Sustainable Homebrewing: An All-Organic Approach to Crafting Great Beer

Sustainable Homebrewing: An All-Organic Approach to Crafting Great Beer

by Amelia Slayton Loftus


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Brew delicious organic beer at home. In this comprehensive guide, Amelia Slayton Loftus covers everything you need to know to brew at home with organic ingredients, stressing practices that minimize waste and use sustainable resources. Along with 30 irresistible recipes, Loftus provides expert tips on buying equipment, harnessing solar energy, recycling water, using spent grain, and growing your own organic barley, hops, and herbs. You’ll enjoy brewing homemade beer that not only tastes great, but is good for the environment. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612121239
Publisher: Storey Books
Publication date: 06/03/2014
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 659,911
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Amelia Slayton brewed her first batch of organic beer in 1995 and has won many local and national homebrewing awards. In 1997, she cofounded Seven Bridges Cooperative, the country’s only cooperatively owned, certified organic homebrew supply store ( and was intimately involved with the day-to-day business until 2011. She now concentrates on writing and homesteading full-time. She lives in Santa Cruz, California.

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Looking at Essential Equipment and Supplies

Being a sustainability-minded homebrewer means keeping your brewery as efficient, environmentally sound, and worker friendly as possible. When it comes to buying equipment and supplies, there are many factors to consider. What are the costs to the environment, human health, and human rights for the materials you are about to purchase?

It is kind of hard to feel like a truly sustainable brewer if you know that the factory that makes your plastic bucket fermenter dumps toxins into local water supplies, contributing to serious health problems for nearby residents. Your amazing homebrewed beer will taste even better if you can sip with confidence, knowing a 10-year-old kid did not have to work a 10-hour day in a factory so the manufacturer could keep the cost of your brewing gizmo low while turning a tidy profit.

When you start out as a homebrewer, the equipment is the largest investment you will make, unless you are very resourceful at repurposing cheap or free items. Some of the items are familiar kitchen tools, while others are more unusual. Racking cane? Wort chiller? Airlock? What the heck? Fear not — by the time you finish this chapter you will be ready to equip your home brewery in style and with a clear conscience.

Developing Your Personal Ecosystem

What in the world is a personal ecosystem? I use this phrase to describe the sum total of all the interactions with the environment that one individual has. Driving a car has a negative impact. Growing organic veggies has a positive impact. Just like a checkbook register, you can add up all the positive and negative impacts. Ideally you can live a life that has a net positive impact on the environment. Achieving the goals of near-perfect homebrew nirvana and keeping your personal ecosystem balance sheet out of the gutter is a challenge.

A personal ecosystem is all about your relationship with the environment and how your actions relate to the whole. Instead of getting too complicated about it, it is always good to focus on the positive impacts you can have and try to minimize the negative impacts without getting the carbon meters and calculators out. My philosophy is, "Live a good life, and life will be good!"

The Cost of Manufacturing

Humans manufacture an unbelievable array of goods that have advanced civilization and improved the lives of many, but there is a cost beyond dollars for many of the wonderful products we have become accustomed to. Unfortunately that cost is often borne by people making those goods, not the ones using them. Fortunately, progress is being made toward addressing these problems, much of it driven by consumer awareness. As we demand more environmental and human rights responsibility in the manufacture of the goods we buy, industry innovates to meet that demand. This is especially true in the controversial world of plastics.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has a Sustainable Manufacturing Initiative (SMI), which provides tools and support to small, medium, and large manufacturing companies looking to improve their environmental report card. The fact that this agency exists is proof that government and industries are starting to take industrial pollution, municipal and industrial waste, the manufacturing carbon footprint, and energy efficiency seriously. It often turns out that improving performance for environmental reasons also improves a company's competitiveness and its profit margin by reducing its energy and waste disposal costs. Every year more companies incorporate the SMI sustainability goals into their overall planning.

It's important to consider whether your equipment is made from materials that contain toxic ingredients, generates hazardous waste in the manufacturing process, or has a short life span. The location of the factory where the item was made also has an environmental effect. The shipping distance between the production plant and your home represents a carbon emissions cost that might influence your decision. When purchasing equipment that uses fuel, electricity, or water, consider the efficiency of the item. The savings gained by choosing cheaper, less efficient gear might not be as much as you would save by buying a more expensive item that uses less water, fuel, or electricity.

Homebrewing Equipment in Detail

Your largest expenditure will be in your equipment, and it makes sense to spend money for quality items that will last. Let's start with a discussion of the equipment itself. If you know what you need but want more information on eco-friendly choices, see Choosing Eco-Friendly Materials.

Brew Pot

You need a large pot that will fit your batch size. Most batches are 5 gallons. A 6- or 7-gallon pot is ideal for extract and partial mash recipes, but for brewing all-grain recipes, you may need a larger pot. Stainless steel is best. Ceramic-on-steel is acceptable as long as there are no scrapes or gouges in the coating.

You can use aluminum, but be aware that there is some controversy regarding the health risks of using aluminum cookware with acidic foods such as beer wort. Depending on the pH of your brew water, aluminum can also contribute undesirable flavors to your beer unless an oxidized layer has built up over time on the inside of the pot. This will keep metallic flavors out of the brew and can help prevent flavor transfer between batches as long as this layer is not stripped off with the use of oxygen-based cleansers.

Since the brew pot is usually the most expensive piece of brewing equipment (a quality 6- to 10-gallon stainless steel one can cost between $100 and $250), some folks make do with a smaller pot. A 3- or 4-gallon pot (12– to 16-quart) can be used for extract brewing with acceptable results. You can boil a concentrated brew, then add sterilized water to top it up to five gallons in the fermenter before adding the yeast. There are some drawbacks to this method, and it doesn't work for all-grain brewing.

Whatever size pot you have, a long-handled brew spoon will make your life easier. The best choice is a stainless steel one that can be sanitized by boiling and will not melt or potentially leach harmful plastic residues into your beer.


Beer making requires some precision in temperature reading, so invest in a good-quality thermometer; you will not regret it. It should be immersible and have a temperature scale of at least 30 to 220°F (-1 to 104°C). Metal-probe thermometers give you fast results and are easy to read, but they need to be calibrated or adjusted regularly to remain accurate. Glass thermometers are consistently reliable, but do not use one filled with mercury. Most glass thermometers sold for brewing and cooking are alcohol filled. They do not need to be calibrated, but test yours in boiling water before brew day so that if it is off by a few degrees you can compensate accordingly.

Digital-probe thermometers are very easy to use, but choose wisely — many of the cheap thermometers on the market are not highly reliable, are tricky to program, and are just about impossible to repair. A majority of the homebrew thermometers are made in Asia nowadays, including American brands. A few companies such as Tel-Tru Manufacturing in Rochester, New York, still manufacture thermometers in the United States.

Most homebrew suppliers also sell inexpensive, reusable strip thermometers that stick to the outside of the fermenter so you can monitor the temperature during fermentation. Most of these thermometers have a temperature range of 35 to 80°F (2–27°C). These are very useful for maintaining consistent fermenter temperatures and to troubleshoot problems with fermentation. They are worth the two or three dollars apiece if you brew regularly.

Straining Equipment

A good funnel is essential for fermenting homebrew in containers with narrow openings. The most common funnel sold by homebrew shops is a large (8– to 10-inches in diameter) hard plastic funnel made of nylon, a form of plastic that is very durable and impact resistant. These funnels usually cost under $15. Most of them come with a snap-in screen that is very helpful for filtering out hops and other solid ingredients when transferring the cooled brew from the brew pot to the fermenter. Another funnel I really like is sold by major retailers for the home canning industry. It is a small stainless steel funnel with a stainless steel screen insert. These funnels cost between $10 and $15, and are about 6 inches in diameter, meaning you have to aim carefully when pouring the wort (unfermented beer) into the fermenter!

The type of straining gear you need will depend on the quantity of material you have to strain. Straining the large amounts of grain for all-grain recipes requires mashing and lautering equipment, which is described in more detail in chapter 4.

Straining bags are a great option if you are dealing with a smaller amount of grains. The bag should be large enough to loosely hold the grains while allowing for expansion as they swell. If the grains are packed too tightly, water will not flow freely through the bag and you will not extract all the goodness from the malt. It is better to have too large a bag than too small. A bag that is at least 9 by 12 inches can hold up to 4 pounds of crushed grain. If possible, choose a bag made from organic cotton.

Hop-boiling bags are also useful, but you should have at least three because many recipes call for adding hops at three separate times. If you only have one bag, you have to fish the bag out of the boiling wort, open it, and add more hops. This is hard to do without getting burned, and the temporary removal of the hops could influence the flavor and bitterness extraction.

Colanders are useful for straining small amounts of grains. The size depends on the type of brewing you do and the batch size you will be brewing. A large kitchen colander, at least 4 quarts, can be used for any of the beginning recipes in chapter 7. If you already own a colander with larger holes, you can line it with a piece of cheesecloth to filter out the smaller particles. Stainless steel equipment is preferable if it will be used in both your kitchen and your brewery. Plastic strainers can trap flavors and oils from cooking that you may not want transferred to your homebrew.

Strainers are useful for filtering out hops. Many brewers simply throw the loose hops into the brew kettle and strain them out at the end. For this method you will need a large funnel (if your primary fermenter has a narrow mouth) and a fine-mesh strainer that fits inside the funnel and strains out the hops as the beer is being poured into the fermenter. A regular 6- to 8-inch kitchen strainer works well. Some homebrew funnels have a handy snap-in screen. These are convenient, but often the mesh is so small that the screen clogs easily. Both the funnel and the strainer should be stainless steel or plastic so they can be sanitized.

Wort Chiller

A wort chiller is optional, but using one will make the process go much faster and can help you produce better beer, because rapid chilling reduces off-flavors and the risk of infection. A wort chiller functions as a heat exchanger and will cool 5 gallons of boiling-hot wort in about 20 minutes. The most common type is an immersion chiller made from about 25 feet of copper tubing coiled into a cylinder that fits most large brew pots. The ends stick out and have attachment points for water hoses. As cold water runs through the coils, the brew is cooled quickly. Wort chillers use a lot of water to cool hot wort, but you can recycle it for cleaning or irrigation so it isn't wasted.


This large container, usually holding 5 gallons, should have a single opening that can be sealed with an airlock or vent tube. Carboys — large glass bottles with narrow necks — are a popular choice and the option I recommend if you cannot afford stainless steel. You should have at least one fermenter. Two is better, so you are able to have more than one brew fermenting at a time or have the option to transfer the beer to a second stage (secondary fermenter), which can help produce a cleaner finished beer and prevent off-flavors.

Glass, stainless steel, and food-grade plastic are commonly used materials. A fermenter should be free from scratches, major dents, rust patches, or non-beer-friendly residues. Residue is bad when it comes to brewing, especially the toxic kind or the kind that can introduce bacteria to your fermenting beer. A spoiled batch will cost you more than the money you saved on a cheap or improperly repurposed fermenter!

Airlock and Stopper

Airlocks are one-way valves that allow fermenting gases to escape while preventing unwanted bacteria from getting into your beer. For a tight seal, most fermenters need a rubber stopper with a hole that perfectly fits the airlock.


A hydrometer is a simple glass instrument used to measure the density of liquid as compared to water. It is a fragile glass tube with a weighted bottom and a narrow neck with scale markings on it. The most common scales for brewing are specific gravity, balling, and potential alcohol. Triple-scale hydrometers that include all three scales are readily available.

Unfermented beer has a high sugar content. Sugar solution has a higher density than water, and so does wort. Alcohol, on the other hand, has a lower density than water. As the beer ferments, sugars are converted into alcohol by the yeast, and the density drops. To take a hydrometer reading, place a sample in a test jar, which is a narrow tube of plastic or glass with a stand to hold it up. Read the scale at eye level. Once you know the original gravity and final gravity, it is a simple matter to calculate the alcohol percentage of the finished beer.

Siphoning and Transfer Gear

Simply pouring the beer from one vessel to another mixes in an excessive amount of oxygen, which can ruin the beer, so most brewers use a siphoning device called a racking cane. This is a long tube that reaches all the way to the bottom of the fermenter and has a curved top to prevent the tube from collapsing, which could cause the siphon to fail. It also has a removable tip shaped like a little inverted cup that prevents the gunk at the bottom of the fermenter from being sucked into the racking cane. The flatter bottom of the tip also helps the cane rest on top of the sediment layer instead of sinking down into it, another feature that contributes to a clean, sediment-free flow of beer from one vessel to the next.

To go with the racking cane, you will need some food-grade siphon tubing sized to fit it. A tubing clamp that threads over the siphon tube is a very useful addition; it can help you control the flow rate and stop the flow if needed. If your fermenter has a narrow opening, you still need a funnel to assist you in filling the fermenter with fresh-brewed wort or to help with cleanup.

Bottling Equipment

Most homebrewers package their homebrew in glass bottles that are specifically designed to hold the high pressure of a carbonated beverage. There are other options for packaging beer, but none is quite as reusable, cheap, and readily available as the humble glass beer bottle. Beer bottles require a lot of energy and materials to manufacture and transport. Reusing them is far better than recycling because the amount of energy it takes to wash and sanitize old bottles is much less than that needed to melt down and make new ones. Unfortunately, much of the energy required is human and comes in the form of scrubbing. For most of us homebrewers, scrubbing bottles is our least favorite task.

Bottles come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing must be true for any bottle that will hold beer: it must be strong enough to contain the pressure of a carbonated beverage. Any bottle that once held beer or sparkling wine is sufficient. Champagne bottles are wonderful. Flip-top bottles are great because the caps are also reusable, although the rubber washers will have to be replaced when they wear out.

A bottling wand is an inexpensive plastic tube that has a valve on the end. The valve opens to allow the beer to flow when the wand is pressed down, and the flow stops when the valve is lifted up. It allows the bottles to fill from the bottom up, which can help prevent oxidation of the beer.

Bottle cappers come in several different styles. The least expensive version is a wing or hand capper. To use it, you place a cap on the bottle, position the capper over the top, and pull down the handles to crimp the edges. Bench cappers are slightly more expensive but a bit more durable, and most provide a more consistent, higher-quality crimp than hand cappers. They can be freestanding or can be clamped onto a counter; they adjust to the height of the bottles being used. Bottle capper technology has changed little in the past hundred years. Thus it is possible to find an antique capper that is still fully functional, and these are often more durable than ones made today.


Excerpted from "Sustainable Homebrewing"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Amelia Slayton Loftus.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part 1 – The Allure and the Art of Homebrewing


Looking at Essential Equipment and Supplies

Figuring out the gear you need and where to get it, plus health, safety, and environmental consideration


Finding Organic Brewing Ingredients

Understanding the primary ingredients of beer – barley malt, yeast, and hops – and finding organic sources


The Basics of Brewing Good Beer

Covering the fundamentals of homebrewing, with an easy 12-step summary for making a batch of ale


Kicking It Up: Brewing From Scratch

A holistic approach to making all-grain beer, with detailed explanations of mashing and sparging, plus tried-and-true methods for improving your brew

Part 2 – Sustainable Brewing in the Kitchen and Garden


The Homebrewer’s Kitchen

Achieving zero waste in your homebrew process by using spent grain, hops, and yeast; baking with spent grain; what to do with a batch that goes bad (make vinegar!)


The Homebrewer’s Garden

Composting, growing mushrooms on spent grain, brewing with fruit and vegetable crops, growing and malting your own barley and other grains

Part 3 – Brewing Organic Beer


Easier Recipes for Beginning Brewers

A collection of homebrew recipes in many different styles for novice brewers, with all-grain conversions


Advanced All-Grain Recipes

The most comprehensive collection of organic beer recipes ever compiled in one place!


Creating Your Own Organic Beer Recipes

A guide to adapting conventional recipes for use with available organic ingredients.





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