Water woes force big brewers to focus on beer sustainability

FORT WORTH, Texas – Some of the largest brewers in the U.S. are trying to reduce their water-to-beer ratio as drought and wildfire threaten the watersheds where they draw billions of gallons every year.

No independent group tracks beer-makers’ water usage, but MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch both say they have made reductions. MillerCoors released a sustainability report Wednesday that shows it has cut its water use by 9.2 percent from 2012.

“Water is just critical to us,” Kim Marotta, the Chicago-based company’s sustainability chief, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “Looking ahead, we needed to find a way to brew more beer but use less water.”

MillerCoors’ water-saving effort – focused in Texas, California and Colorado – involves using sensors to release just enough water for irrigation, planting native grass to reduce erosion and runoff and keeping a close eye on leaky machinery in its breweries.

Some craft beer-makers are also working to cut down on water usage while increasing market share.

The number of brewers in the U.S. has expanded to its highest level since the 1870s, mostly because of an explosion of craft breweries. Without the technology or scale of big brewers, craft brewers use on average as much as twice the amount of water for every barrel of beer.

Rahr & Sons Brewing Company, a craft brewer based in Fort Worth, produces about 22,000 barrels of beer per year. Co-owner Fritz Rahr said he does not know how much water he uses to produce each barrel, but says the company uses strategies to conserve water and energy.

“We use a heat exchanging system, which re-captures the heat energy from the brewing process, transferring it back to the new brew water for the next batch of beer,” Rahr said