Drink Sustainably: Brewing and Water Conservation

By Jimi T Hardee & Rachel Major

Most of us here in California have a brewpub somewhere within 10 miles of our home. These breweries are busting community centers providing the surrounding area with a place for people from all walks of life to enjoy good beer, good food, and good company. With the rise of water scarcity though, some breweries are finding it harder and harder to keep their doors open. Are we seeing the end of craft breweries as we know them? Or are solutions to brewer’s water pains just over the horizon!


In 1873, there was 4,000 breweries in the US with 38.5 million people. Laws making home brewing illegal until the 1880s (not to mention prohibition) crashed these numbers, but today there are more than 6,000 breweries with nearly 9 times as many people.

Economic opportunity and community not only makes this an industry on the rise, but one that is far from it’s saturation point. However, it is also an industry with it’s own unique obstacles. Few businesses feel this water pain as deeply as independent breweries.

Brewing creates a lot of non-toxic, expensive-to-treat wastewater. For smaller breweries, treatment costs can account for up to 15% of a breweries operating expenses, and can eat into ~30% of their profits. That is a huge drain for small businesses trying to turn a profit.

Because on site water treatment options are so high - at least $100,000 - breweries are often reliant on local municipal treatment plants. If the local plant isn’t built with breweries in mind, the plant passes on a hefty bill to the breweries. If they even let the brewery open at all.

In Scott’s Valley, where Steel Bonnet, one of our pilot program breweries, such a situation hinders the brewery’s growth. Steel Bonnet doesn’t have the option to just put their wastewater down the drain and this limits their production. Find out more at our Brewer’s spotlight -here-

We hear this story all too often from small breweries. The ability to recycle and reuse wastewater is an attractive prospect for many. NuLeaf aims to not only turn this water pain into growth, but does so in a way that aligns with the ethos of breweries.

Jaw Brew, another pilot program participant, makes a valiant effort to reduce waste in their brewing processes. From snack bars to new types of award-winning beer make from bread waste, their turning this do-good mentality into wealth. And by participating in our pilot program, they’re unlocking the next untapped opportunity in brewing - water. Find out more -here-   

And we think this speaks to a defining principle of the brewing industry as a whole. Like us, many brewers are sustainably-minded, makers at heart with a DIY attitude and ambition to take market chunks away from the “big boy brewers” like Coors and Sierra Nevada.

Beer is integrated into the economic and social fabric of our society, but it is a luxury industry that is still affected by resource scarcity. Yet in the face of rising water prices, breweries are proving no-waste strategies are not only essential to the long term health of the industry, but ways to make their mark and take the industry by storm.