Sustainable Women Series: Sustainable Brewing: A Small, Solar-Powered Company in the Business of Beer

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Throwback Brewery: where great beer, solar and sustainable business practices collide. In 2010, co-Founders Annette Lee and Nicole Carrier opened their brewery in North Hampton, New Hampshire with the vision to create 100 percent locally-sourced beers, as well as to promote other aspects of sustainable business.

Almost six years later, they’ve created a thriving brewing community, a successful sustainable business, and a new array of solar panels that cuts down their electricity bills by more than 50 percent! Providing almost 50 percent of the brewery’s energy needs, the solar array also eliminates over 78,642 lbs of CO2, 72.58 lbs of SOx, and 139.19 lbs of NOx. Learn more about Throwback Brewery’s solar project, advice for small businesses going solar, and the Brewery’s other sustainable initiatives in this Sustainable Women Series interview with Annette and Nicole!

In early 2016, Throwback Brewery decided to go solar, determined to support renewable energy and lessen your carbon footprint. Tell me about the project and the expected results.

Our barn has a large southern facing exposure that is absolutely perfect for harnessing solar energy. Once completed, our solar array is going to power approximately 50 percent of our brewery with an estimated five year savings of almost $50,000. In addition, environmental benefits include projected CO2 savings of 78,624 lbs, SOx (Sulphur Oxide) savings of 72.58 lbs, and NOx (Nitrogen Oxide) savings of 139.1o lbs. The biggest reward with the solar installation is getting our electricity bills now! It’s cut down that cost by more than 50 percent!

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What motivated you to go solar when you did?

We’ve always wanted our business to ‘go solar’, but we didn’t have the opportunity until we purchased Hobbs Farm and began the project of restoring and revitalizing it. We bought the farm (so to speak) for the large 5,000 square foot barn on the property. The barn is now where we operate our business — namely our brewery and pub. The barn also has a vast southern facing exposure that we knew would be perfect for harnessing solar energy.

We really wanted solar to be part of the initial restoration of the barn, so we included it in all of our upfront planning and architectural diagrams. However, when it came time to fund the solar part of the project, our bank decided to postpone (given that it was already going to cost a considerable amount of money to restore the barn and build the kitchen for the restaurant.) In July 2015, we moved into the farm and started our restaurant business. By October 2015, our bank felt confident enough in our business to give us the additional loan needed for a solar array.

We completed the paperwork for the USDA Rural Energy for America Program grant (REAP) and NH solar incentive over the winter. The system was installed in April/May 2016 and went live in May.

I know that many businesses are daunted by the high up-front costs of installing solar arrays and other energy efficiency technologies. You financed the project with a combination of incentives, a grant, and a loan. Did you experience any hesitation?
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Given the size of our original loan for the barn rehab and restoration, the solar loan seemed like a drop in the bucket — especially considering that we received a USDA REAP grant, plus a NH solar rebate. That, coupled with a very compelling ROI and five-year payback, made the decision very straightforward and easy. That said, we also considered a leasing option in which the solar company would have owned the equipment and we would have then paid for our electric as usual to the electric company and solar company. The solar company would then have the benefit of the renewable energy credits and solar rebates. Had we not been able to obtain the loan to buy our own solar equipment, we likely would have stayed with this lease option.

Do you have any advice for small businesses who are also concerned about their carbon footprint and may be thinking about installing solar?

Pick a great solar partner. We partnered with ReVision Energy, and they helped step us through the process, built the ROI model, and helped with the applications/rebates. They also were flexible in the options we had for getting solar to our barn — leasing versus buying. This made all the difference in the world.

You’ve placed an iPad near the door showing real-time production and cumulative benefits, do people spend time looking at it or ask questions about it? How educational has it been?

I definitely see folks checking out the iPad. It hasn’t generated many questions — but customers always seem both impressed and excited about our solar array and the statistics we highlight. Some customers stop us in the pub to ask about the energy generations/impacts to our business, so there is definitely interest in the array.

Throwback Brewery saves water by reusing the water that cools the hopped wort when they brew the next day. How much water does this save and are there associated cost savings?

Every time we brew a batch of beer we save about 20 barrels of water, which is then used in brewing the next batch of beer. We average about 2 brews a week, so that is 40 barrels a week and over 2 thousand barrels (or 64,480 gallons) a year of water saved. There are cost savings there for sure. First, that’s over 64k gallons of water that we don’t have to pay for since we are reusing it! Second, the water is warmed as it cools down the beer, and it stays warm in our jacketed hot liquor tank. As such, we save money by not having to heat up that water for the next batch of beer.

Throwback Brewery recycles and reuses growlers. Do you have any idea as to the percentage of your bottles that are recycled?

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That’s hard to say, since we don’t have data on the recycling habits of customers that buy our beer in stores. That being said, we sell a large number of growlers here at the brewery and at the farmers’ markets. Roughly 2/3rds of the growlers purchased at the Farmers’ Markets are being reused — i.e., customers bring their empty growlers in and swap them for growlers full of beer. At our brewpub, we get a lot of visitors from out of state that buy growlers, but, even still, we see anywhere from 65-80 percent of folks coming in with their reusable growlers to be filled. To give a specific example, this past month, we filled 620 growlers, out of that number, 284 were new containers and 406 were reused containers — that’s just over a 65 percent reuse rate for that month.

Throwback Brewery has a lot going on in regards to sustainability: you buy local, you encourage reusable purchases and recycling, and you save water. Do you have any projects in the works or planned for the future to increase the sustainability value of your company?

Yes, we always have projects in the works! First, we are soon going to be packaging our beer in 16-oz cans. Cans have a smaller carbon footprint than glass bottles for a number of reasons. Cans are lighter and require less energy to transport than glass. Also, aluminum cans have a higher recycling rate and more recycled content than other popular package types. Finally, recycling of aluminum cans saves 95 percent of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from its virgin source.

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Second, we’ve started farming our land this year. We have 12 acres, and about 3 acres right now is dedicated to farming — including our hop yard, fruit trees, and vegetables. The energy required for our farmer to ‘transport’ freshly picked fruits and vegetables from our fields to our kitchen is much less than any other source!

Finally, we are always looking for small ways to make a difference. For example, one of our brewers plans on publishing content on our website and potentially even teaching a class on how to transform the grain bags (used to package the malt used in the brewing process) into other usable objects — like tote bags or planting containers.

Nicole, acting as the one in charge of marketing and outreach you’ve succeeded in generating a lot of PR for the Brewery. What’s helped to generate positive publicity?

I think it is a combination of the following:

  • Having a well-defined mission and unique value proposition. For us, our goal as a company is to make beer sourced from ingredients within 200 miles. You’d be surprised how rare it is for breweries to strive to use 100 percent local ingredients.
  • Being able to tell a good story.
  • Supporting and enriching our community in whatever way we can.
  • Being authentic to our brand.

We don’t have any specific sustainability marketing strategies — we just try and be true to ourselves and good things have happened. One joint event that worked well for us was a Solstice Celebration with ReVision Energy. Over 200 people showed up to celebrate the solstice and take tours of our brewery and our solar array.

As co-founders, what’s the day-to-day like? What’s the most rewarding aspect and what’s challenging?

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Day to day can often be a lot of putting out fires. Annette’s our ‘handy woman’, so she often spends time troubleshooting and fixing any problems that pop up on our farm or in our brewery or kitchen. We both spend a fair amount of time working in the pub. We both have recurring weekly tasks associated with running a brewery and restaurant, such as updating all the menus, writing the specials, getting ready to open, payroll, scheduling, etc.

And, since we are still growing into our new space here at Hobbs Farm, we always seem to have new tasks associated with getting equipment running (e.g., canning line), and addressing long term projects (e.g., event space, additional parking, more kitchen space). The days can be nonstop sometimes.

The response we get from customers who often go out of their way to let us know how much they appreciate what we’re doing here with the farm and with our beer and food — that has been the most rewarding. The endless task list can be very challenging because we don’t always feel like we are accomplishing anything. With the transition from a small packaging brewery to a farm & brewpub with self-distribution, we have a lot more ‘moving parts’ to keep running smoothly. We often feel challenged with the time we have to focus on all of the different parts of the business.

What sparks your passion?

The creativity and science behind brewing sparked our original passion. That passion still thrives, especially in the many wonderful relationships we’ve formed with local farmers. Additionally, our passion for what we’re doing at Hobbs Farm is regularly rekindled by our customer feedback, about how they love to be here and really appreciate our vision and efforts.

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Nicole Carrier is the Co-Founder and General Manager of Throwback Brewery. A former IBM executive with a B.A. from Dartmouth College in Economics and Math, as well as an M.B.A. from the Dartmouth’s Tuck School, Nicole handles most of the marketing, outreach, social media, and technology aspects for the brewery. She’s also been highly involved with recipe development. In fact, she home-brewed for more than 10 years before starting the brewery and still continues to dream up new recipes. A social butterfly, Nicole loves connecting with all of the amazing people who walk into the brewery, from farmers and chefs, to fellow brewers and -of course- customers.

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Annette Lee is not only Co-Founder and Head Brewer but also an environmental enthusiast who spent almost 20 years working as an environmental engineer before her current venture into the brewery business. An amazing brewer, Annette began developing her skills more than a decade ago at home with some borrowed buckets. Enjoying the work and prompted by friends and family who wanted her beer, Annette began taking brewing courses in 2007 at the Siebel institute in Chicago. She finished Siebel’s World Brewing Academy Concise Course in Brewing Technology and less than three years later launched Throwback Brewery.

Follow Throwback Brewery on Twitter @thrwbck | Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ThrowbackBrewery

 

**Published with permission by Heatspring – Full article: https://blog.heatspring.com/a-small-solar-powered-company-in-the-business-of-beer/

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