Yesterday was the 46th anniversary of Earth Day and the birth of the modern environmental movement in America. Today is the 500th anniversary of Germany’s Reinheitgebot, one of the world’s first food purity laws, which limited the ingredients of beer to barley, hops, and water. Anybody can be “green” for a day, and being gentler with the Earth for a day is better than being rough every day, but what are you doing today? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Consider the packaging and the distance
Right now, Americans have an incredible range of choices in beer. Almost every style of beer is produced in every region of the country. You don’t have to travel to Belgium, or buy a carbon-guzzling import, to have a high-quality Belgian-style beer, for example. Support your local artisans and your local farmers by looking for your preferred style made nearby, and then consider the packaging.
Most craft beers still come in bottles because most craft brewers start as homebrewers and bottles are the most practical way to package homebrew. They are also essential in finishing the beer through bottle conditioning (also known as secondary fermentation). That’s it. There is nothing elite about glass or bottles, and as this column has explored in the past, there are major environmental advantages to cans, including a greater likelihood of being recycled, greater energy savings when recycled, reduced packaging needs due to durability, greater efficiency of packaging, and decreased carbon emissions related to decreased fuel consumption during transportation.
Canned beer is growing in the Philadelphia region. Sly Fox has been canning for a long time and its Schuykill River Trail Ale, which benefits the Schuykill River Trail, is now available in cans. Boxcar has switched from bottles to cans. Manayunk Brewery and Neshaminy Creek Brewing sell beer in cans. Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant now makes regular releases in cans, including its current offering, Mahalo.
Some readers insist that they can taste the aluminum of the can. Probably not. Beer cans have been lined with plastic ever since the first can, the Krueger’s all-steel can in 1933. The primary concern then was that the beer would rust out the can. All cans since, including aluminum cans, have a plastic lining. You might taste the aluminum if you drink directly from a can, but in a glass? No, and if you don’t believe it then enlist your friends for a blind taste test of a six-pack. One can and five bottles is enough to keep you guessing.
2. Drink beer on draft or from a growler
For green credentials, there is no beating the efficiency and durable, refillable steel of a keg. On a micro level, a growler, a reusable glass bottle holding 64 ounces of draft beer, is almost as good. Some growler have labels saying that they keep for 48 hours, but you can easily get five days of fresh, carbonated beer from a growler, assuming that you tighten the cap after each use. Five days from a growler? If you aren’t kicking a 64-ounce jug faster than that, invite some friends to help you. As soon as you kill it, rinse it with tap water and let it dry, then give it a good soapy wash right before the next fill.
3. Trade Scotch for bourbon, rye, or American
Yes, these are fighting words. This Examiner likes Scotch, too, but it’s environmentally rough. All of that heavy whisky and glass motoring across the Atlantic, then being trucked to you, cranks out the carbon emissions. Craft distilling is growing, at a slower arc to be sure than craft brewing, but there are some great local distilleries in this area, including Manatawney Still Works, Philadelphia Distilling, Cooper River Distilling, Dad’s Hat (which just won yet another award), Painted Stave , and others. These companies are making rums, gins, and American whiskeys. They also make bourbon, which does not have to be made in Bourbon County, Kentucky, or even in Kentucky, to be bourbon. That’s right. Distillery location is not part of the federal definition of bourbon, which is simply that it is made from at least 51% corn and aged for at least two years in new American oak barrels, with a minimum proof requirement going into and coming out of the barrel. Tuthilltown Spirits makes a really good, though really pricey, baby bourbon in the Hudson Valley of New York.
4. Drink a local wine
Fair enough, not this Examiner’s area of expertise, but still, there are increasing numbers of local vineyards, enough for the Barrels on the Brandywine Tour every spring. You can find a good wine that hasn’t been trucked from California or shipped from France. It will taste great, be reasonable in cost, and you can meet the people who made it, share the joy of it with them.
There are 364 days left until the next anniversary of Earth Day. What are you going to drink between now and then that respects and protects the environment?