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North Carolina Brewery Crafts Carbon Neutral Hemp Beer

Beer News

Four Saints Brewing has crafted North Carolina’s first Hemp beer, and one of the country’s first brews to use a 100% carbon neutral process.

Asheboro, North Carolina’s Four Saints Brewing crafted the state’s first registered Hemp Ale to support local farmers shifting away from growing tobacco toward a more sustainable crop. But apparently that “first” just wasn’t enough. So they took the innovation factor a step further to make a beer using a carbon neutral process -- the first of its kind in North Carolina, and one of the very first in the country.

Sustainability in the industry should be on the forefront of all beer drinkers’ minds. Hops aren’t going to magically repopulate, and it’s typical for breweries to use 6 to 8 gallons of water to produce just 1 gallon of beer. The project that Four Saints embarked on is a push in the right direction, and will hopefully spark inspiration for others to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.

When the brewery made their first batch of Founding Fathers Hemp Ale in August of last year, they were prevented from using NC-grown hemp due to an arcane law: sure, you were allowed to grow and use hemp in a beer, but it was illegal to bring hemp seeds across state lines. Short of having an enchanted green thumb, it was a no go. When the law changed, Four Saints jumped on the opportunity to make the first state-approved Hemp Ale.

Founding Fathers is made with 100% North Carolina-grown ingredients: the hemp flowers come from Asheboro’s Founder’s Hemp, the grains are from Durham’s Epiphany Craft Malt, and the hops are grown on Bee Hoppy Farms in Pittsboro.

“It was a lot of fun seeing it come together, and making it as local an effort as possible,” Four Saints co-founder Joel McClosky says.

Founding Fathers is an English Mild clocking in at 3.8% ABV. Brewmaster/co-founder Andrew Deming chose the style because he felt the earthy, nutty expressions wouldn’t overpower the subtle floral notes of the hemp. McClosky says Deming’s creative instincts never fail to impress him, and he nails brewing a new beer on the first try “9.9 times out of 10.”

“I’m pretty sure he’s a time traveling wizard,” McClosky says.

After Founding Fathers’ first run, another opportunity to create even more sustainable practices presented itself. At a meeting for the Triad Brewing Alliance (a coalition of North Carolina breweries promoting the area as a beer destination) Shawn Gagne got up to speak to attendees about his project Urban Offsets. The Greensboro-based organization works with companies to reduce carbon emissions in local communities, and Gagne wanted to see if any brewers were interested in a partnership.

McClosky was already interested in adopting environmentally sustainable practices at Four Saints, and as president of the Triad Alliance, he approached Gagne. They conceived a project that would offset the carbon emissions produced by the brewing process, deciding it would be feasible to design this project around the production of one beer even if McClosky was initially tempted to make his whole brewing operation sustainable.

“I said, ‘instead of trying to eat the whole elephant, let’s just take a bite,’” McClosky quipps.

For this project, the brewery funds the planting of trees in Greensboro’s Cone Health Cancer Center Healing Gardens. Along with using local ingredients, these practices offset the carbon emissions produced from brewing Founding Fathers, all the way down to tapping the keg.

The beer debuted at Raleigh’s Brewgaloo on April 28th to a diverse crowd of festival attendees. McClosky said the reception was mixed: “There were a lot of people who wanted to know about the carbon neutral, a lot who wanted to know about the hemp, and some who just said ‘put something in my glass.’”

But he did have one particularly memorable interaction:

“One of the biggest, burliest guys came up and was asking about the beer, and when I started to explain it he cut me off, and goes, ‘If you keep goin’ I’m gonna cry,’” McClosky recalls. “And then when I told him about planting the trees for the Cancer Healing Gardens, he goes, ‘Are you being serious?’ I said yeah and he actually walked off. He came back a few minutes later and told me, ‘I had to walk away because I was feeling something.’ If this would have happened later in the day, I would have said ‘whatever,’ but this was at the start of the fest early in the day.”

Four Saints originally designed this tear-jerker beer to be brewed on a 1 barrel pilot system, but McClosky says they’re in the process of scaling up the batch -- and the process is something they’d like to incorporate in other beers in the future.

“This project gives us the opportunity to spread some joy and hope and do something good,” McClosky says. “Brewing beer might not be curing major world problems, but if we can help our local community through a beer we brew and be an example for other breweries, then why not?”

Written by Sigmund Steiger

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