April 25, 2019

Brewers, planners tackle growing beer waste stream

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

With the Burlington Beer Company planning to expand production by more than 1,000 percent and its restaurant by 400 percent, Williston has its own success story in an industry on the rise.

The town and brewery are also coming to grips with how to manage the byproduct of all that beer: yeast water and spent grains that don’t belong in the municipal wastewater facility in Essex Junction, where the rest of the town’s residential and commercial wastewater is cleaned for re-entry into the Lake Champlain basin.

It’s a story playing out throughout Vermont and New England as more craft breweries open and grow.

“It’s a matter of bringing both the communities and the brewers up to speed on how strong brewery waste is,” said Mike Smith of Weston and Sampson Engineers, a Waterbury-based company that partners with the Vermont Brewers Association to help breweries manage their waste stream. “A lot of the municipalities aren’t fully aware of the impact on their system. Now that people are coming up to speed, usually it is discussed in the planning process. That wasn’t always the case.”

Joe Lemnah founded Burlington Beer Company in 2014 and said he always knew about the byproduct-management side of brewing. Even before this year’s expansion was approved by town planners, the company had already begun sending its used wheat and barley to farmers for animal feed. But the expansion requires a larger investment.

The brewery is currently installing a pump station and underground holding tanks to divert and hold high-yeast wastewater. A third-party contractor, P&P Septic of Williston, will transport the water to an anaerobic digester in Shelburne to convert the waste to energy.

“It is great material to have,” said Amanda Raab of Trudell Consulting Engineers, the Williston company that helped design the system. “It just has to be collected separately from the main stream.”

According to Williston Public Works Director Bruce Hoar, the Burlington Beer Company had already exceeded its previously permitted 750 barrels a year limit when it came to the town this year with plans to expand to 10,000 barrels a year. The brewery’s increased wastewater stream had already begun to impact the treatment facility in Essex, he said.

“Breweries have very high-strength waste that is pretty distinctive,” Hoar said. “They were noticing some smells (at the facility).”

Jim Jutras runs the Essex wastewater treatment facility, which treats water from both Essex and Williston. Burlington Beer Company is the largest brewery in the system, but its wastewater takes a circuitous route to the facility, Jutras said. Along the way it mixes with wastewater from Maple Tree Place and the commercial and residential developments at Talcott Road.

“We can occasionally smell something, but we can’t always tell where it’s coming from,” Jutras said. “By the time it gets here, it’s hard to attribute it.”

The facility has seen a general increase in pollutants over the past five years.

“There are many pieces besides just breweries that are causing the increased pollutant loads we are seeing,” Jutras said.

Still, he looks forward to Burlington Beer Company’s waste management system coming online and taking high-yeast water out of the system.

“Without that, they would be increasing the demand on the facility pretty substantially, so it is the right thing to do,” Jutras said. “If it is high strength, it belongs in a digester.”

The on-site system comes with a  $100,000 price tag for the brewery. But Lemnah seems happy to make the investment.

“I’m installing the agreed upon system any day/week now and then everything is all good,” he said in an Aug. 20 email. “I’m glad the engineers and town were able to create something that addresses what the town was concerned with and allows the brewery to continue to grow into the future.”

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