“With the way water is being managed, we will run out of water long before we run out of fuel.”
Chairman of Nestlé Group
As a brewer and a card-carrying tree-hugger, one of the first things that I immediately found unsettling about the brewing process, especially on a commercial scale, was the gross amount of water that a brewer uses to create their product. While many larger, established macro- and regional craft breweries have their water usage ratios significantly lower than the national average, the average water use to beer production ratio for a brewery is around 7 barrels (bbls) of water to 1 bbl of beer ¹.
While only a small portion of brewing “liquor”, what brewers call the treated water used for the actual brewing process, is lost to the process itself (through grain absorption, evaporation in the boil and hop trub loss, etc.), a substantial amount of water is used for chilling, rinsing, cleansing, sanitizing, etc. and gets dumped right down the drain unless a brewer has a reasonable wastewater recycling plan in place. In fact, most breweries discharge 70% of their incoming water as effluent ². Much of this effluent, if the brewery does not regulate and treat it, can put a considerable strain on local municipal water facilities when both either volume and chemical makeup are taken into consideration. While there is little we can do beyond properly treating our effluent and being generally mindful of its volume, switching the source of a significant portion of our effluent to a reusable source of water (such as collected rainwater) instead of potable tap water is definitely worth the effort.
This all brings me to a situation that we here at Fox N Hare have been dealing with since we acquired our building from the city of Port Jervis in December of 2015. Our building sits on an island of sorts in the Central Business District of our downtown. One neighbor’s property wraps around two of the four sides of our building, another on the third side, with just our storefronts along Front Street exposed to public land.
A majority of the rainwater that lands on any of the three roofs runs off at the intersection of the three private properties. Because our property sits lowest, the majority of said rainwater ends up on our property. It took us months to come up with a lasting solution for the problem, but we believe the solution may be a fortuitous one.
We plan to lay a trench drain along of the back-alleyway of our building (see elevation below), sloping the newly laid concrete toward the drain, in order to capture and collect the rainwater in an 850-gallon underground collection tank. This will allow us to use it for any non-potable needs that we have in both our brewery and pub. There is even an existing stairwell up from the basement in the back of the building which once dug out should house the tank perfectly.
The rainwater can be used for any number of cleaning tasks in the brewery and while we will not be able to use it as brewing “liquor” because it will not be treated or potable, the volume of potable water that we will be saving will be enormous. Having access to this source of non-potable water may also give us the ability to use this nearly inexhaustible water source for a greywater system for flushing toilets and/or urinals throughout our building without drawing from the municipal water supply.
The city saw a relatively dry summer in 2016, with voluntary water restrictions being put in place by the local City Council. That being said, the idea of beginning production that may use upwards of 150,000 gallons of water (if the BA’s numbers hold true) to produce 700 bbls of beer annually (& optimistically) does not sit right with us, unless we can mitigate our added stress to the local water supply.
I believe that if we can implement rainwater collection and use, that we can solve two problems, solving the issue of what to do with our unfortunate excess of rainwater runoff and, at the same time, significantly reduce our tap water usage.
¹ Keith Gribbins. The growing challenges of brewery wastewater systems [Internet]. Craft Brewing Business [cited 2013, Sept 6th]. Available from https://www.craftbrewingbusiness.com/equipment-systems/growing-challenges-wastewater-control-craft-brewing/
² Brewers Association. Water & Wastewater: Treatment/Volume Reduction Manual [Internet] Brewers Association Website [cited 2017, Jan 15]. Available from