A Toast to Sustainability

Ska beer and Homemade Pizza

Sustainability is hard and thirsty work. Whether you're farming organically, insulating a house or just riding your bike across town you can work up a mighty thirst. While I do like a glass of wine, after a long day's work I usually go for a beer. What tastes even better than a cold beer after a hard day of trail maintenance? How about a sustainably produced, craft-brewed beer from Ska Brewing?

Brewmasters put a lot of care into selecting grains, hops and yeast to produce their ales and lagers. Ska Brewing has gone the extra mile to make their craft beer efficiently and sustainably. The owners of Ska, Bill Graham, Dave Thibodeau and Matt Vincent have brewed beer in Durango, CO since 1995. When the time came in 2007 to expand they were dedicated to building a more sustainable brewery.

A group of friends and I toured Ska Brewery on a visit to Durango this spring. Between the tour (highly recommended) and an email interview with Dave Thibodeau I learned a lot about their energy efficient operation. The folks at Ska gave me so much good information I had to distill it down to a more manageable list.

Ska Brewing Sustainability Fun Facts:

Planning and Construction

  • The owners at Ska took a week-long trip with their building contractor to visit the owners of New Belgium, Great Divide, Breckenridge, and Odell’s, touring their breweries and learning the pros and cons of their 'green' building techniques/initiatives
  • The Ska Brewery was built to LEED standards (not yet LEED certified due to costs)
  • The brewery has windows, a comfortable workspace and low VOC products for all employees
  • Employees are encouraged to exercise through free ski passes, riding their bikes to work (and many do bike to work) with a locker room and showers
  • 75% of construction materials sourced within 500 miles of Durango
  • 30% fly ash in all concrete
  • Building insulation is made from recycled denim and LEED-certified icynene insulation used for refrigerated space
  • Tasting room tables and bar made from recycled bowling alley wood from Durango and Denver.
  • All construction waste from the Ska Brewery was recycled.

Operations and Recycling

  • Ska doubled their brewing capacity while using an estimated ½ the energy costs per barrel compared to the old brewery
  • Ska planned an efficient flow of production all the way from receiving, through production, until beer heads out the door providing a huge energy savings.
  • Ska uses a heat exchanger to take incoming 50ºF water run counter to the boiling wort (cooking beer), cooling the wort to 70ºF and preheating the clear water to 150ºF. The pre-heated water is used in the subsequent batch of beer.
  • A 93% efficiency boiler is used for heating and non-brewing hot water.
  • A ground-loop glycol cooling system maintains cooler temperatures naturally
  • The brewery warehouse level has all solar lighting
  • Ska uses 100% wind power electricity from their local utility
  • Ska recycles all cardboard, paper, plastic, glass and metal waste, and offer the service to employees without home curbside recycling.
  • Customers can recycle 6-pack containers at the brewery in exchange for beer
  • Twice recycled rinse water used for watering vegetation in beer garden
  • Spent grain and brewery waste are composted for use in the beer garden or go to feed elk on a research ranch — no spent grain goes to the landfill
  • Ska beer is canned (or kegged) not bottled because: aluminum is infinitely recyclable, a can of beer weighs 30 percent less than a bottle which saves fuel and space in shipping, cans are easier to 'pack in, pack out' for camping and boating

Dave and the crew at Ska make great beer and are working to make it even more sustainably. While organic grains and hops are prohibitively expensive now, Ska is working with local farms and suppliers to source ingredients closer to home. So, here's a toast to sustainability, made even better when the drink goes so well with pizza.

More Info:

Ska Brewing Co.

Ska Brewing’s 'Brew Minions'

The Toasters