Brewing Wastewater in a Small Town

One of the most common questions we get while working on our plans to open a brewery & taproom in a small town, and on septic, is how will we handle the large volume of wastewater and organic solids that are the inevitable by-product of the brewing process? Well, thankfully science and economics play a major role in how we will achieve a neutral footprint with our wastewater and organic waste (yeast, trub, spent grain, etc….). To understand how this works, let's first explore the brewing process and the major areas where waste by-products are produced:

Diagram of the wastewater process during brewing. Image Courtesy of Cambrian Innovation Inc.

Diagram of the wastewater process during brewing. Image Courtesy of Cambrian Innovation Inc.

As you can see, there are different areas where waste is produced either as recoverable solids or soluble waste (waste water). One of the first areas of waste is spent grain after lautering (separating liquid from grain). Spent grain for the layman is simply the rinsed used grain that has been utilized to produce the liquid called “wort” that will be boiled, cooled, and fermented to become beer. Spent grain is an easy byproduct to up-cycle as an alternative feed option for farmers. So this first recoverable solid will be sent to farms and utilized once more to feed livestock.

The final products of the brewing process are of course beer, and the two by-products are recoverable solids and soluble waste. As a brewery who will be on septic, neither of these byproducts can feasibly be dumped down the drain. Even on systems that are attached to the municipal sewer, recoverable solids which are high in BOD (biochemical oxygen demand) should never be dumped down the drain as this can wreak havoc on sewer systems. In fact, many municipalities have started assessing higher surcharges or regulating heavily the amount of solids being dumped by a brewery into municipal sewer. 

Since we will be on sceptic, we have already gone to great lengths to determine how we will treat our recoverable solids, which will consist of a screen filtering process and further refinement to separate soluble waste from the viscous waste and turn our recoverable solids into biosolids that then are once again desirable for farmers to utilize in further agricultural application.

Now that we have discussed our ability to upcycle as much as our solid waste as possible, let’s turn to soluble waste (waste water). Of course, once again, we can’t dump it down the drain into a septic system, so where does it go? Well, our brewhouse drains will lead to an onsite treatment solution that will first ph balance our wastewater, run through filtration that will reduce any BOD to nominal levels and then collect in a holding tank as clean water ready to be used for many applications including irrigation of our facilities landscaping and even neighboring commercial centers. 

While this is very much so a very high level overview of how a brewery in our unique situation will deal with our byproducts, we hope it has given you a better glimpse into the inner workings of the brewing process and the responsibility of a brewery to be stewards of the environment by being cautious and careful on how they deal with their waste. We believe that this is a model many breweries should be utilizing as it allows for less water use overall and allows another cycle of use for the organic byproducts of the brewing process.