This article originally appeared in DTE Energy’s EnergySmarts of Michigan, a free publication for our customers.

In less than 20 years, the number of breweries in Michigan has exploded – from a handful in 1997 to over 150 today.

Also exploding is their economic effect.

According to Scott Graham, Michigan Brewers Guild executive director, Michigan ranks fifth nationally in the number of breweries, with the industry directly responsible for more than 5,000 jobs, over $144 million in wages and more than $277 million in output. If one considers indirect and induced effects, those figures jump to over 7,000 jobs, over $232 million in wages and more than $608 million in economic benefits.

Craft breweries dot our state, with heavy concentrations in Metro Detroit, Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Holland, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor.

We visited two craft breweries in the Grand Rapids area and discovered both have committed not only to brewing the best tasting beer but also to optimizing energy efficiency.

Rockford Brewing Company

Rockford Brewing Company

It was kismet. Seth Rivard and Jeff Sheehan were each looking for a partner to open a craft brewery in Rockford when city representatives introduced them.

That’s how the Rockford Brewing Company (RBC), in historic downtown Rockford, got started. Though only four years old, it has garnered attention both for excellent beer and a commitment to energy efficiency.

“We installed a highly efficiency HVAC unit that includes sensors that monitor the level of CO2 in the air. It only exchanges air when required, not based on ambient temperature, “Mr. Rivard said.

The HVAC unit features two thermostats with algorithms that maximize efficiency. The thermostats learn when the needs to be heated cooled. As a result, the furnace or AC doesn’t on in the middle the night when the building is empty.

Further maximizing efficiency is the HVAC’s energy recovery ventilation (ERV) feature.

As Rivard explained, the ERV takes air out of the building and uses it to condition the incoming air. For example, in winter, the ERV uses interior air to warm and humidify outside air. Rather than having to warm air that is 35°, the furnace works with air that is 60°. That means less energy is used to bring that air to 68-70°, resulting in lower utility bills.

To further augment patron comfort while maximizing energy efficiency, RBC installed ceiling fans on timers to make sure they run only when needed, and added window shades to minimize the impact of the sun load in the warmer months.

Natural resource conservation is also a priority.

“City water, which is typically around 55°, is piped through the brew tanks to chill the solution before we start the fermentation cycle,” said Mr. Sheehan. “Thanks to a heat exchanger, that water, captured in the hot liquor tank, is now hot. We use it to start the next beer batch and it requires less energy to bring it up to our prescribed temperature.”

Rockford Brewing Company is one of only two breweries in Michigan situated in a state park. If you are into biking, hiking or fly fishing, we recommend spending a few hours at this scenic location. While there, sample their offerings, including their Paradigm MPA beer. Available year-round, it’s made exclusively with Michigan ingredients.

Continuing the all Michigan theme is the fine woodwork at the brewery. As Mr. Sheehan explained, it’s all locally made, with some of the tables, chairs and benches featuring the proprietors’ handiwork. The wood was grown in Michigan, as are most of the brewing ingredients, many of which are sourced from nearby farms.

Brewery Vivant

Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids, Michigan Photography for Energysmarts Magazine

Situated in a historic building in Grand Rapids, Brewery Vivant was the first brewery in the nation to be LEED certified.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally recognized green building certification system that promotes energy efficient and sustainable building and development practices. LEED certification is a rigorous process. To achieve this certification, building projects must satisfy prerequisites and earn points. Brewery Vivant worked tirelessly to meet the arduous guidelines required for LEED certification.

“LEED certification was a goal from the beginning. My wife Kris and I have a strong passion for sustainability. LEED certification is a symbol of our dedication and gives employees something to share with our patrons,” explained Jason Spaulding, the brewery’s president and founder.

Brewery Vivant also participated in the Battle of the Buildings, a competition sponsored by DTE Energy, Consumers Energy and the Michigan USGBC. It encourages Michigan commercial and industrial buildings to reduce their energy use.

“Our building had a lot of uses in its former life, including a funeral home. None lent themselves to this industry, so we had our work cut out for us. The location is in a historic neighborhood district, which has its own restrictions. We ended up gutting the building and all of the infrastructure and utilities. The end result says it was well worth it,” Mr. Spaulding added.

The list of energy efficiency measures incorporated at Brewery Vivant includes high efficiency heating and cooling units with CO2 sensors. A glycol cooling system for the beer tanks chills the draught beer cooler as well. Additionally, 60% of the employees walk or bike to work and many are buying homes nearby.

If you visit Brewery Vivant, note how the former funeral home chapel has been turned into a dining room, with a bar reflecting the shape of the chapel’s pointed arch. Of course, you should try the beer. Four varieties are available year-round and ten specialty beers are offered at different times. Our visit coincided with the release of Cherry Doppelbock, containing Michigan cherry juice.

“This is a malty, sweet beer with hints of cherry and a chocolate finish,” Mr. Spaulding explained. We concur.

Common Energy Efficiency Measures

While Rockford Brewing Company and Brewery Vivant initiated energy efficiency measures specific to their industry, they also implemented many that can be adopted by any business. If you’re looking to save on utility bills, consider the following:

  • Heat exchangers can efficiently transfer heat from one medium to another, reducing the amount of energy required to heat the second medium.
  • Occupancy sensors in bathrooms reduce lighting use.
  • Low-flow toilets and waterless urinals conserve water. Brewery Vivant estimates annual savings of nearly 50,000 gallons.
  • Sensor-activated bathroom faucets that turn on and off automatically conserve water.
  • High efficiency hand dryers with minimal run times conserve energy and eliminate paper waste, benefiting forests and landfills.
  • LED lighting significantly reduces energy costs and keeps areas cooler.

Raise a Glass

The tremendous growth of craft brewing continues at a record pace in Michigan. In addition to the employees, a wide range of suppliers including farmers, brewing equipment manufacturers and retailers are benefiting. Grand Rapids and other brewery hot spots are also seeing a significant tourism increase.

We believe it’s only fitting to toast this refreshing industry by raising a glass to yet another uniquely Michigan experience.