At small breweries across the world, brewmasters are working to transform craft beer into an environmentally-friendly industry. On June 18th, Global Ties KC was able to join this conversation and bring together head brewers from Olvera brewery in Mexico and Strange Days in KC. Global Ties listened as these two experts discussed their experiences growing companies from the ground up and working to make their production as sustainable as possible; all while making delicious beer and supporting their local communities through the Covid-19 downturn.

What better way to connect with people than over a bite to eat, or a drink? Last Thursday, many of our 21+-year-old members sat down with a cold beer (or other beverage of choice) to listen to a featured guest from Mexico talk about the brewery industry and sustainability as a part of our Global Spokes series.

Our speakers, both expert brewers, were Paulina Perea Eguia, an engineer by training and current Owner of Olvery Brewery in Tijuana, Mexico, and Damon Arredondo from Strange Days, right here in Kansas City. In addition to running Olvery Brewery, Paulina also launched the Green Beer program to focus on sustainable solutions for producing craft beer. Damon is the Head Brewer at Strange Days, which is located in the heart of downtown KC River Market area.

A key part of the discussion was the care and devotion it takes to open and maintain a brewery, especially from a woman’s perspective. Damon noted how the craft brewery industry is often dominated by men, and that such a space at times can be difficult for women to navigate. Paulina responded that many women are deterred from joining the industry because they think it will be physically overbearing work — but she reminded us that women are strong, and that the work is hard but not impossible, especially if you have a passion for it.

It was this passion that motivated Paulina and fellow female brewers in Mexico and California to band together and lift up other women aspiring to enter the industry. In partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Tijuana in 2018, they formed an organization called Dos California Brewsters to “connect women on both sides of the border through beer.” Many bars in Tijuana take beers from the partnership, and proceeds from the collaboration go to scholarships for women with hopes of joining the brewery industry. This initiative has helped more local women get involved with brewing – without it breaking their bank. As well, it has connected young brewers with other mentors in the field. The work that Paulina and her colleagues have done in this regard can serve as a model for industry hotspots throughout America and the rest of the world, and it certainly offers food for thought as to how brewers can partner together to create new industry initiatives.

Another focus is sustainability in the brewery industry. Paulina and Damon noted that introducing green measures into everyday breweries plays an important role in reducing environmentally harmful waste, as well as minimizing the industry’s carbon and water footprint. While a lot goes into making this goal possible, it is a simple mission at the outset: create a full circle and reuse byproducts and waste.

This mission has been on the minds of many industry leaders, such as the Master Brewers Association of the Americas, colleges and universities with craft brewing programs, and brewmasters with sustainability and engineering backgrounds. With so much talk about sustainability, we might expect green measures to be fully integrated into the industry by now. However, as Damon pointed out, there are still major barriers that breweries face for implementing sustainable measures. In particular, the cost of sustainable technology can be difficult to obtain or unaffordable for smaller craft breweries. (Consider how expensive it must be to purchase something like an anaerobic digester – many foreign governments have used this technology, but it has yet to make its mark in American markets.)

Even with the presence of these barriers, both Paulina and Damon were confident that the industry would begin researching and developing more cost-friendly sustainable solutions. After all, many ecologically responsible initiatives do end up being financially savvy in the long-term. Much research into the area is already being done, particularly in colleges and universities with craft brewing degrees that emphasize sustainability. For instance, Paulina’s own research for her Master’s thesis examines the carbon and water footprint of the beer industry in Tijuana; she has already found budding solutions whereby craft brewers could re-use waste and existing materials on site.

For now, craft breweries are doing all they can to integrate more ecologically responsible practices on-site, waiting for some of the more sophisticated technology to become affordable. A large part of the effort has been to compost, to clean spaces regularly, prevent the buildup of harmful waste and bacteria, and to reuse waste whenever possible. As well, Damon points out notable efforts brewmasters make in calling up locals and asking if they could re-use waste products; this undoubtedly gets more community members involved in the conversation about waste.

Finally, we took a bird’s eye view of the industry and heard about what makes the brewing industry special: community and connections. The craft brewery industry is known for being a supportive space. Brewmasters encourage patrons to visit other locations and try out different beers. Breweries collaborate on projects to improve industry practices and tackle industry problems as a unit – much like Dos Californias Brewsters. What’s more, they have even supported each other during the COVID-19 crisis when it was hard to fill up breweries with guests. Paulina and Damon were clear about this point: whatever challenges lay ahead for the industry, brewmasters will always band together to think creatively, improve practices, and uplift their community members. This goes to show that no matter the industry, it’s the people, the passion for what they’re doing, and the connections that made all the difference.