Lakefront Brewery: Leading the Way in Green Organic Brewing

Lakefront Brewery: Leading the Way in Green Organic Brewing

Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, WI, has a few firsts under its belt. The brewery was the first one ever in the US to brew organic beer and the first one to produce barrel-aged beer this year. We talked to Andrew Jungwirth, tour supervisor manager for Lakefront Brewery, to learn what these things mean for the future of beer brewing.

QUESTION: Your brewery produced the first certified organic beers in the United States in 1996. Can you tell us a bit about your decision to go organic and what kind of organic products you use?

Andrew Jungwirth: We arrived at our decision to pursue production of the first certified organic beer in America through the Oregon Tilth. We wanted to engage in more sustainable practices because we wanted to have a smaller overall environmental footprint. We share the Earth with other living organisms, and we are aware that pesticides and chemical fertilizer runoff ultimately leads to dead zones in our waterways among other dangers. We wished to lessen our impact leading to such contamination to ensure a longer, brighter future for our children and the world as a whole.

Our organic beers contain 100 percent certified organic barley from Briess and organic hops predominantly from Hopsteiner. In 2007, the US government sought to add inorganic hops to the list of ingredients allowed in certified organic beers. We lobbied strongly against this measure because our organic beers had always used organic hops, and we didn’t feel anyone should be able to call a beer organic without using 100% certified organic hops. There is no such thing as a certified organic yeast strain, but we never reuse yeast that was fermented with non-certified organic beers in our organic beers. The oat and rye used in our Organic Beerline Barley Wine, as well as the coffee used in our Organic Fuel Cafe Coffee Stout, are also all organic.

We do business with local urban farm pioneers Growing Power to supply the vegetables in the Beer Hall at our brewery. We have a reciprocal relationship with them as we have donated tons of our spent grains for their fertilizer.

QUESTION: You released the nation’s first organic barrel-aged barley wine beer this year. Can you tell our readers what makes your barley wine so different and special?

AJ: Our Organic Barrel Aged Beer Line Barleywine was aged for 18 months in organic rye whiskey barrels from Catoctin Creek out of Purcellville, Virgina. For a barrel-aged beer to be truly organic, it must be aged in a barrel that previously contained certified organic spirits. Our ambition resulted in the first certified organic barrel aged beer sold in the United States.

QUESTION: What other firsts can you claim for you brewery?

AJ: Lakefront Brewery produced the first ever certified organic beer in the US (Organic ESB) as well as the first ever certified organic barrel aged beer in the United States (Organic Barrel Aged Beer Line Barleywine). We also made the first fruit beer in the US since Prohibition (Cherry Lager), and our Pumpkin Lager still stands as the only Pumpkin Lager I am aware of (the others are ales).

We also produced the first indigenous Wisconsin beer using all ingredients sourced from Wisconsin (Wisconsinite), including the only known commercially used American-grown yeast (Lakefront Strain). We also lobbied the US government to allow us to brew the first gluten-free beer in the United States (New Grist).

QUESTION: How is your brewery sustainable? What other things are you doing to “green up” your company?

AJ: We buy as much wind power as possible from WE Energies. We donate as much spent grain as possible to local urban farm nonprofits. Anything that is compostable at our Brewery and Beer Hall restaurant is composted, including corn polymer drinking cups. Anything that is recyclable is also recycled.

We incorporate a heat exchanger between our brew kettle and fermentation tanks. Any 50-gallon plastic drums that enter our brewery with ingredients end up being reused as rain barrels. Our brewery is a brownfield, built inside a historical former coal power plant. Our cardboard beer packaging is 65% recycled paper and is printed using soy ink.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a bit about your gluten-free beers? How are the brewing process or the ingredients used different?

AJ: New Grist and New Grist with Ginger use sorghum and brown rice syrups instead of the traditional gluten rich barley malt. The grist is processed by Briess, and we add the extract directly into our mash tun.

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Diana Bocco is a writer and author who writes for Yahoo!, the Discovery Channel website, Marie Claire, Poplar Mechanics, and more. You can find more about her work on her website dianabocco.com.

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