Clean water for good health, environment and beer
Beer. Did you ever sit there staring at a pint, wondering what’s in it? People love to talk about hops and barley, but, fundamentally, beer is water, over 90% water. And without good water, you can’t make good beer.
That’s the basic insight behind the Vermont Brewshed® Alliance. True, water is one of the necessities of life, and it had better be clean or our health will suffer. But face it, many of us greet a pint of beer with a lot more enthusiasm than we do a big glass of cool, clear water. That makes beer afficionados, and the brewers and pubs who cater to them, a natural constituency for clean water in this day and age.
Our pioneer ancestors, on the other hand, drank beer because they didn’t have clean water. Having sited the well next to the manure pile and the outhouse, they found that drinking water often made them sick, and milk could carry tuberculosis. They preserved their food by smoking and salting and worked hard on their farms, generating a prodigious thirst. Brewing beer, by happy accident, involved boiling the water, creating a beverage they could drink without immediate illness.
We moderns come at it from a different direction, wanting clean, pure water as a base ingredient. That makes brewers very aware of their water sources. In Vermont, those include rivers, streams, springs and aquifers, all of which face unique threats. The Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) has been working on these issues since 1967 and has recently adopted a model pioneered in Washington State called the Brewshed® Alliance to raise awareness of water quality, and money to help provide it. (The word ‘brewshed’ is trademarked by Washington Wild, a nonprofit that protects and restores wild waters and woodlands in Washington.) States that have already signed on with the Brewshed® Alliance include Washington, Oregon, Maine, and Texas, and now Vermont.
Five founding members, all breweries in the northwest corner of Vermont, have joined the VNRC effort: Alchemist Beer, Halyard Brewing (makers of ginger beer), Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Magic Hat Brewing Company, and Zero Gravity Craft Brewing. Soft launches have occurred at Lawson’s and Magic Hat; the latter held a special event on Giving Tuesday, donating $1 per pour to VNRC clean-water initiatives. More events are planned in the spring, and VNRC is actively recruiting members around the state.
According to Colin Keegan of VNRC, the Brewshed® initiative has been greeted with enthusiasm by the brewers. The focus on awareness, education, and fundraising, is structured around fun and beer. Brewshed® Alliance activities include events, hikes, and opportunities to support clean water by hoisting a cold brew.
Keegan said, “The response in Washington and Oregon (the original Brewshed® Alliance states) has been overwhelming.” The events and the money raised, have grown over time.
VNRC is working on planning a statewide event sometime in the spring. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Keegan says. There are many beer festivals already, so VNRC is looking to find other fun and educational ways to reach people. Currently, the initiative is beer-focused. VNRC has no plans to reach out to distillers and wine-makers, “but that could change,” said Keegan.
So, keep your eyes peeled for an event near you, a chance to gaze deep into that amber liquid and honor the water in there by protecting all its sources.
Jessie Haas has written 40 books, mainly for children, and has lived in an off-grid cabin in Vermont.