B Corp at Bison Brewing

No article about environmental consciousness and activism in the beer industry is complete without a conversation with Daniel Del Grande from Bison Brewing. Bison has paved the way for Organic beer by helping to establish sources, educating consumers and the industry of the impact of converting to Organics and exploring new ways of accessing ingredients. I spoke with 'Organic Dan' of Bison Brewing to learn more about the brewery's efforts and what's in the pipeline.

I’m a customer that just came in for a tour, “What is B Corp?” and “Why did you choose to become involved?”

B Corp certification means we have our private business processes reviewed by a 3rd party who makes sure our actions have “good” and measurable social and environmental impactful and we aren’t just greenwashing. We treat employees well, we are driven to be environmentally sustainable, and we are using capitalism as a force for good. We think these actions can continue to earn your patronage among all the choices you have with your consumer dollar. Buycotting is more powerful than boycotting. 

As the B Corp Certification is broad in terms of how you achieve its criteria, what industry specific programs or resources have you used to guide the specific methods you use in your operations?

Being a “good” company is in our DNA. We strive to improve, and speaking to our peers in other industries is always instructive. There are some things we would like to do, but we aren’t big enough yet.

According to the Brewers Association, many craft brewers are around 7 barrels of water for one barrel of beer, do you measure this ratio at your brewery and if so what is your current performance at? Do you consider this an important performance indicator? How does this guide your investments into future equipment/infrastructure?

We are down around 4.5 – 5, with most savings coming from our Clean In Place system, and bottling line efficiencies. Without more wastewater infrastructure, we can’t get much better, unfortunately, so it isn’t a good ongoing key performance indicator.

Do you still get hops from Oakland? How much?

No. Funny, the organic community gardens wouldn’t let people install drip watering so we pulled out the plants in late 2015 after a lousy harvest. Hops in the Bay Area need more water than we could give every couple days. I guess we had to go every day and use a watering can because the community aspect of it was about tending the garden, not automating the watering process for a crop harvested once per year. It was a great experiment.

Image courtesy of SFGate

A friend and former employee, Mark Cabera, led that Oakland demonstration of hop growing project. I just learned this week that he has actually turned that experiment into a profession….he bought a defunct hop farm up in Sacramento and will be making hops (non-organic) in the next couple years. I’m working with him to serve my organic beer there in the beer garden. So projects morph, hopefully, this is for the better.

What is your percentage of local ingredients?

Essentially zero. This is a huge brewery greenwashing issue at its worst. I think supporting your local business is good no matter if it is a health food store or a brewery, but 99% of breweries are not locally sourced….you see it all the time and nobody calls them out on it. Unless you are a brewery In Idaho, you are far from where the barley is grown and malted (95-98% by weight) & far from hops (2%-5% by weight). Some breweries greenwash and say “we use local honey” or some such non-sense, but it is like 0.5% by weight, so not economically or environmentally impactful. Beer ingredients in 2017 are not a “local” product. Sorry.

A lot of the “local” hops and “locally grown, estate barley” have to be shipped to the traditional processing businesses, and shipped back, DOUBLING the food miles on those products! True that “wet hop” beers can be local up to 5% by weight, but this is one batch per year, only 1-2% of a businesses output times the 5% by weight, so 0.4% output??

However, I’m excited that in Alameda, California, there is a micro-malting going in using California grown barley, and I’ve heard reports of more and more of this coming on line around the country. From an energy standpoint, the larger malt houses have better energy efficiency and better wastewater processing, but I quibble. I may be a patron of the local malting house, who knows.

Bison BC became the first fully certified organic brewery in the world back in 2003, do you currently or plan to achieve any additional third party certifications beyond or to compliment organics and B Corp?

No. Organic malt and hops create a huge environmental impact. 

A restaurant shifting its purchasing habit to buy one keg of organic beer each week for a year creates new demand for farmers to convert a football field size of land from conventional to organic agriculture -- that’s a huge impact 124 pints per week at your favorite watering hole can make.

Every citizen can be a Johnny Appleseed by buying an organic beer. One 6-pack per week creates demand for ~1,500 sq.ft of agriculture…the size of a typical American home.

That said, fewer and fewer consumers seem to care about organic certification so I will be deciding in Dec 2017 if it is worth that paid certification.

From organic to conventional? Or would Bison consider “next level” and become involved with a more authentic form of regenerative agriculture that may not necessarily be "certified"?

Well, Yes. I’m already thinking out a strategy for “next level”…..my advisors caution me that consumer may not care, which gives me pause, so I’m researching in 2017. But, still, I have a range of option if I decide to drop the expensive and burdensome USDA regulations. My default is to still use organic malt because that is the biggest environmental impact, but that puts me at a huge cost disadvantage to “conventional brewers” or other certified organic brewers, since I can’t tell consumers about that on the packaging. So the next level idea suggested in your question, is to go with California grown barley and a local malting house because of the no-till regenerative ag. I would try to buy as many local hops, Salmon safe, etc. However, I think this mode of action would increase my carbon footprint due to the energy intensity of the local malting facilities, but the no-till no water agriculture may offset that with carbon capture. Plus, I would be supporting scores of local business. Keep your money local is a theme I aspire to in my personal shopping, it just isn’t really economically feasible in today’s craft beer hypercompetitive shelf and national ingredient supply chain. The third way might be just “conventional” brewing all the way, but really engaging the civic value of something like 1% for the Planet, or giving back to the communities that buy my beer proportionally instead of everything near my home base.

Whatever I do, consumers need to support it by voting with their consumer dollar. What I’m hearing now from the marketplace is that brewing organically isn’t worth the extra dollar per six pack, and that disheartens me the last few years.

What does B Corp offer over Organic Cert, if anything? Does it speak to what consumers want more?

Well, I do B Corp mostly for myself as an entrepreneur doing right. Not sure that consumers really know or care in the craft beer space. B Corp certification is expensive but way less expensive than organic certification. If I dropped 3rd party organic certification, I would probably not qualify as a B Corp unless I did shift my focus on regenerative agriculture and local sourcing. After 14 years certified organic, I am really reluctant to drop it, but malt and hop supplier may make the decision for me…..there are rumblings out there about a tightening supply chain.

Big ideas for next 5-10 years?

With the success of wine clubs and e-commerce, skipping the distribution monopolies and selling my organic or “next level” ales direct to consumer is showing promise. Here is where the B Corp may shine through. Leave the store shelves be for all the local brands fighting it out against the regional power house craft brewers, slugging it out with competing for price discounts, and minefields of stale beer. I think nationally people that really want to commit to organic or to a “good” B Corp certified beer company won’t mind getting a monthly specialty assortment of brewery fresh beer. Bottle on Friday, pack boxes all weekend, ship UPS on Monday. Delicious. Good for the Planet.

More about Bison Brewery:

Berkeley, California
United States
B Corp Profile
B Corp Reports 2016 2014 2010

Dan Del Grande of Bison Brewing speaks to Jim Woods of MateVeza about the challenges, advantages, and pleasures of brewing 100% organic.
Hosted by craftbeer.com
Bison Brewing: bisonbrew.com/
MateVeza: mateveza.com/
Video shot and edited by Chris Eldridge: EldridgeMedia.com

Triple Pundit Interview: Dan Del Grande, Owner/ Brewer, Bison Organic Beers

While in San Francisco for the Craft Brewers Conference, Brad Chmielewski and Ken Hunnemeder had a chance to sit down with Daniel Del Grande from Bison Brewing. Daniel is the perfect guest to have on for the first episode of April since it is organic beer month. The three of them sample four different beers from Bison Brewing; the Imperial Brown, Chocolate Stout, Belgian-Style Scotch Ale and an IPA. Bison is an all organic brewery and is working hard to push the benefits of using organic products. Daniel expains why he chose to go organic and how the beer community can make just as quality a product with organic ingredients.

Grab yourself an organic beer and enjoy. Thanks for watching the Hop Cast.

Organic Brewer Daniel Del Grande visits a high flying California organic hop farming pioneer. Bison Organic Beer uses these organic hops, including Chinook and the reborn Ivanhoe variety, in its organic beers. This 2 minute 18 second story shows two artisans working together in a "farm to table" collaboration to make an award winning organic craft beer. Bison will feature the Ivanhoe organic hop in a single hop India Pale Ale (IPA) next summer.