Brewing in a Drought

tap-waterCalifornia, as most know, is in a very serious drought. This got me thinking about how we, as brewers, utilize water and where we can conserve. Some of the obvious steps are being diligent in our water measurements so that we brew with only that which we need, but after I did a take on my last water use during brewing, I was a bit appalled at how much water I went through on a normal brew day

To be fair, I knew there was much room for improvement in my water usage. As I took stock of each time I turned on the hose or faucet, I made a quick note. I’ll break some of these down later, but here’s how it went:

  • Cleaning kettles and lines – 8 gallons
  • Cleaning fermenter – 18 gallons
  • Brewing water – 18 gallons (average)
  • Sanitizer bucket – 5 gallons
  • Clean up water – 8 gallons
  • Water for plate chiller – 40 gallons (yikes)

There’s nothing I can do about the 18 gallons (on average) that I use for brewing the beer, but I know I can cut down in other places. Lets begin. I boil 5 gallons of water and run it through the entire system – kettle to kettle, through the lines and pumps and finally, through “beer-in/out” portion of the plate chiller. This sanitizes the lines, valves and screens in a way that not much else would. So what can I do with that water once it’s done? AH! dump the 5 gallons into my fermenter, let cool for 15 min, then dump in my PBW cleaner! There, saved 5 gallons immediately. It’s a start.

Next, on to the fermenter. This needs to be as clean as I can possibly get it, so I really don’t have a lot of choice here. However, I now have a 5 gallon head start. This is a 15 gallon conical, so I’ll fill up with the 10 gallons and add my PBW. However, after I let it soak for a few hours while brewing, theres no reason I can’t use that PBW water to clean out my lines and valves. I’ll scrub the fermenter, an hour or so into the brew day, then let the deposits settle on the bottom, dump them out and use the residual water as cleaning solution for the pots and lines.  8 gallons of clean up water saved.

Sanitizer bucket is critical, but I may not need a full 5 gallons since I’m really just dropping stuff in the sanitizer while I’m not using them to keep them clean. Let’s do a 2.5 gallon sanitizer bucket, which still lets me submerge everything in the sanitizer. Also, I picked up a small spray bottle, which I filled with distilled water and Star San, so I can “spot sanitize” items as we go. In distilled water, Star San will last for months, so I only need make a bottle a few times a year. 2.5 gallons saved.

Ok, on to the real problem – the cooling water for the plate chiller. The obvious solution is to use a limited amount of very cold water and pump it through the chiller. It would be great if we could recirculate the water as well, thus creating a closed system. Here’s my first-pass, simple solution:

  • Get a small, submersible pump that can push 2 to 5 gallons/minute. This one fits the bill. The reason I like this little pump is that it has just the right amount of output (about 2.5 gallons/minute), which I can run, full open or restrict just a bit if I want to slow it down.
  • Next, cooling the water. I have a nifty little ice maker in our fridge that can crank out several pounds of ice in a few days (or I could just buy a bag for a few bucks a the store, if I’m in a rush). If I put, say 5 or 6 lbs of ice in a 5 gallon bucket, fill that with water, let drop to the 35 degree range, then start pumping it through the system, recirculating the hot water onto the top of the ice bath (the submersible pump sits at the bottom, remember), how long can I pump that through the chiller until the temperature of that water isn’t useful for cooling the wort anymore? I’m going to start with the 5 gallon bucket, even though I’m pretty sure, the temperature will rise quickly. I can always graduate up, but I’d like to see exactly how minimal this can be. Even if I have to graduate to a 10 gallon bucket to make this work, I’m still saving 30 gallons of water. The best part is, after I’m done chilling, I’ll take that water and use it to water plants, or clean some dishes, you name it!

So that’s the start. Doing some simple steps to mitigate water usage without sacrificing any quality to the brewing process and I’ve saved approximately 45 gallons of water in a few easy steps! Now, if that doesn’t sound like a lot of water, understand that I brew an average of 15 batches per year, thus creating a water savings of 675 gallons of water per year. I know at least 40 brewers just here on the Coastside alone, imagine if we all started brewing this way?

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