Hops Honey Log: Wednesday, March 31st
Brewcation Stop #2: Long Trail Brewing Co. – Bridgewater Corners, VT
Ok, so I know that there’s been a bit of a lag between posts… and for that I apologize, but hey, life keeps happening & I just can’t seem to find a way to slow it down a bit… anyone got any suggestions?!? ;) So, when you last visited The Hops Honey, she had just spent an amazing day helping fellow Hartwick alumn & brewer Patrick brew up a batch of IPA at Harpoon…
After crashing on Patrick’s couch at the end of our brewing day, I got up bright & early & hit the road to Bridgewater Corners, VT… home of Long Trail Brewing Co.! On the morning of my visit they were receiving their Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP) certification from OSHA, which “recognizes small employers who operate an exemplary safety and health management system” - what an inspiring way to start off my visit!
I was really excited to visit Long Trail because of all they are doing to limit their impact on the environment. Given Vermont’s reputation as the greenest (and oftentimes the healthiest!) state, I was really curious to see how the breweries here were greening their brewing process – I kind of came into this brewcation with a ‘chicken or the egg?’ question in my head… are breweries (and other businesses) going green because they’re personally driven to because of their own personal commitment to the environment, or is it in response to a consumer and state government expectation/demand?
While my visit to Long Trail alone couldn’t answer that question, I did get a wonderful education on some of the steps that breweries can choose to undertake to be environmentally proactive. When I first began to research my trip one of the things that really impressed me was that Long Trail has a separate website dedicated to their environmentally friendly practices: ECOBrew
Browsing through the site really set the tone (& got me psyched) for my visit, and my experience definitely did not disappoint!
My hosts for the day were Brandon & Natalie, and they were both fabulous! My visit began with a tour of the brewhouse from Brandon, an Assistant Quality Assurance Manager at Long Trail who, knowing that I was interested in their eco-friendly practices, made sure to point out examples of how they were greening their processes as we went along!
After my tour I got to sit down with Natalie Brassill, a Quality Assurance Lab Technician who is also the Sustainability Coordinator at Long Trail. While Brandon walked me through my sampler of Long Trail brews, Natalie walked me through her role as Sustainability Coordinator as well as Long Trails eco-commitments… read on, friends!
Prior to coming to Long Trail as a lab technician two years ago, Natalie was the sustainability coordinator at Castleton State College. As a microbiologist with a passion for sustainability, Long Trail’s ECOBrew (Environmentally Conscious Operations) mentality and philosophy drew Natalie to want to be a part of the organization.
Long Trail has had several environmentally conscious systems in place for some time now:
- Spent Mash – For Long Trail, part of sustainability is cooperation w/ the community, so all of their spent mash is donated to a couple of local dairy farms
- Heat Recovery – A volatile organic compounds (VOC) scrubber is used to recapture the steam produced during the brewing process
- Water Conservation – Long Trail has reduced the amount of water used per gallon of beer by more than half!
- Cow Power – The Central Vermont Public Service electric company harnesses methane from cow manure & use a digester machine to convert it to energy that can be purchased by businesses. 25% of Long Trail’s power is cow power, making it the largest corporation using cow power.
When Natalie started working at Long Trail, she began looking around and asking what else could be done to reduce their impact on the environment. She began with the cost of electricity and analyzed electric bills only to find they were being charged about $500/month extra for not using the electricity as efficiently as they could. A year ago, Long Trail purchased a capacitor that made them more efficient so they weren’t wasting energy & being charged extra.
The next area that Natalie wanted to tackle was recycling. She noticed that on the floor, in the brewery, they weren’t doing much recycling with day-to-day items. In the past there was only one bin for all recycling, but Natalie went around and educated everyone as to what could be recycled; 5 gallon buckets, plastic carboys, bags the grain comes in, cardboard, plastic, aluminum, glass, etc. Now, everything that can be recycled, is. There are separate balers for cardboard and shrinkwrap: when a shipment of glass comes in, the pallets are both shrinkwrapped and have plastic green straps around them – the shrinkwrap is baled, and the green plastic straps (which were previously thrown out), are now put through a chipper and sent back to the manufacturer to be recycled.
** Before Natalie learned that you could chip the green bands
& send them back to the manufacturer,
they were throwing out 200 of them each day! **
Some of the other green initiatives at Long Trail include…
- LIGHTING – The light on their mailbox is solar powered, all of their Christmas lights are LED & on a timer, all of the bathrooms have motion sensor lights, and there are many signs up that remind employees and visitors alike to “be energy conscious” and “know your impact”.
- PACKAGING: Long Trail’s marketing guru Tony reduced the size of the packaging on their six-pack to lower the amount of cardboard they’re using.
- ON THE FLOOR: Natalie has encouraged people to get more personal with the items they touch every day so they begin to realize what can be recycled.
“You have to have bins, signs, and conversations, so people can grasp what you’re trying to do”.
- KITCHEN: The kitchen recycles the grease to a local vendor who makes biodiesel out of it. They also recycle all of their cans, jugs, and other packaging that the food comes in.
- COMPOSTABLE PRODUCTS: Out in the field (at festivals, conferences, etc.) they use corn-based-plastic compostable cups, as well as compostable napkins and to-go containers in the pub.
- REUSABLE PRODUCTS: Soda cups in the pub are no longer disposable, but dishwasher safe, and employees are encouraged to use coffee mugs at the coffee table.
- RECYCLED PRODUCTS: Paper products are made from recycled content.
I asked Natalie if people were receptive to these recycling & reducing initiatives. She said that while it’s always hard to change old habits, with an explanation of what was recyclable and repetition in putting things into the new recycle bins instead of the trash, people really got on board. She says though that it was really important to have someone on the floor, in the beginning, who is seeing the every day work and who can remind people to recycle.
“I dumpster dive”
To make sure people aren’t throwing things out that can be recycled, Natalie will “dumpster dive!” She praised the good crew working at Long Trail and commented that they’re lucky to be operating in Vermont, where environmentalism is in the back of folks’ minds.
Infrastructure in Vermont encourages efficiency, and the state’s small size makes it easy for companies and municipalities to work together. EV can be another resource for people, & when you have your power company saying you can sign up for XYZ, that makes it easier. Long Trail has always had a philosophy of leaving a smaller footprint.
“We’re fortunate that in Vermont we have so much wildlife, forests, clean air, mountains, lakes….
In our every day life we automatically respect the earth because we see it.
With our dairy farms, we see the impact that helping a neighbor out by giving them some spent mash can accomplish.
Long Trail has had the eco-philosophy for at least the past 5 years — they just put a name on it recently —
but they have always had the passion for being efficient.
We can be a leader in the battle for eco-friendlieness.”
Given the eco-philosophy and all of the efforts already in place at Long Trail, I asked Natalie what her thoughts were on future goals for the brewery.
GOALS – “If we could get a portion of our power to be solar, that would be a really positive addition, and it would be nice if we could recapture some of the methane produced in our waste water facility to heat the building”. She acknowledged that it would take a big investment & a big plan to be able to heat the entire facility using waste-water gasses (via a methane digester). They are trying to do an audit of their motors & machines that use a lot of electricity to try and reduce the loads & usage on the machinery to become more efficient. They have some motors that are 10 years old & they have to make sure the right amount of horsepower is on there. They have added a lot of devices that monitor usage, like a variable frequencing device you can put on a motor that allows it to run at a more steady state, working as efficiently as possible. They could also take the treated effluent for gardening purposes (it’s low in nitrates & ammonia), use it to flush the toilets and could use it for a whole gray water system.
“People really appreciate our eco-philosophy and feel inspired themselves to look for things that might have been done more efficiently. Once you see it on this product, you wonder if others are doing the same and what they’re doing… I think it speaks to our folks – our slogan is “Take a Hike”, so we have a lot of hikers and outdoors people that are attracted to our facility, so our customer base is people who appreciate the outdoors and enjoy our eco-brew mentality.”
One of the things that has always inspired me about Vermont is its commitment to being green in every way possible, and I was really excited, coming into this trip, to see how that mentality and dedication to the environment would play out in its local breweries. Long Trail definitely did not let me down, and really was really a beautiful, inspiring look into how a business can grow and be profitable and inventive while ensuring that its operations are as environmentally friendly as possible.
One of the great things that I’ve observed, as have many others who support craft brewers, is that the craft beer industry in general is much more interested in creating a great product… in creativity, collaboration and quality… than the bottom line. Another example of this is in the commitment to green practices, to supporting sustainability within their communities, and in the connection to their customers. In all of these areas, Long Trail excels and sets a wonderful example for the craft beer community.
Up next, I drove North to visit Otter Creek Brewing & Wolaver’s Organic Ales!
Let me leave you with a few more pictures from my tour of the Long Trail brewery!
It’s great how they have the various parts of the process labeled above so that visitors can identify everything!