The Evolution towards Carbon Neutral Beer

The Evolution towards Carbon Neutral Beer

In recent years, the brewing industry has come under the spotlight for its contributions to greenhouse gas emissions. As the effects of climate change become more apparent, forward-thinking breweries are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints. This article explores the journey towards carbon neutrality in the brewing industry, shining a spotlight on pioneering brands leading the charge such as New Belgium Brewing Co. and Fat Tire Amber Ale, the first nationally distributed carbon-neutral beer in the United States.

The Brewing Industry and Climate Change

Brewing beer contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in several ways, from the production of raw materials to the energy consumed during brewing and the transportation of the final product. As the world grapples with the effects of climate change, it becomes increasingly clear that the brewing industry needs to adapt. This section explores the brewing industry’s relationship with the climate and the role it plays in contributing to global warming.

The Brewing Process and its Carbon Footprint

The brewing process is energy-intensive and produces a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Key areas of emissions in the brewing process include:

  1. Agriculture: The production of hops and barley, key ingredients in beer, involves the use of fertilisers and pesticides, which contribute to greenhouse gases.
  2. Energy Use: Breweries require large amounts of energy for boiling, cooling, and other processes. This energy often comes from burning fossil fuels, contributing to carbon emissions.
  3. Transportation: The transportation of raw materials to the brewery and the finished product to retailers and consumers involves the burning of fossil fuels, leading to further carbon emissions.
  4. Packaging: The production of packaging materials for beer, such as glass bottles and aluminium cans, also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate Change’s Impact on Brewing

Climate change is not just an environmental issue; it also has economic implications. For breweries, changing weather patterns can affect the availability and quality of key ingredients. For example, drought and extreme temperatures can harm hop and barley crops, potentially leading to supply shortages and increased costs. Moreover, as weather becomes more unpredictable, water sources can also become less reliable, affecting both the quantity and quality of water available for brewing.

Carbon Neutral Brewing: The New Frontier

In response to the pressing issue of climate change, some breweries are pioneering a path towards carbon neutrality. A carbon-neutral brewery balances the amount of carbon it emits with the amount it removes from the atmosphere, often through carbon offsetting initiatives.

New Belgium Brewing Co. – A Pioneer in Carbon Neutral Brewing

New Belgium Brewing Co., renowned for its Fat Tire Amber Ale, is one of the pioneers in carbon-neutral brewing. Committed to becoming fully carbon neutral by 2030 across its entire operations, New Belgium has invested in several sustainable initiatives. These include:

  1. Solar and Wind Power: New Belgium uses renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, to power its breweries.
  2. Wastewater Treatment: The brewery treats its wastewater and converts it into biogas, which it uses to generate electricity.
  3. Energy Efficiency: The company has invested in various energy efficiency technologies, such as natural lighting and improved insulation, to reduce its energy consumption.
  4. Sustainable Packaging: New Belgium is continually exploring ways to reduce the environmental impact of its packaging, such as by light-weighting its bottles.

Fat Tire Amber Ale – America’s First Certified Carbon Neutral Beer

In an industry milestone, Fat Tire Amber Ale became America’s first certified carbon-neutral beer in 2020. Achieving carbon neutrality required a comprehensive overhaul of Fat Tire’s supply chain and production process, as well as the purchase of carbon offsets to balance out any remaining emissions.

To highlight the urgency of tackling climate change, New Belgium raised the price of Fat Tire six-packs to $100 on International Beer Day in 2020. This dramatic price increase served as a stark reminder of how climate change could disrupt agriculture and inflate beer prices in the future.

The Journey Towards Carbon Neutrality

Transitioning to carbon-neutral brewing is no small feat. It involves comprehensive changes across all areas of a brewery’s operations, from ingredient sourcing to energy use, waste management, and packaging.

Reducing Emissions in the Brewing Process

One of the first steps towards carbon neutrality is reducing emissions in the brewing process. This can be achieved through several means, including:

  1. Increasing Energy Efficiency: Breweries can reduce their energy consumption by upgrading to more efficient equipment, improving insulation, and using natural lighting where possible.
  2. Switching to Renewable Energy: By installing solar panels or wind turbines, breweries can generate their own renewable energy. They can also purchase renewable energy from the grid.
  3. Treating Wastewater: Breweries produce a significant amount of wastewater, which can be treated and reused, reducing both water and energy consumption.

Reducing Emissions in the Supply Chain

A brewery’s supply chain is another significant source of emissions. By making changes in how they source ingredients and package their beer, breweries can significantly reduce their carbon footprints.

  1. Sourcing Locally: By sourcing ingredients locally, breweries can reduce the emissions associated with transporting goods over long distances.
  2. Organic Farming: Organic farming practices can reduce emissions by eliminating the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, which are major contributors to greenhouse gases.
  3. Sustainable Packaging: Innovations in packaging, such as the use of recycled materials and light-weighting, can significantly reduce emissions related to packaging production and disposal.

Carbon Offsetting

Despite a brewery’s best efforts, it’s virtually impossible to completely eliminate all emissions. That’s where carbon offsetting comes in. Carbon offsetting involves investing in projects that either reduce emissions elsewhere (like renewable energy projects) or remove carbon from the atmosphere (like tree planting projects). Through carbon offsetting, breweries can balance out their remaining emissions and achieve carbon neutrality.

The Role of Technology in Carbon Neutral Brewing

Advancements in technology play a crucial role in the brewing industry’s transition to carbon neutrality. From energy-efficient brewing equipment to innovative packaging solutions, technology is helping breweries reduce their carbon footprints and move closer to carbon neutrality.

Advanced Brewing Equipment

Innovative brewing equipment can help breweries reduce their energy consumption and emissions. For example, some modern brewing systems use heat recovery technology to capture and reuse heat generated during the brewing process. Additionally, advances in wastewater treatment technology allow breweries to generate biogas from their wastewater, reducing their reliance on fossil fuels.

Concentrated Beer

One innovative approach to reducing emissions related to transportation and packaging is the production of concentrated beer. Companies like Sustainable Beverage Technologies and Alfa Laval have developed systems that remove much of the water from beer, resulting in a concentrate that can be transported at a fraction of the weight and volume of traditional beer. Once at its destination, the beer concentrate can be rehydrated and carbonated before serving.

Challenges and Potential Solutions

While the journey towards carbon-neutral brewing holds great promise, it also presents several challenges. Here, we explore some of these challenges and potential solutions.

Financial Cost

Transitioning to carbon-neutral brewing involves significant upfront costs, from investing in energy-efficient equipment and renewable energy systems to overhauling supply chains and investing in carbon offset projects. However, many of these investments can lead to long-term cost savings through reduced energy bills and waste disposal costs.

Consumer Perception

Changing established brewing processes and packaging can risk alienating loyal customers. That’s why it’s crucial for breweries to communicate their sustainability efforts clearly and honestly, emphasising the environmental benefits without compromising on the quality and taste of their beer.

Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing

Achieving carbon neutrality is a complex task that requires expertise in various fields. By collaborating with other breweries and sharing knowledge and best practices, the brewing industry can accelerate its transition to carbon neutrality. Initiatives like New Belgium’s Carbon Neutral Toolkit, which provides breweries with a step-by-step guide to achieving carbon neutrality, are an excellent example of this kind of collaboration.


The race towards carbon neutrality in the brewing industry is well underway, driven by pioneering brands like New Belgium Brewing Co. and Fat Tire Amber Ale. While the journey presents numerous challenges, the industry’s commitment to sustainable brewing and innovative technological solutions give cause for optimism.

With the right investments, collaboration, and consumer support, carbon-neutral beer could soon be the norm rather than the exception, proving that enjoying a pint can be compatible with protecting our planet. As the brewing industry continues to evolve, it’s clear that sustainability is not just an optional extra but a vital ingredient in the beer of the future.