Recently, I had the chance to visit a brewery in Portland, Oregon in the beautiful Pacific North West region of America. I am not a beer drinker, but the smell of the malt and hops cooking reminded me of riding the bus past the old Abbots’ Lager brewery in Victoria Parade, Collingwood. To me it smelt like Weetbix, hot milk and honey, my favourite brekky from very early childhood. Nostalgia aside, I was there to look at sustainability practices and wow, I was impressed!
The brewery under the microscope is Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) which combines a boutique (but large) factory with a growing and already large and popular brew pub. It sports a bicycle theme and the bike bar in particular is impressive and even the toilet paper holders are made of bike parts recycled. Christian, the owner, is passionate about bikes, beer and the environment and of course, Portland is known for a high proportion of people like him.
Food there is yummy and each day, they feature a board of beers for your ‘pairing’ or just tasting. You can also get a ‘flight’ or sampling.
But here’s the good part – the entire place has been conceived and created with the environment in mind. Water and heat are recycled around the place throughout the process to lessen the carbon footprint, being used over and over in the process. The mashed and cooked barley, when strained, is shoveled into a vat and sent to a dairy farm. The cows love it, are thriving on it and with this high quality fodder, their milk is super rich, consistent and delicious.
For the most part, the beers are organic and when not, they are clearly labeled. The canning process involves a superb machine imported from Italy and this is all done in sterile surrounds ensuring a pure beer.
Portland is one of those rare cities where the water tastes great straight from the tap so any drinks created in the city can truly be enjoyed by the most stringent locavores. Many of the grains are locally grown too, but all are American. Some of the stouts have over a dozen grains including amaranth (which is like tiny popcorn when roasted or fried so probably adds a note of corniness).
It was fascinating to look at the way conduits are routed so that hot water can be used multiple times and eventually is part of the cleaning ritual, a rigorous process. Some of the beers are Gluten Free (the world’s new fetish) and some are alcohol free, such as the amazing Root Beer which was quite superb and strong, redolent of the Tristram’s Sarsparilla I would drink in Queensland as a kid but even better.
There is no sour stale beery smell anywhere near the place. This is due to clear management and staff policies on ‘clean up as you go’ and the use of non-toxic food grade environmental detergents. In the beer making process, cleanliness is essential. In Mexico, we had a friend whose large-scale home-brewing failed many times due to bacteria crawling up into the vats. He was devastated but just didn’t have the systems in place to prevent contamination and gave up in despair. It is a real challenge and can mean that much purified water is flushed away. However, at Hub, all is recycled, filtered and wherever possible re-used in the plant or site cleaning.
Containers (beer cartons) are made from recycled plastic, are flat-packable and returnable. Cans and bottles are also able to be recycled easily.
Expansion is in the near future and we stayed for lunch to enjoy the great food, ambience and witty beer containers/branding and the little messages on the bases of the cans. Hub beers will certainly become one of the trendiest products in the USA and it was terrific to note just how committed all the staff is to sustainability and making their products with pride.