By Brian E. Clark
MIDDLETON — Not too long ago, the beer-making process at Middleton’s Capital Brewery took 10 to 12 glasses of water to produce one glass of beer.
These days, brewmaster Kirby Nelson has cut that figure in half, which is just one of the reasons the state Department of Natural Resources recognized the company Monday for its environmental accomplishments and joining the agency’s Green Tier program.
Nelson said he was helped by officials in the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, who prodded the brewery to measure its water and energy use and analyze all its processes.
Initially, he said he thought Green Tier was all about switching light bulbs and “basically a big pain in the butt.
“But I was totally wrong,” he said. “The first step was cultural, getting us to change our mindset. But our industry is getting smarter as well as greener, and it’s paying off.”
Wisconsin has around 70 craft brewers and the other two with Green Tier designations are Central Waters in Amherst and Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee.
Some of the changes at the Capital Brewery have required purchasing new, more energy and water-efficient equipment, he said. But much of it has come from Wisconsin companies, helping the state’s economy.
In addition to significantly cutting water use by installing a new kegging machine, the brewery also cut the time needed to brew each batch by approximately 35 percent. This lowered energy consumption and trimmed greenhouse gas emissions while increasing beer production capability.
Other power-saving moves included adding a boiler that runs on natural gas to produce steam more efficiently, insulating all steam and refrigeration lines and storage areas to reduce the amount of escaping energy and partnering with Green Bay Packaging Inc., whose key focus is sustainable programs.
Nelson also found a local farmer to reuse Capital’s spent grain as food nutrients for his herd, resulting in nearly a million pounds of grain being used twice annually. And the brewery is using corn sourced from Dane County, hops from the Ghorst Valley near Mazomanie and wheat from Door County’s Washington Island.
Last but not least, the brewery recycles cups, cans, paper, cardboard and other items and has dedicated cup and can receptacles in its Bier Garten, a popular gathering spot during the summer that often features music on Friday nights.
Mark Aquino, head of the DNR’s south central region, lauded the brewery for its sustainability efforts and also its work to strengthen the local economy. Bucking the recession, the brewery has hired three employees during the past 12 months and expects to hire two more this year.
Aquino said the brewing industry is lightly regulated by the state, so everything that the Capital Brewery has done to cut its water and power use has been on its own initiative.
“Your vision and leadership to expand these efforts will have lasting positive effects for the company, the industry, this community and the state of Wisconsin,” he said. “Earth Week is the perfect back-drop for celebrating Capital Brewery’s participation in Green Tier.”
Tom Stitgen, who has been general manger of the company since October, said he applied to be part of the DNR’s Green Tier program in November. About the same time, Stitgen — who worked as an accountant for several decades — began a grain-to-bottle look at how the brewery used its resources.
The company stepped up its efforts to save money and become greener at the same time.
“Being more efficient generally means you are cutting down on waste, and that translates into having a more sustainable operation and spending less on operations,” added Stitgen, a Madison native who had been a shareholder in the brewery for 10 years.
Though a combination of “wanting to do the right thing” and saving money were the primary motivations to join the Green Tier program, Stitgen said the brewery will use the designation in future marketing programs.
“People make choices on what they buy based on things like this,” he said. “So having Green Tier recognition will become part of our brand. We are proud to be recognized for this.”