June 18, 2008 | General

Vermont Brewery Ups The Ante On Its Environmental Commitment

BioCycle June 2008, Vol. 49, No. 6, p. 45
Long Trail Brewing Company is now purchasing 25 percent of its power from the Central Vermont Public Service Cow Power program, helping Vermont farmers to turn manure into electricity.
Molly Farrell Tucker

SINCE Andy Pherson started the Long Trail Brewing Company in Bridgewater, Vermont in May 1989, Long Trail has made a point of being environmentally and energy conscious about its brewing and business practices. The company makes its own biodiesel fuel from kitchen grease, recovers steam from the brewing process to heat water, provides local farmers with brewery mash to feed their cows, has an on-site wastewater treatment plant and uses recyclable material in its packaging. Most of these practices have proved to be cost-neutral, but its recent decision to become the largest customer for the Cow Power program will cost the brewery an extra $10,000 a year.
The Cow Power program was started by a Vermont utility, Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS), in 2004 and pays dairy farmers to turn their cows’ manure into electricity. The farmers process the manure in anaerobic digesters to generate electricity which CVPS customers pay a premium to purchase. In addition to income from electricity sales, the farmers reap other benefits from digesting the manure, including capturing surplus heat for their farms and to heat water, using the fibers separated from the manure for animal bedding, reducing pathogens and weed seeds, and improving air and water quality. For more on Cow Power, see “Farm Digesters For Small Dairies In Vermont,” BioCycle April 2008.
On April 12, 2008, Long Trail announced that it would begin buying 25 percent of its electricity through Cow Power and formally signed on as a customer on Earth Day, April 22. According to Steve Costello, CVPS Director of Public Affairs, Long Trail uses 70,000 kilowatt/hours of electricity each month. He said Long Trail’s changeover to 25 percent Cow Power will be the equivalent of taking 106 cars off the roads, and capturing the CO2 emissions from burning 65,834 gallons of gasoline.
“We have gone forward with the Cow Power renewable energy program based solely on the fact that we can help promote others to move in the same direction,” says Seth Wyman, Long Trail’s brand marketing manager. “Our intentions are to help promote the technology and get others involved, specifically other companies here in Vermont looking to increase their ‘green’ practices.”
The company’s first brewery was located in the basement of the Bridgewater Woolen Mill. In 1995, it moved to a state-of-the-art brewery and Visitor Center/Pub with a deck overlooking the Ottaquechee River in Bridgewater. Brian Walsh replaced Andy Pherson as the company’s president in October 2006. Long Trail has 50 employees in warmer months when the Visitor Center and Pub are the busiest, and 45 in its off season.
The company makes several beers. Long Trail Ale is the flagship brew and best seller. Blackbeary Wheat is the second best-selling beer. Its other beers include an IPA, Double Bag, Hefeweizen and three seasonal brews. Roughly 40 percent of Long Trail’s beer is consumed in Vermont, and it sells more beer in Vermont than any brewery other than Anheuser-Busch.
Long Trail distributes its products throughout New England, as well as New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “We are looking to expand to other states,” says Wyman, “but we want to have sustainable, organic growth rather than extending too far and burning out.”
Long Trail didn’t formally come up with a name for its environmental initiatives until 2006, when it officially became the “ECO Brew” program. However, says Walsh, “Long Trail has been committed to the environment since we started over 18 years ago, and we remain committed to leading the brewing industry in environmental stewardship. We believe it is critical to reduce our collective environmental footprint, and we want to encourage others to do the same.”
Many of the company’s environmentally-friendly systems were developed by former president Andy Pherson and Long Trail’s employees. In the mid 1990s, Pherson designed Long Trail’s Heat Recovery System, which uses steam emitted during the brewing operation to heat water during a different stage of the brewing process. The steam is condensed back into hot water, and then used to transfer heat to cold water that needs to be heated up for brewing. Although the system is proprietary, Wyman explains that hot water and cold water pipes run around the brewing vessels in the brew house and thermal energy is transferred between the pipes to help cool down and heat up water as it is needed. Wyman estimates that the system has reduced propane usage by more than 1,000 gallons per month.
When local residents complained about Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the brewery’s emissions, Long Trail employees came up with a proprietary scrubber to remove them. Air and steam are passed through a series of sterilizing filters that remove the VOCs, and the captured steam used for the Heat Recovery System means less is emitted, in addition to the energy and water savings.
Long Trail uses grease from its pub kitchen to power backup generators and a lawn tractor. To transform the kitchen grease into biodiesel, employees built a reactor using instructions they found in books and on the Internet. “The animal fat compounds are chemically separated from the fryer grease through heat, resulting in a biofriendly fuel as the remaining product,” explains Wyman. The quantity of biodiesel generated changes weekly, depending on the number of customers at the pub and the amount of grease used for cooking.
Another reused byproduct is spent mash, a leftover of the brewing process. The brewery produces more than eight tons/day of this mash, which is delivered to local cattle farmers as a low-cost feed alternative. The mash is a mixture of barley, wheat and water, and is high in protein and fiber. Currently two farms are taking the mash, which Long Trail charges a small fee for, delivered by a brewery employee.
Long Trail’s location in tiny Bridgewater Corners, Vermont, (population 980) forced the company to come up with its own water sources and wastewater treatment system. Bridgewater Corners does not have municipal water feeds, sewer lines or gas lines, and so the brewery had to figure out how to operate without them. All of Long Trail’s beer is made from water drawn from two bedrock artesian wells on the property. Pherson designed a “Hydrologic Cycle” that draws ground water from the wells, processes most of the water into beer, and treats the wastewater before returning it to the ground.
Approximately 5,000 gallons of wastewater are treated daily, and the water that leaves the treatment facility is drinkable. “It has actually been awarded the ‘Best Tasting Drinking Water in Vermont’ by the Green Mountain Water Environment Association,” notes Wyman.
Long Trail is currently a test site for a new water treatment system that is being used in one other location in the U.S. “This will allow us to treat greater volumes of wastewater with much higher quality of effluent water being leached back into the environment,” says Wyman. It will require only minimal changes to Long Trails’s existing water treatment center. “Our current effluent is already above the state required quality levels, but if the technology exists to do it better then we feel it is our responsibility to do it,” he adds.
Long Trail uses only two gallons of water to make one gallon of beer, compared to the industry average of six gallons for one gallon of beer. “We are able to accomplish this through evolving efficiencies in our brewing operations,” explains Wyman. “Water and energy conservation procedures such as hot/cold water loops for pasteurizing our equipment and transferring thermal energy allow us to reuse the same water for various purposes in a completely safe and sanitary way prior to the water being discarded. Quite frankly, we just don’t see why the brewing industry uses an average of six gallons of water to brew beer!”
Long Trail’s beer bottles contain at least 30 percent postconsumer glass. The company also uses recycled paper and cardboard where possible and biodegradable cups for all of its events. Vegetable-based ink is used for printing on packaging and the company has reduced the size of its 12-pack containers, which saves 500,000 square feet of corrugated cardboard per year.
Molly Farrell Tucker is a Contributing Editor to BioCycle.

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