Liquid Diet: Lighthouse Brewing Company a local beacon of sustainability

There are those of you who want so badly to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day with the liver-flinching vigour that such an occasion deserves, but who have an aversion to food colouring in your beverage: that is a truly unfortunate dichotomy. If only you could dive into a mug of artificially green beer with Irish abandon, painting your interior the same colour as your green-clad exterior. But fret not. If it’s green beer you long for, at least in an environmental sense, there is another option, and one that can be explored on days other than March 17 — any Lighthouse Brewing Company (LBC) brew.

LBC is committed to sustainable environmental brewing practices. John Fitterer, LBC sales and marketing manager, says that along with maintaining such practices, the essence of the beer is the most important thing. “We buy the highest-quality ingredients, and it’s quality first for us,” he says. “I know that sounds a little bit cliché, but we’ve been known to dump the odd tank of beer when we don’t think it’s up to our standards.”

Just as dumping a tank of beer isn’t cheap, ensuring that all facets of their operation are environmentally sound isn’t cheap either. “Basically, everything we do costs a little bit more,” says Fitterer. “It’s the cost of doing business that we believe in. We would rather have a slightly smaller bottom line and all feel good about what we’re doing.”

LBC poured its first batch of beer 15 years ago. From the outset, the company has been operating a zero-emissions manufacturing facility. Its stainless steel electric immersion element — a kettle, as opposed to the steam-producing gas-fired boilers commonly used — not only produces a more localized heat, but requires less energy as well and doesn’t burn hydrocarbons.

When it comes to purchasing this equipment, Fitterer says they “try to source manufacturers who have the same commitment to the environment that we do. And it’s not always easy to do that, and again it’s not always the cheapest, but we really believe in sustainability, and it’s worth it to us.”

LBC donates its spent grains to local organic farmers to be used as nutritionally dense livestock feed. The company also puts its liquid waste through an aerobic digestion process, where microorganisms eliminate the biodegradable materials, then sends the solid waste to a local compost facility to aid soil nutrition. Fitterer says they spend thousands of dollars on waste-water treatment each year — between April 2009 and March 2010 the cost amounted to just over $15 500. “Technically, most of that could just go down the drain,” says Fitterer, “but it’s not a chance we are willing to take.”

This effort toward sustainability has earned the company three Capital Regional District (CRD) EcoStar Awards for waste reduction. Contenders for the awards have to be nominated, and then the CRD does a thorough inspection to ensure all the business’s environmental claims line up. “They mean a lot to us,” says Fitterer of the awards. “It’s just a way of being recognized for every little thing that we do.”

It only takes 22 employees to keep LBC running, and Fitterer says environmental awareness is a characteristic they all share. “We just all firmly believe in doing every little thing we can for the environment. It’s not unusual to see more bikes in our parking lot than cars.” In fact, Fitterer says trying to find out whether applicants have green tendencies is part of their hiring process. “We’ll have certain questions in our interview process to try and determine if someone is as environmentally conscious as the rest of [the employees]. And you can usually pretty much tell just on a conversational basis.”

LBC produces seven signature beers, as well as a number of seasonals throughout the year. Fitterer explains they use all natural ingredients: no additives, preservatives or adjuncts. Their brews only consist of water, malted barley, hops and yeast. Earlier this year, however, LBC did a chocolate porter with “beyond fair trade” cocoa nibs imported from Ghana, Africa. “I thought fair trade was as high as you can get,” says Fitterer. “We will go where we need to go to find the all-natural ingredient.”

This week marks the launch of an imperial red ale, Siren. Imperial ales are known for their higher alcohol content, usually about 7.5 per cent, but Fitterer says theirs will run at 8 per cent. It joins the Tasman Ale, which came out a couple of months ago, as LBC’s most recent seasonals. “There’s a lot more coming in the new year,” promises Fitterer. “I have a few things up my sleeve, but we do keep that sort of thing quiet until we are ready.”

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