Clean energy, sustainability help shape Calif. brewery’s beer making process

Technology

Technology has not only made beer more popular, but it’s also making the process of brewing it greener. Recently, I visited the Firestone Walker brewery in Paso Robles, California to get an inside look at how sustainability and clean energy go into every bottle.

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“We’re an American craft brewer and we like to say we changed the world of beer,” started David Walker, who co-founded the company 25 years ago.

David Walker, co-founder of Firestone Walker brewery

While I was familiar with the company’s flagship 805 brew, I actually learned that they got their start with a Double IPA inspired by Walker’s upbringing in England.

“We make a beer called 805 which is a honey blonde ale, and that’s probably our most popular,” said Walker.

These days, they make dozens of different brews at their sprawling facility in Paso.

After lunch in the tasting room, Walker led me out to a giant solar field behind the brewery. Firestone has about 60 acres of land just off of the 101 freeway, nearly 10 of those are dedicated to this solar installation. It helps offset up to 80 percent of their energy usage.

“The energy for our beer is generated by California sun, by California water, it all just has a nice feel to it,” said Walker.

There’s also an onsite wastewater treatment plant. I know, it sounds kind of yucky, and believe me, I’ve been to an actual sewage treatment plant (that segment is worth a watch), but this is treating much more organic matter. Think byproducts of making beer and not what flushes down the toilet.

“That water is actually purified and leaves that system almost better than we receive it from the ground,” explained Firestone Walker head brewmaster Matt Brynildson. He’s had a really fun job for over 20 years now.

Beer tasting with Firestone’s head brewmaster Matt Brynildson

Even steam from the boiling process is re-captured and used to heat more water.

“We, in effect, almost save 50 percent of all the energy input in the brewhouse by simply collecting it in a heat exchanger,” explained Brynildson.

The final part of my tour took me into the bottling process, which is mesmerizing in itself. All kinds of machines and moving parts fill bottles and cans, then package them up and send them off to thirsty patrons.

“Brewing has always been a really technologically advanced art form… it was one of the first industries to use refrigeration and refrigerated rail cars,” said Brynildson.

Finally, we tasted some of the product. It was some of the freshest beer I’ve ever tried. Also, I asked that age-old question: can you bring beer you buy cold back to room temperature and then put it back into the fridge?

The answer is yes, but the best beer is kept cold the entire time, from brewery to home, and consumed as soon as close to the made-on date as possible.

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