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How do Vermont breweries manage their wastewater?

a man moves a hose in an industrial space filled with stainless steel tanks
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
Vermont Public
Ryan McKeon, the head brewer at Stone Corral Brewery in Richmond, moves an overflow hose while brewing a batch of Imperial stout. The "high strength waste" from Vermont breweries can be difficult for municipal wastewater plants to manage if brewers don't work to minimize it.

Vermont has the most breweries per capita. But the more beer they brew, the more they have to deal with their wastewater.

Brave Little State is Vermont Public's show that answers questions about Vermont that have been asked and voted on by you, our audience — because we want our journalism to be more inclusive, transparent and fun.

In this episode, Caleb Henderson of Winooski asks us this: "Breweries and cideries were in the news a few years ago for the wastewater. How are they mitigating their waste now? Has it improved?"

Reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman learns how breweries — and communities — are grappling with this issue in different ways. And in many respects, Vermont is ahead of the curve.

Our show is produced for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio on this page; for accessibility, find a written transcript here.

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a person sits at a picnic table on a waterfront. they are smiling and holding a can of cider
Caleb Henderson
/
Courtesy
"I'm actually not much of a beer drinker. I'm more of a cider person," says question-asker Caleb Henderson of Winooski, who first became interested in wastewater while studying at UVM.
a man wearing a baseball hat adjusts an industrial fermentation tank, with pallets of brewing materials and beer cans in the background
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
Vermont Public
Brewing is water intensive. "If we want 10 gallons of beer, it probably takes 15 or 16 gallons to make it," says Stone Corral's Ryan McKeon."Add another two or three gallons in there for cleaning."
a large tank with running water
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
Vermont Public
The "sparging" process, when fresh water is run through the mash of barley and grains that have already been cooked. Some of the sparging water ends up as high strength waste that has to be kept out of the wastewater plant.
a man stands in front of a 1,000-gallon collection tank
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
Vermont Public
Mckeon stands near a 1,000 collection indoor tank. The tank collects most of the wastewater from the brewing process, which McKeon tests and treats before it flows into the Richmond's wastewater treatment plant.
side-stream-stone-corral-vermont-public-brave-little-state-weiss-tisman-202210.JPG
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
Vermont Public
Four 275-gallon tanks outside the Stone Corral Brewery in Richmond hold brewing byproduct that has been diverted from the treatment plant, or "side-streamed." The waste is pumped into the tanks, which are then picked up and taken to a digester. The process takes time and costs money, but takes a strain off wastewater plants.

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megan-moir-vermont-public-brave-little-state-weiss-tisman-202210.JPG
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
Vermont Public
A cluster of breweries and cideries in Burlington has resulted in a strain on the municipal wastewater management. The city plans to go the Legislature next year, to try to get authority to start their own permitting program. "How do we make sure that we build a regulatory program that treats [breweries] fairly, but then also retain some additional capacity for other businesses?" says Megan Moir, the head of the city's wastewater department.
a man stands in a space full of industrial brewing tanks made out of stainless steel
Howard Weiss-Tisman
/
Vermont Public
"Towns in the state should learn from this experience of Frost Beer Works," says Garin Frost, of Frost Beer Works in Hinesburg. The community struggled to manage wastewater when Frost's operation grew and a second brewery opened in town. "Let's be proactive about these things," says Frost, who has since implemented more wastewater solutions.

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Credits

Howard Weiss-Tisman reported this episode. Angela Evancie produced it, with research and studio help from Mae Nagusky. Mix and sound design by Josh Crane, Mae Nagusky and Angela Evancie, with additional help from Myra Flynn. Ty Gibbons composed our theme music; other music by Blue Dot Sessions.

Special thanks to the crew at the Richmond wastewater plant, the Vermont Brewers Association and Lui Schmit.

Disclosure: A lot of the folks Howard talked to and mentioned in this episode either are or have been Vermont Public or BLS underwriters, including The Alchemist, Switchback, Citizen Cider and the Agency of Natural Resources, which houses the Department of Environmental Conservation. And Lawson’s Finest Liquids, which also brews a beer named after our show that helps support our station.

As always, our journalism is better when you’re a part of it:

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public.

Corrected: November 21, 2022 at 1:01 PM EST
This episode originally referenced a digester in Randolph that is no longer in operation. We've updated the audio to remove the reference.
Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public's reporter for Southern Vermont & the Connecticut River Valley. He worked at the Brattleboro Reformer for 11 years, reporting on most towns in the region and specializing on statewide issues including education, agriculture, energy and mental health. Howard received a BA in Journalism from University of Massachusetts. He filed his first story with Vermont Public in September 2015.
Angela Evancie is Vermont Public's Director of Engagement Journalism and the Executive Producer of Brave Little State, the station's people-powered journalism project.
Josh Crane is part of Vermont Public's Engagement Journalism team. He's a reporter and producer for Brave Little State, a podcast based on questions about Vermont that have been asked and voted on by the audience.
Mae Nagusky is working alongside the wonderful Brave Little State team, telling stories about Vermont and its people based on questions that have been asked and voted on by our audience.
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