops, multiple stages of boiling and flash-cooling water. Brewing is a complex industrial process but we can all agree that the result is a marvel of human ingenuity.
Even with the magic of brewing complete, your pint has a ways to go before it finds your glass. Assuming it hasn’t been brewed overseas (that might add a few thousand miles to this journey) it now has to be put into a steam-cleaned keg, loaded on a truck, driven to your favorite bar and refrigerated all before the bartender can pour that smooth goodness into a glass. Your St. Patrick’s Day pint simply doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work – and a lot of energy.
Electricity and natural gas are the two key sources of energy used by breweries, with refrigeration and packaging accounting for 70 percent of breweries’ use of electricity – increasingly generated by natural gas. Heavy-duty heating in brewhouses that’s critical to the beer-making process itself accounts for 45 percent of brewers’ natural gas use.
Many breweries are working hard to reduce energy consumption. Some efforts are as simple as swapping light switches for motion sensors and timers but others include using more efficient boilers to cut natural gas consumption. A few brewers are now even generating some of their own power with rooftop solar or converting waste products into bio gas. Sierra Nevada beer has more than 10,000 solar panels on its Chico, Calif., brewery’s roof and parking lot which generate about 20 percent of the brewery’s electricity needs.
While conservation and sustainability efforts help, brewing, like any energy-intensive industry, needs reliable and affordable energy to work. More energy production of all kinds – particularly American-made energy – is a boost to our economy. Policies that allow us access to our vast resources and encourage more energy production should be no-brainers. Whether it’s the cost to turn on the lights, fuel up your tank or even grab a cold beer on St. Patrick’s Day, energy policy matters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joins API after spending 16 years as national editorial writer in the Washington Bureau of The Oklahoman newspaper. In all, he has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, including six years as sports editor at The Washington Times. He lives in Occoquan, Virginia, with his wife Pamela. Mark graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in journalism and earned a masters in journalism and public affairs at American University. He's currently working on a masters in history at George Mason University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor in the Communication Department.