Sustainable Brewing. Part II: Water and Wastewater

Beer is 90-95% water and is therefore a vital input in craft beer production (Olajire, 2012). However, water use goes beyond what is seen in the bottle or can. Water is used, and wastewater is generated, in nearly all components of the brewing process. Calculating total water use is essential to knowing the true environmental impact that comes from beer brewing. According to Brewers Association Water and Wastewater Reduction Manual (2017), the average brewery has a 7:1 barrel of water to beer ratio. Simply put, every six-pack of 12 oz. beers (72 oz.) requires nearly 4 gallons of water to produce. This number is driven up by microbreweries, as commercial brewers (e.g., Anheuser-Busch InBev) and regional craft breweries (e.g., New Belgium) pride themselves on achieving water use rates around 4:1. Dramatic differences in water usage can be attributed to an “economies of scale” issue, where smaller breweries have lower production and tighter profit margins. This leads to inability to invest, or cause risky investment, in sustainable equipment responsible for decreasing water use (especially during the cleaning process).

The water that does not end up in the final product (e.g., water used to clean tanks) is left behind as wastewater (Olajire, 2012). Breweries have therefore developed goals to reduce water use, or invest in technology and best practices to lower input costs and decrease their environmental impact.

Arguably the most important piece of technology is water meters and sub-meters, which record exactly how much water brewers use in the different steps of the brewing process. This allows breweries to track the full cost of water and wastewater, which Brewers Association (2017) defines as the sum of: (i) the price of incoming water; (ii) sewer service charge; (iii) costs of energy and chemicals needed to process water; and (iv) labor and other costs associated with water processing and treatment.

Another more advanced technology that has significantly reduced water use for one brewery is a cellar clean-in-place (CIP) system. Bell’s Brewing Company, near Kalamazoo, Michigan, has invested in a CIP system and claim it has reduced water use in the cleaning process by 65% compared to the traditional manual washing system (Bell’s Brewing Company, 2019).

Smaller brewers can also follow best practices by engaging in water reuse (Brewers Association, 2017). Much of the water consumed in the brewing process is used for cleaning and rinsing bottles, kegs, tanks, and other equipment. Rinse water “can be re-used for the external rinse or for the pre-rinse of the cask. If that is not possible, the final rinse water may be used for cooling applications or for conveyor belt washing” (Brewers Association, 2017). Recycling and reusing this water can generate an instant reduction in water consumption at minimal cost.

Next up… Part III: Energy and Carbon Footprint


If you are interested in learning more about water and wastewater reduction in the brewing process, check out the articles listed below. The Brewers Association manual examines best practices as it relates to water use in the brewing equipment, but also provides additional examples of breweries engaging in these types of practices. Olajire (2012) is an in-depth, technical study, but all readers can take away a great deal of information from it.

Bell’s Brewing Company. (2019). More Than Caring for the Earth. Retrieved October 3, 2018, from Sustainability website:

Brewers Association. (2017). Water and Wastewater: Treatment/Volume Reduction Manual (pp. 1–47). Retrieved from Brewers Association website: _Water_Wastewater.pdf

Olajire, A. A. (2012). The Brewing Industry and Environmental Challenges. Journal of Cleaner Production, 1–21.

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