Using innovative techniques, company aims to have positive impact on the environment

By: Jennifer Young, special to EBJ
Photo: Denny Simmons

When Nick Davidson planned his brewery, he knew he wanted to do things a little differently. He wanted to make products that beer enthusiasts would enjoy, but he also wanted to do so in an environmentally responsible way.

And that is exactly what Davidson’s Tin Man Brewing Co. on the West Side of Evansville is doing.

“In my personal life, I strive to do as much as I can. As a business owner, I wanted to do the same,” Davidson said.

He says the beer-brewing process hasn’t changed much over the years, but developments are emerging to help conserve resources. And Tin Man Brewing Co. is one of the first to adopt the methods.

“There’s not a lot of innovation because you get a system that works and you keep using it. We wanted to look at other things that were coming up and people were just starting to talk about,” he said. “We were looking at new technologies that were coming up in the brewing industry, and the ones that we picked all fit our goal of being environmentally friendly.”

It starts in the brewing process with the mash filter, part of the High Efficiency Brewing System that is normally found in much larger breweries. By using the mash filter, both water and energy are conserved. Compared with traditional systems, the mash filter uses 40 percent less water and up to 20 percent less grain to produce the same amount of beer, according to the brewery’s information.

“The mash filter totally changes the way we brew beer. There’s not a lot of breweries our size who use this,” Davidson said. “They’re used in big breweries because they’re more efficient. It helps us use less grain, less water, less energy.”

Not only that, but the grain is then removed as a compressed chunk and is sent to a local farmer to use as feed for his livestock, he added.

Because the mash-filter process is a much different and very new approach compared with the traditional method of brewing, thorough adjustments are needed, according to Tin Man head brewer Sean O’Rear. In an industry that sees very little innovation, the mash filter represented “significant technology improvement.”

“It’s a completely new technology, so we had to completely alter the procedure and the recipe,” O’Rear said, noting that matching the recipes from a traditional style of brewing was the most difficult part of implementing the system.

“To further complicate things, this system is the very first one the company we got it from ever built,” Davidson said with a smile.

O’Rear says it is exciting to be one of the first companies to use the system, especially one that was a company’s first-time build, but the risk also is apparent.

“Any time you invest in something new, you run a risk of running into problems,” O’Rear said. “But the benefits outweigh the risk.”

He said that is all part of becoming a new type of brewery.

Using aluminum cans instead of glass bottles is another important aspect, Davidson said. Not only are the cans better for maintaining beer’s taste, but they also can be recycled repeatedly.

“That was a big factor in it,” Davidson said of the cans’ recycling ease. “And they’re actually better for beer. They keep out oxygen and light, so it helps the taste, too.”

Tin Man Brewing Co. hasn’t stopped there, however. It also is aiming to be environmentally friendly by using cardboard boxes instead of kegs. The business is one of only a few breweries worldwide using the new method, and the only one in the United States; the others are in Germany.

“Instead of using a traditional keg, we are the third in the world to use this system. It’s bag-in-the-box beer,” Davidson said.

A bag of decarbonated beer is inside the ordinary-looking cardboard box, and the beer runs through a carbonator in the line before it’s dispensed.

“With kegs, you have to go get them and return them to the brewery, and once you get them back you have to clean them,” Davidson said. But with the box method, it arrives at its destination, then the recipient can break it down and recycle it.

At first, he says, the brewery wasn’t planning to make the boxes commonly known because of the stigma surrounding boxes in the wine industry. But local customers became more and more intrigued by the process as something unusual and inventive.

“We didn’t know how people were going to take this, but the reception has been awesome,” Davidson said.

Leah Spivey, the director of marketing and social media at Tin Man Brewing Co., said the company’s environmental aspect hasn’t yet been at the forefront of its promotion, but the patrons who are aware of it appreciate the company’s efforts — and so does the staff.

“We are all eco-friendly, and so we have formed a solid, green-friendly base here at Tin Man,” Spivey said. “We realize we are only one company, but we hope to encourage and make a difference in any way we can.”

Davidson also said he is seeking out other ways the company can continue to produce quality craft beers while maintaining its environmental consciousness, and he hopes to increase the number of earth-friendly efforts at Tin Man Brewing Co. in the future.

O’Rear, who implemented the design of the brewery, said the company is poised for future growth while staying true to its environmental mission.

“Every piece that we are using are all pieces of technology that allow us to brew quickly, efficiently and to grow,” he said.

Printed by special permission of the Evansville Courier and Press.