Humans have no monopoly on loving beer.
From its warm, grain-rich beginnings to the last bit of water syphoned away during brewing, beer is a feast for species great and small.
Cattle munch on the grain left over after brewing. New crops of barley thrive under a mulch of spent grain. Microbes multiply in the nutrient-rich soup of excess brewing water.
Those microbial beer lovers can cause trouble if they start carousing, unchecked, down the drains and out into the rivers or the sea. Given free rein, they can consume so much oxygen that there wouldn't be enough left for the fish.
Keeping fish safe and wastewater treatment plants running smoothly under the influx of brewery wastewater is no small feat. Along with being a banquet for unwanted microorganisms, used brewery water can be too hot, too acidic, too alkaline or just too much.
Scratch the surface of your favorite brewery and you're likely to find ingenious solutions that keep local sewage systems happy and your beer at least kind of affordable.
The latest example of this careful juggling is unfolding in Shelter Cove, where the Gyppo Ale Mill brewery and restaurant, which takes its name from an old term for small-scale loggers, is under construction. (And yay for the persevering Gyppo crew, who expect to open in December or January after a false start in Redway and years of trying.)
Gyppo is installing an oversized storage tank, big enough to retain two to three days' worth of brewery wastewater on site, at the request of the Shelter Cove Resort Improvement District. The tank is a stormy weather cushion, because storms can be tough on the quirky local wastewaterscape.
Shelter Cove is dotted with empty lots that were plumbed, years ago, with connections to the district's sewage system. When it rains, water seeps into many of those unused connections, taxing the treatment system, explains Philip Young, the resort district's general manager. Rainwater overload is usually worst at the peak of a storm, Young says, so he worked with Gyppo to select a tank size that should usually do the trick. If a long storm settles in, Young is confident that Gyppo's owners would delay brewing more beer until the system can recover. "We have a great relationship," Young says.
Gyppo has also agreed to time its brew-water releases for when the district's system is least used, between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. And it has installed equipment that will allow the wasterwater to flow out slowly and adjust the pH to a range that's easier for the district to handle.
"This is an example of the local sewer district being very logical and cooperative, looking at what makes sense and what will work," said John Mercer, who helped Gyppo plan its system.
Mercer owns Brewery Wastewater Design, a Colorado company dedicated to navigating the sometimes clashing needs of brewers and wastewater treatment plants. It's an unpredictable field, varying not by state or county, but by the needs of each community's wastewater treatment system. For brewers, things can be as simple as filling out a permit, or as complex as setting up an entire wastewater treatment plant onsite, offsetting its costs by generating electricity, steam or hot water that brewers need.
Nobody has gone that far in Humboldt but the issue has reshaped our brewing scene in other ways.
Eel River Brewing's taproom is a Fortuna landmark but the bulk of its brewing moved to Scotia years ago over sewage treatment issues.
"The sewer rates were unsustainable in Fortuna," says Eel River owner Ted Vivatson. Eel River signed a 15-year lease with Pacific Lumber back in 2006 and settled into Scotia, doing significant pre-treatment at the brewery to accommodate the lumber mill's aging wastewater treatment system. Now, with PL long gone, Scotia creating a public community services district and sewer rates likely to quadruple, Eel River is reassessing.
"We have property here in Fortuna, by the taproom. And moving out of the state is an option," Vivatson said. "We have to look at all our options."
Meanwhile, with the region's biggest brewery discharging into Eureka's wasterwater system and a second brewery ramping up production there, some have speculated the city's capacity is maxed out.
Fear not, says Michael Hansen, Eureka's deputy director of public works for utilities operations. With careful coordination and source control, he says, the city can accommodate even more breweries.
A Date With Beer
Monday, Aug. 21 — Beer yoga is back, this time with instructor Krystal Kamback at HumBrews in Arcata. The recurring class, from 3 to 4 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday, includes one beer. $12.
Thursday, Aug. 24 — See how five beers from Bear Republic Brewing Co. in Healdsburg pair up with a four-course buffet dinner from 6 to 9 p.m. at HumBrews. $30 advance, $40 at the door.
Saturday, Aug. 26 — Old favorites and plenty of new-to-Humboldt brews come fresh off the tap at Hops in Humboldt, the region's biggest beer fest. Breweries debuting this year include O'Meara Bros. Brewing from Lakeport, Fogbelt Brewing Co. of Santa Rosa, High Water Brewing from San Leandro, Golden Road Brewery Co. out of Los Angeles and our own The Booth brewery, the Korean beer brewed in Humboldt. Taste well and wisely from 1 to 5 p.m. at Fortuna's Rohner Park. $35 advance; $45 door, $10 designated drivers. The $75 VIP ticket is expected to see out before festival day.
Sunday, Aug. 27 — Let beer be your muse during "Sip and Paint" at Redwood Curtain Brewing Co. in Arcata from 2 to 4 p.m. Artist Emily Michaels provides instruction, a preliminary design and all materials. To reserve a spot, email firstname.lastname@example.org. $40, not including beverages.
Wednesday, Aug. 30 — New sour beer releases and food by Pizza Gago kick off a five-day celebration of Humboldt Regeneration's fifth anniversary. Look for a mystery flight night on Thursday, aged barrel release on Friday, a farm demonstration day for the whole family on Saturday and potluck on Sunday, all from 2 to 7 p.m. at the brewery in McKinleyville.
Sunday, Sept. 3 — Soak up your beer with barbecue during the SoHum Beer Fest & BBQ Smoke Off from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Mateel Center in Redway. Sample the work of aspiring "best barbecue" entries and choose your favorite. $30 for food and beer; $15 for food only.
Saturday, Sept. 16 — Celebrate women in business with beer and networking during Ladies Day Out 2 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Lost Coast Brewery's brewhouse in Eureka. Local, women-owned vendors will be selling clothing, food, skin care products and more, and everyone is encouraged to come in their splashiest "beach party luau" wear. Free admission; beer is extra.
Carrie Peyton-Dahlberg likes healthy rivers and oceans even more than she likes beer, and so is oddly fascinated by BOD, I&I, and brewery methane-power. Email her at email@example.com.