Thursday, August 27, 2009

Put Those Shades On, And Don't Forget To Grab A Pint For The Road!

Things just keep getting better and better in the craft beer world, now don't they? New Belgium Brewing has just announced that they will be installing the worlds largest privately owned solar array, and the new E-Fuel MicroFueler converts old beer to ethanol fuel for cars. Just splendid.

So, this solar array. How large are we actually talking here? As of two days ago, New Belgium began the installation of an 870 panel 200 kW system, which will produce 16% of their peak electrical load and 3% of their total electrical energy used; it is reported that this alone will be able to power their bottling line for 8 hours on a sunny day. Pretty cool, huh? This further step in the brewery's greenery is apparently part of Fort Collins' FortZED initiative; the initiative aims to produce the world's largest active zero energy district through various renewable energy technologies.

In 1998, New Belgium captured the awe of those craft brewers out there who are trying to reduce their footprint during these troubling times. For 10 years, they have been running on 100% wind energy and can produce up to 15% of its electricity by capturing methane from their process water treatment plant, using it to fire a cogeneration engine that produces heat and electricity right under their little green noses.

So this has got to be pretty pricey, right? Well, yes. Of course. Over 1 million dollars, to be exact. Let's write that out. $1,000,000.00. Yep, that's quite a bit. However, another particularly groovy piece to this fabulous picture is that New Belgium is going to be reimbursed for up to 40% of this project through a Department of Energy grant.

Let's all take a moment of silence here, and appreciate the example New Belgium Brewing is setting. Pop open a beer while you're at it too (Their Fat Tire and Mothership Wit are particularly tasty).

Ahh, ethanol fuel. Some people love the idea, others hate it. I'd say...I'm sort of in the middle. I won't pretend that I know all the details surrounding it, its efficiency, or its manufacturing processes, but I never really liked the idea of growing excess food, with the sole purpose of it being converted into fuel. There are plenty of people starving in the world, and a lack of sufficient land as it is...I think we can come up with something a little less...counterproductive?But, using organic waste instead of freshly grown crops...well, I'm definitely sold.

The E-Fuel MicroFueler is a contraption that converts organic waste into ethanol fuel within minutes. AND it can easily be installed at individual homes. Pretty cool, I know. Equally cool is the fact that buyers are entitled to a $5,000 tax credit (perhaps H2 and H3 owners should be directly contributing to this credit?). That does sound nice and all, but let me mention that this bad boy does cost $10,000, so that's still kind of pricey. But hey, an investment is just that - an investment.

So what does this $10,000 get you exactly? A 250-gallon tank that is particular fond of wasted beer and wine (and it really loves "fresh" macro-industrial "beer," by the way...from what I hear), and a still that converts this waste into ethanol fuel (the still even has its own fuel pump built into it); its only byproduct is distilled water. According to its inventor, Tom Quinn, more than 100 billion gallons of organic fuel are thrown out each year. Let's write this one out too. 100,000,000,000. Oh yeah, that's definitely a whopper of a figure. So he figured it'd be much more efficient to use this waste for something productive instead. Who would argue with that?

The MicroFueler actually works more effectively with waste that is high in alcohol (no joke), but can be used with any type of organic material. The conversion into ethanol takes only minutes and uses about 3 kilowatt-hours of electricity to produce 1 gallon of fuel. The fuel could also power a home generator, which produces about 23 kilowatt-hours of electricity per gallon. So, if one factors in the reported statistics (annual household fuel consumption of 2,080 gallons and a $2.00 charge per gallon), along with the tax credit, the payback, on average, is about 2 years. Not too bad, I suppose.

Well, so what are we looking at here? Ethanol isn't as fuel efficient as gasoline (fewer miles are travelled on a gallon of ethanol versus a gallon of gasoline), but it does create 38% less carbon dioxide when burned. I'm by no means an authoritative voice on the pros and cons of ethanol fuel, but using waste, instead of fresh crops and land we can no longer spare on this planet, is definitely a sign of progress and further innovation.

There's currently only one MicroFueler up and running, and its owner, GreenHouse International Inc., has multiple contracts with brewers to turn their liquid waste into fuel. I've got a feeling that if this thing really kicks off and becomes what it is hyped up to be, we may be seeing one of these little guys, or something similar, making an appearance over at New Belgium Brewing sometime in the future. Who knows?

Peace and Love!

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Gizmo Gold"

So, I did it. I brewed an all organic batch of beer - a Blonde Ale, to be exact. Yippie!!! Now, what we're dealing with here is no mere run-of-the-mill Blonde, this bad boy has a touch of Wu Wei Brewing all over it. I'm still going to prime the bottles with organic honey (specifically, wildflower), instead of my usual concoction of dissolved dextrose, as originally discussed. I'm hoping that this will add a subtle honey-y residual sweetness to the final product...and not screw up my beloved tasters' palates. Let's cross our fingers, shall we?

As you can see from the picture up there, I did something a little different this time too (aside from finally going all organic). No...I didn't polish my brewpot before using it this time around... Still not sure? Come on... Hey! I used whole hops! Now, some of you may be wondering what that actually means...or be thinking "okay...then what were you using before?" Basically, there are two main paths a brewer can follow when brewing a nice batch of this glorious nectar: 1) using hop pellets (whole hops that have literally been pulverized and packed into pellets) and 2) using whole leaf hops (what you probably think of when you hear that magical word "hops"). I've been using pellets from the get-go - mostly because of the fact that there have been shortages of whole hops, due to crop destruction back in 2007 and supply and demand; my local shop has only been carrying pellets since I started brewing (except for a few particular varietals). Each have their pros and cons, but we won't get into that here. Plus, whole hops make me feel more authentic in my brewing - which I'm sure going all-grain will only add to further, once I make that jump.

As mentioned in my previous post, this batch was specifically geared towards Seven Bridges Cooperative's National Organic Homebrew Challenge. I ordered all of my ingredients from them (except my yeast...well, my second pack of yeast...the first one overheated on its way to me and wouldn't activate), and they have a great supply of organic whole hops. So, I figured, what better time to try using whole hops than now?

I used 6 lbs. of Briess Pale LME (approximately 3.5-4 °L), 1 lb. of Briess Carapils (1-2 °L), 1 1/4 oz. whole Kent Goldings hops (Belgium 2007, 7.82% alpha acid) for the bittering, 3/4 oz. of the same hop for the finishing, and Wyeast British Ale yeast (instead of my original Wyeast Whitbread yeast). I originally (well, by "originally" I mean about two weeks before I sanitized my carboy and turned on the stove) wanted to add a little bit of heather to the boil as well, to groove things up a bit like usual (heather can have some honey-like properties when used this way), and then prime the bottles with heather honey to compliment it. Although, I wasn't able to locate any organic heather in time, or any organic heather honey. However, our best friend and maid of honor, Heather, came into town on brew day to visit with us for the week. Given the miraculous coincidence, I was left with two options: leave the heather out and use whatever honey I could find when I bottled, or follow my gut instinct and scrape some dead skin off of Heather into the brewpot. I'm kidding. Although, that still would have been "organic," right?

Anyway, without going into too much detail here, things went well and I managed to stay in the BJCP guideline range for the original gravity of Blonde Ales (1.038-1.054) without having to adjust things after the boil. So here's what we're looking at:

8/09 - Gizmo Gold
*Original Gravity: 1.054
*Potential ABV: 6.5%
*Homebrew Bitterness Units (HBU): 15.64
*International Bitterness Units (IBU): 38.81

My IBUs for this one are a little high (by about 10 units, according to the BJCP), but it is roughly calculated, and I don't think it will be a problem (meaning, I hope it isn't).

I'm calling this one "Gizmo Gold" after my beautiful kitten, and favorite little rascal, Gizmo :-) Although, I couldn't help but feel a bit guilty while I was boiling away...with him being locked up in our bedroom while I brewed a batch of beer bearing his name and honor. He'll forgive me.

It's been exactly one week since I transferred this batch to its temporary glass home in my guest shower, so I should be bottling sometime this coming week. Then, as long as everything turns out well, it's off to two competitions (one of which will be alongside "Fuzzie Berr"), and then a third in a couple months (along with the last of the "Fuzzie Berr").

As a side note, I must say, straining, sparging, and transferring the wort from the brewpot to the carboy (I'm still using a pot, but hoping to upgrade to a nice kettle with a spigot and thermometer soon) when using whole hops is significantly easier and faster than using hop pellets; it's a difference between washing over leaves and washing over dissolved pellet muck. It even sounds more aesthetically pleasing, doesn't it? So, I think I'm permanently sold on sticking with whole hops from here on out (assuming I can find what I need, when I need it); plus, they just look and smell so much nicer!

Here's to our very own Mr. Gizmo, and his Gold!

Peace and Love!