February 3, 2008 in City

Lucky Lab harnesses the sun to brew beer

Sarah Skidmore Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Lucky Lab Brewing Co. co-owner Gary Geist raises a beer on the roof of the company’s lab Friday in Portland. Lucky Lab is the first brewery in Oregon to use solar panels to brew its beer. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

PORTLAND – Any aficionado will tell you that sometimes a good beer is like a glass of sunshine. At the Lucky Lab Brew Pub on Hawthorne Boulevard, it’s reality.

The brewery recently became the first in Oregon to use a solar thermal system to brew its beer.

Solar collector panels line the pub’s roof, gathering the sun’s energy. The harnessed energy is then used to heat the 900-gallon tank of water that stands nearby.

Lucky Lab uses the warmed water to make beer, which must be a toasty 160 degrees. It also is used for other hot water needs at the pub, such as the dishwasher and bathroom.

When the sun doesn’t provide enough rays to meet its needs, a traditional water heater serves as backup.

Lucky Lab Brewing Co. co-owner Gary Geist says he anticipates relying almost solely on the new system in the summer, but the lab has been able to make good use of it since it went in place in December. Even in the gray Oregon winter, the tank has gotten as warm as 145 degrees with the new system.

Making beer requires a lot of water; each sip of the good stuff is water in some form. So a significant up-front cost, about $70,000, was still worth it after Geist and co-owner Alex Stiles determined the long-term savings.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Geist said.

The company says the system should pay for itself within the next few years, and it anticipates energy savings for the next 25 years.

“It’s perfect for a brewery,” Geist said. “We use a lot of water to make beer.”

A handful of breweries across the country have used alternative energy for their electricity needs. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in California is creating the country’s largest private solar installations for its electricity. But heating the water directly is a more unusual system.

“What feels good tastes even better, and many beer drinkers are responding, applauding and supporting green craft brewers,” said Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the national nonprofit industry group, the Brewers Association.

Lucky Lab said the move just made sense for economic, ethical and community reasons.

“It’s a pretty incredible system,” Geist said.

Lucky Lab will be brewing a special “Sun Beer” to celebrate the change and plans to put similar systems in place at other Lucky Lab locales.

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