Features Environmental Sustainability and Energy Efficiency
Reprinted with permission from Efficiency Vermont’s July 15, 2020 blog.
Chris Kesler and the Black Flannel Brewing Company team are committed to starting a business that lives the team’s sustainable values. The team opened the brewery-distillery-brewpub at The Essex Experience in early July 2020. They wanted to minimize the impact on the planet and commit to sustainability from day one. But economic sustainability is equally important. They wanted to create a business that can become a fixture of the community.
Chief brewer Dan Sartwell watched his former employer, 14th Star Brewing, save thousands of dollars each year through efficiency investments. “Brewing is an energy- and water-intensive process. If we commit to economic and environmental sustainability, we have to look at the energy we are using to make our beer.”
The team reached out to Efficiency Vermont to understand how they could meet their sustainability goals.
Good beer needs a good chiller
In high quality beer making, the wort (the mix that will eventually turn into delicious beer) must be cooled from boiling before it can be fermented. One of the biggest energy users — and operating expenses — for a brewery is the chiller. Brewery chillers are cooling units that utilize glycol to extract excess heat from a brewing process and dissipate it in a heat exchanger or refrigeration system. Typically, a chiller runs all day, every day, to keep the brewing process going. Many brewers use oversized, inefficient chiller systems that are based on rough sizing estimates to provide the cooling necessary.
Efficiency Vermont referred them to a few Vermont-based suppliers of high efficiency chiller systems, and they chose a system designed by Huntington VT-based Dodge Engineering & Controls (DEI). The model uses high-efficiency components and innovative controls to efficiently cool the beer. DEI’s detailed analysis revealed that Black Flannel could be served by a smaller system than they’d originally thought. The smaller chiller can even handle the brewery’s three walk-in coolers. Dick Soule Refrigeration, from Enosburg, integrated the chiller with the coolers to complete the highly efficient cooling system.
Finally, to keep the team informed and accountable, they installed meters, which allow seeing the electricity use and efficiency of the chiller system. This will help them identify maintenance issues quickly and share their findings with others in the brewing industry.
All told, the new system is estimated to save Black Flannel $11,243 per year in energy costs.
Efficiency from the bottom up
Black Flannel’s business design has efficiency baked in. A distillery requires a lot of the same equipment and process as a brewery, for grain-based alcohols. By basing both out of the same business, Black Flannel only needed one system to create the mashes for the brewery and the distillery. This cuts their energy use for the processes in half.
In fact, there’s not much about the equipment and processes the Black Flannel team invested in that isn’t efficient. Variable frequency drives (VFDs) on their pumps will allow them to run only as much as needed. Dimmable LED lights with motion sensors have been installed throughout the facility. These turn on only when needed and provide welcoming light with LEDs that have a much longer lifespan than other lighting types.
Even the location supports the mission. Peter Edelman owns The Essex Experience. In 2018, he worked with Encore Renewable Energy to make the complex 100% solar-powered. He’s eager to help his tenants reduce their carbon footprint, including helping Black Flannel weatherize the business before they moved in.
“Black Flannel will be one of the most energy-efficient brewers and restaurants in the state,” said Pat Haller, Senior Energy Consultant at Efficiency Vermont. “That wouldn’t have happened without their engagement from day one and their willingness to work in collaboration to find innovative solutions at every level of their business.”
In all, these improvements will help Black Flannel save almost $24,000 each year on energy costs.
Ready for business
Due to COVID-19 restrictions on restaurants, Black Flannel’s opening in July wasn’t exactly what they initially planned. They have more seating outdoors and space for social distancing. Their kitchen is focusing on take-out. They’ve also decided to can more beer than they had originally planned to.
But Kesler, Sartwell, and the rest of the team are excited to turn the efficient machines on and put them to their intended use.
“There are some really good breweries in Vermont. We plan to be among some of the best,” Kesler shared with a modest chuckle. “But we’re also aiming to create a unique experience for our customers to help them learn more about beer and the process of making it. I’m excited about sharing our passion and our love for brewing and tasting beer with other people.”