Being good stewards of water is a priority for Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, which goes through hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day to make its beer.
“For us, about three-and-a-half gallons of water is necessary to make one gallon of beer, so it’s about a 3.5 to 1 ratio,” said Nick Benz, Dogfish Head’s CEO.
The remaining two-and-a-half gallons that don’t make it into the pint glass is considered wastewater, as is the additional 75,000 gallons Dogfish Head uses every day to clean its pipes and tanks.
“It’s not what people think of at home, you know number one, number two going down the drain. This is agricultural products,” Benz clarified.
Currently, tanker trucks haul all of Dogfish Head’s wastewater to local farms at least 10 times a day, according to Benz. The grass loves it, but state rules forbid the beer maker from getting rid of the wastewater if it’s raining or at night.
“It’s kind of like the human body. At some point, the body will break down if it can’t get rid of its waste products,” Benz said.
In other words, the brewery has to shut down and that means no beer. And no beer, means no money. That’s why the brewery poured $9 million into an on-site facility it hopes will allow it to clean and reuse its wastewater.
“This’ll help us reduce the amount of water significantly that we can pull from the well and the process of taking it to fields has always been a stopgap for us,” said Matt Eisenmann, the maintenance and engineering manager overseeing the project.
Eisenmann explained that wastewater from the brewery will make its way to a million-gallon tank called a “digester,” that’s chock full of microbes and bacteria that gobble up the organic material in the wastewater. When the bugs are done eating, the water will undergo rigorous filtration.
“The goal of that is to create water that’s clear, meets drinking quality standards, doesn’t smell and we can use it back in the brewery to clean our pipes and tanks,” said Eisenmann, who reiterated the reclaimed water will only be used for cleaning purposes and not for the beer.
The system still has some kinks, but Eisenmann is optimistic that the facility will be up and running by November.
Meantime, Dogfish Head is saving money on its electric bills thanks to all of those little critters inside the digester that generate methane gas as a byproduct.
“We’re able to take that methane and capture it, run it through an engine and create power from it,” Eisenmann said.
Benz said the bugs’ waste gases generate about 40 percent of Dogfish Head’s annual electricity needs.
“It’s always great when good business practices line up with good environmental. And one doesn’t have to be at the expense of the other,” Benz said. “When it’s a win-win there, it’s fantastic.”