Why you should care
Because now you can donate your hangover to a good cause.
It’s Sunday morning, your head is screaming like a sprung fire alarm, and you’re still grappling with the questionable decision you made before tucking into bed the night before. If you’re bingeing in Vermont though, perhaps you don’t have to hold your head in shame. By boozing in the Green Mountain State, you might just be saving the planet.
So pat yourself on the back — after taking some aspirin, of course. Craft breweries in Vermont are becoming leaders in alternative methods for energy conservation and wastewater adaption. Rock Art Brewery, in Morrisville, is 100 percent solar-powered, while nearby The Alchemist in Stowe already has one facility completely fueled by the sun’s rays (and another on the way). In Middlebury, Woodchuck Hard Cider is getting a quarter of its energy through the Cow Power program, receiving solar energy from local farmers. Meanwhile, Magic Hat Brewing Company in Burlington has a digester that turns spent grain and wastewater into energy, reducing the environmental cost and impact of their operations.
With a state motto of “Freedom and Unity,” Vermonters are working together on cost-effective energy solutions at a time when craft breweries are experiencing a national boom. The total number of U.S. breweries jumped from 2,475 in 2012 to 5,301 in 2016, according to the Brewers Association. Last year the highest annual percentage growth came from craft breweries — the addition of nearly 1,000 microbrews, gastropubs and regional breweries nationally caused a 16 percent jump. Of course, all that mom-and-pop growth has another effect: a growing environmental footprint. “There are a lot more small breweries that I think just aren’t aware of what steps they can take,” says Jenn Kimmich, a co-owner of The Alchemist.
Government officials are becoming wiser to the impact booze can have on the environment. In May 2016, Magic Hat president Mark Hegedus was surprised when Gina McCarthy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, called to say she was stopping by while in Burlington. “I should have heard about this a long time ago,” he remembers her saying after touring the facilities and digester that now produces 420 megawatts of power per hour. “What you’re doing is so spot-on. It’s what we need other businesses to actively be looking at.”
Regardless of whether Hegedus’ recollection is accurate (McCarthy did not respond to our request for comment), the exchange underscores the challenge breweries face: informing the public of their increasing energy independence. Rock Art has embraced marketing, adding a “Vermont’s 1st 100% electric energy” label on its products. “Did our sales double when we announced we were solar? No,” says co-owner Matt Nadeau. “A lot of it is just for us.” Magic Hat sells its leftover hops and malts to local farmers, and has even opened its grass up for researchers from local universities to study. In June, The Alchemist won a statewide award for maintaining cleaner water and creating less waste, which they achieved in part with a million-dollar investment in treatment equipment. But they’ve also used side-streaming to filter out dirty water, creating a cleaner product for local government to deal with down the line. “This is the equivalent of composting at home — everyone can do it,” Kimmich says.
How to Imbibe on a Feel-Good Vermont Booze Cruise
- Take a free tour at Magic Hat. Visit its bizarre showing room and the “morgue,” a fridge of old brews that could “come back to life” in the form of a seasonal encore. Have the Heart of Darkness lager or its Not Quite Pale Ale, the classic #9.
- Order an Alchemist Heady Topper or Focal Banger: With most of its delivery network within 30 miles, it doesn’t get any fresher.
- Taste a legit, sun-powered Vermont double IPA at Rock Art Brewery. Popular choices: the Limited Access and Ridge Runner.
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