Most people remember where they were when they had their first beer. Perhaps not the whole night after, but once a person has their first sip of beer they are joining a tradition that has existed for thousands of years. It is hard to prove whether the first brewers of beer were shot-gunning them at frat parties but beer has become an important object in our society, for better or for worse.
Patrick McGovern, an archaeologist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered the oldest known "barley beer" in an area around Iran’s Zagros Mountains. The date is approximated at around 3400 B.C. (Tucker). Also in this article from Smithsonian, Tucker explains how "items" such as fruits, honeys, juices can ferment naturally using yeast that is in the air around us. You will know about this if you have ever left a half-finished bottle of juice in the fridge for a few weeks or few months and then tried it and it tasted carbonated or like cider. Animals are described as also enjoying fermented fruits that have fallen off trees and bushes, in an attempt to catch a buzz. Just thinking about that fact lets us think that maybe we have more in common with animals than previously thought. Humans, however, are the only species (so far) that brews their own beer.
McGovern explains that the workers who built the pyramids were paid in beer, around four to five liters per day. Historically, beer was consumed instead of water because water could be toxic and beer had vitamins and minerals that water lacked. McGovern argues that societies have been built on beer, giving early humans a reason to learn agriculture so they could grow crops to ferment and turn into beer. The next time you crack open a brew, take a very brief moment to imagine yourself 5000 years ago building pyramids in the horrific desert heat all day and how refreshing that beer would have been. If they built monuments for beer, you can definitely walk the dog for one.
According to a timetable about beer prepared by Professor Linda Raley from Texas Tech University, beer began to be commercially brewed on a larger scale between 500 and 1000 A.D. with the main brewing taking place in monasteries and convents. On the same table, hops enter the scene in the year 1000 (these are all A.D. years now) and things begin to change. In 1200, in Germany, Austria and England, brewing is established as a commercial enterprise. Fast forward to the year 1553, and the Beck's Brewery is founded (the same one you see in liquor stores today. Yes, that Beck's). Raley outlines how beer in America as we think of it today, began in the 1850's and 1860's with German immigrants setting up breweries around the country (Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Miller, Schlitz, Pabst). I will be using Budweiser (in order to have a reference point), a beer brewed by Anheuser-Busch, as well as some other breweries to center in my research about beers effects on society and its effects on the globe. Time to go grab a six-pack.
The Anheuser-Busch website (anheuser-busch.com) delves into the history of the "King of Beers", that Eberhard Anheuser married the daughter of Adolphus Busch. Anheuser bought half of the Busch's brewing company, thus today's "Anheuser-Busch". Adolphus decided on the name "Budweiser" because it would attract German immigrants, and was also easy to pronounce for Americans. While Anheuser-Busch brews more than 100 types of beer, they are mainly known for Budweiser (some others include Stella Artois, Rolling Rock, Busch and Shock Top).
While many people enjoy an icy (or hot if you're weird) glass of beer, the average layperson doesn't consider the effects of production on the environment. According to Kim Jordan, "From grain to glass, all aspects of brewing and delivering beer to the marketplace are burdened with environmental issues, with water and energy consumption being the two primary natural resource considerations" (1). She explains that at every step of the process, there are environmental issues that plague the production. For example, over-tilling of the soil to grow the barley (or whatever crop) and then saturating it with fertilizers and pesticides creates toxic runoff, much similar to other over-farming that some might be familiar with. Due to the fact that beer is a liquid and not a vegetable/in crop form, it is hard to picture that it once came from soil. Another quiet environmental issue, though not specific to beer only, is the production of bottles and cans. It can take a large amount of energy to produce the glass which requires heat (electricity, fuel) as well as melting aluminum to forge cans and kegs. Luckily though, Jordan also states that recycled glass and aluminum can greatly reduce the footprint of this aspect of the beer production.
Most of the environmental damage comes from the first steps of brewing: growing the crops, gathering containers, and preparing the malt to be brewed into beer. Main resources used in the production of beer include heat, electricity, and fuel. One huge upside is that if a brewery is connected to a renewable energy source, such as wind power or solar power, then it can decrease its energy use drastically. The damage continues, as the beer then has to be transported and kept cold. Refrigeration and automobile use are well known catalysts for global warming, adding CO2 to the atmosphere. Jordan states that a very good and accepted ratio of water used to beer produced should between 4:1 and 3.25:1 (4 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of beer).
Browsing through the Budweiser website (anheuser-busch.com), I found my way into the sustainability section. The various sections are fairly in depth and full of numbers regarding conservation and the like. For example, Anheuser-Busch (AB from now on) is developing new breeds of barley seeds that can use 40% less water to grow and produce the same yield as current day. These stats are all based on United States breweries, but AB claims to have reduced their water use by 50% over the last ten years. Also they say that they have turned 30% of their transportation fleet into CNG (clean natural gas) vehicles, which in turn reduce the impact from emissions on the road.
Taking it an extra step, the section is sub-divided even further. In the "Water" section, directly from the AB website: " ...Partnering with the University of Idaho and the Bureau of Reclamation to install 9 Agrimet stations in key barley growing regions in Southern Idaho and Montana. These stations deliver real-time weather data to barley growers to help them use water more efficiently. The pilot program helped growers reduce their water use between 9 percent and 23 percent." This shows that they are actively involved in the process of sustainable water use, which is very important not only because we have water problems already, but a large corporation like AB leading the way is important in order to get other companies to buy in to the process. In the "Recycling" section: "Just since 2009, we’ve reduced the material in our packaging by more than 75,000 tons, and we’ve achieved a 99.7% recycling rate at our breweries." they say this helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keeps waste out of landfills. In the "Energy" section: "Anheuser-Busch is the world’s largest operator of BERS, a method of turning the nutrients in wastewater from the brewing process into renewable biogas." This seems like an excellent concept to invest in, considering a massive amount of energy is used in the brewing process. Though not complete fixes for the problems involved with brewing, these examples from AB show that big corporations can try and make a difference in the way they manufacture. They also show that a company can grow and try to become sustainable and don't have to rely strictly on old-thinking technology (coal, petroleum).
Anheuser-Busch is a large, global corporation that has existed for a long time (1869) and holds a large share of the worlds beer market. It is very advantageous that they take steps to create a sustainable practice. On the other end of the spectrum, local microbreweries are doing their part as well. Taken directly from the LostCoast Brewery (centered in Eureka, CA) website: "... it’s about efficiency as well. We use a state-of-the-art vapor condenser to turn the steam produced from boiling wort back into the hot water, which we use for the next brew." Small breweries are way ahead of the game if they start from the ground with sustainable practices already in place. This makes it easier to adapt and grow as the planet and environment changes.
So far we have covered the environmental impacts of brewing beer and the ways in which some companies integrate sustainable practices into their businesses. Let's take a look at it from another perspective, the political economy of beer drinking and its role in society. Taking a page from Paul Robbins book (no pun intended) "Environment and Society", I will attempt to show how beer is stitched into the very fabric of society (sorry Utah). We as humans love our poisons. Whether it be cigarettes, sugar, detergents, fast-food, or alcohol, we all hold varying ideals about what is socially acceptable and what is not. Advertisements are everywhere trying to sell us things we don't need but want. Humans are tricked into wanting things that are less than healthy for us. I don't want to preach or claim myself a health-Nazi or anything like that, as I am also a victim of the system. I am just attempting to display some facts and ideas for people to think about. With that in mind, let's see how beer is present in our everyday lives.
The next time you are driving down a city street, pay attention and see how many stores you pass that post liquor ads in their windows and storefronts. Nearly every gas station, grocery store, small market, convenience store, liquor store (obviously), and restaurant offers some form of alcohol, whether it be beer, wine, hard liquor, and any of the other million alcoholic beverages. Chances are you will see an ad for a 12 or 18-pack of Budweiser for $8.99 or $12.99. This is incredible that a poison can be marketed as a wonderful addition to everyday life and social events. Every 4th of July is beer and brats, the Super Bowl is beer and wings, catch a game on television or at the stadium and its beer and more beer. This is not something I am making up; one can watch any event or any commercial and there is an incredibly high chance beer will be attached to it. We reach for beer as a celebration, we reach for beer to cope; it has manifested itself in every imaginable part of life.
Beer in itself is a culture all its own. It is almost expected that beer be included in our lives. Picture a college (not BYU) and kegs immediately come to mind, huge cases of beer that get turned into cardboard robots, cans stacked up to the ceiling. There is no way to escape this habit. With that in mind, since beer will never go away (as long as humans are around), we might as well embrace it and make sure it is not causing too much damage to the planet. Many breweries, both small and massive, are taking steps to ensure their production techniques are at least somewhat concerned with the environment and its sustainability. Due to the fact that beer is so engrained in almost every culture (and does not appear to be going away anytime soon), it is imperative that it be produced in the most efficient ways possible. We must all do our part, if we drink, make sure to recycle or buy from companies that have the health of the Earth in mind.
Furthermore, beer is marketed as a way to relax, and to forget about the world and daily stresses. This is where the problem arises, and this is why beer is an object of concern. The world today has many issues, many of which need to be addressed sooner rather than later. So "forgetting" about the daily stress and problems is just making it worse. The concern never disappears, it just hibernates and then re-awakes when it wants. Why is this important? I don't remember where I read it, but someone was giving a lecture about the "Band-Aid" principle or something of that nature. The main concept was that we should all be treating the root cause of an issue, and not just trying to cover it up. For example, if you work in a kitchen and keep cutting your fingers with a knife, instead of continuing to bandage them, learn how to use the knife correctly. What does this have to do with beer? Beer is a societal band-aid. The corporations market it as a happy-go-lucky beverage that brings people together and lets us all relax. This paper is not an analysis of beer, but rather how beer is intertwined with the world's problem's, or else this would not be an "object of concern". As I have outlined, beer is just another way (of the millions) in which we choose not to deal with issues at hand. I am in no way trying to call out anyone who drinks beer; we are all guilty of some form of this, my chosen object was beer.
This class title was "Global Awareness", and that is what I am trying to tie together in this process. Turn on the television, go for a walk and look around outside and see for yourselves; there are millions of people that are unaware of what goes on in the world, whether by choice or not. If one has the choice, it is their duty as a human to be knowledgeable of how they affect the planet (wherein we all live). I mainly chose beer because it is so prevalent in our society, that if people associated beer with a good time as well as sustainable environmental practices, the world might be a better place. The globe is a place we all inhabit, whether people like it or not. This is a very important time in our history as many things could take a drastic turn for the better or a horrific turn for the worse. We are all responsible to know how we affect our home and others around us, do not follow what the news and others tell you about what is right and what is wrong. Let's do our own research and learn about life, then we can live more as friends and less as enemies, and in turn, we all might end up a little "Weiser".
“About Us.” Lost Coast Brewery, 10 Aug. 2016, www.lostcoast.com/about-us.
“Home.” Home, 2016, www.anheuser-busch.com/.
Jordan, Kim. “The Oxford Companion to Beer Definition: Environmental Issues.” Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine, 2010, beerandbrewing.com/dictionary/4eLmiwX9aV/environmental-issues/.
Raley, Linda. “A Concise Timeline of Beer History.” Concise Timetable of Beer History., 1998, www.beerhistory.com/library/holdings/raley_timetable.shtml.
Robbins, Paul, et al. Environment and Society: a Critical Introduction. Wiley-Blackwell, 2014.
“Sustainability Resources for Brewers.” Brewers Association, 2017, www.brewersassociation.org/best-practices/sustainability/.
Tucker, Abigail. “The Beer Archaeologist.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 1 Aug. 2011, www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-beer-archaeologist-17016372/