Better Beer for a Better Future

By: Hillary O’Connor

How organic beer and a commitment to sustainable practices have shaped The Aslan Brewing Company.

Sitting at a table made from reclaimed wood from the original McBeath building, Ian Lucas goes over the list of sustainability initiatives Aslan has implemented since its inception in 2012. Frank Trosset, Pat Haynes and Jack Lamb first developed the idea for Aslan over a pint of beer, and have committed themselves to organic ingredients, locally sourced goods and low-impact practices. Seven years and 28 beer awards later Aslan has made its mark on Bellingham and even opened a tap room in Seattle and an additional depot a few blocks from its flagship store.

It’s a typical Friday night in Bellingham’s Aslan Brewery. The old McBeath building is filled with customers from all walks of life. Patrons huddle around long, rectangular tables made from recycled wood and talk over each other as if it were a competition.

The Original McBeath Building. Home of McBeath Glass and Paint Company.

Groups of people continue to walk in through the tall glass doors and are told wait times upwards of 30 minutes. Not one party seems discouraged as group after group chooses to wait on the partially covered patio and huddle around a fire. Satisfied customers fill the space as chatter and background music warm the main dining area.

An opening to the right of the bar leads to the organic brewery. Before Aslan opens its doors in the early afternoons, four or five brewers blast heavy metal and load grains and hops into giant, stainless steel tanks that inhabit most of the brewery. Around the corner and up a narrow flight of stairs sits Ian Lucas’ office.

Ian started at the Aslan Brewing Company in 2015 and has been helping them achieve sustainability goals ever since.

Ian wears an olive-green, Aslan t-shirt and a flannel to match. His cuffed jeans stop just shy of his ankles to reveal mismatched wool socks that disappear underneath his Sanuk slip on shoes made from hemp leaves. In a world that seems profit driven and even at times hopeless, here sits this “business man” doing his part to slowly change the future of responsible business practices.

“The owners themselves kind of had that environmental ethos as part of the business model,” Ian shared. “I took on the role of actually making it a program instead of just making organic beer.”

Aslan became a certified B corporation in January of 2016 through a rigorous and comprehensive inspection process. When applying for recertification in 2018, Aslan passed the minimum requirement of 80 points and achieved 112.8 points. They are committed to their promise of sustainability and make sure that employees and the environment come before profits.

“I made it part of my job to get us on 100% green power. At the time we were buying green power but as the business grew we were only at about 60%,” Ian explained. “I got us Puget Sound Energy, a more local green energy power and now we’re at 100%.”

When Ian joined the team four years ago the main focus at Aslan was on organic beer. Since then the company has started a spent grain trade, a mutually beneficial relationship between Aslan and a local organic farmer located in Skagit County. “If we didn’t have someone taking it, we would have to pay someone to get rid of it, so it’s a really nice trade actually,” Ian continues, “The farmer we got with, he just happened to have his own organic certification so he’s able to say he feeds his cows and pigs organic spent grain.” Spent grain trades are an easy way breweries can help reduce their waste., Ian says trades like this are popular with other breweries in Whatcom County as well.

Aslan has been able to diverted 81% of their total waste from the landfill and started a plastic film collection and recycling program. Since April 2018, Aslan has been working to improve their plastic film collection and recycling program. “It was harder than I thought,” Ian describes. “We have stuff in the kitchen, we have stuff in the brewery and actually getting everybody to hop on board took a while.” In the first nine months of the programs existence Aslan recycled 1,044 pounds of plastic.

They have also created an environmental purchasing policy, partnered with sustainable connections for a food recovery program and started planting with pitchers with The National Forest Foundation. Aslan supports local farmers and sources local ingredients for their kitchen and brewery.

Thirty-eight percent of their total kitchen spending came from Whatcom and Skagit County. They source food from Avenue Bread, Charlie’s Produce, Cascadia Mushrooms, Twin Sister’s Creamery, Ferndale Farmstead, Joe’s Garden, Mallards, Happy Valley Sprouts and over a dozen other local suppliers. The brewers try to source as many ingredients as they can from local purveyors however, specialty hops have to be sourced from elsewhere.

In 2018, Aslan partnered with Sustainable Connections to create a food recovery program that would deliver unused food to hungry people around Whatcom County. Since its inception in 2018, the program has donated 1,284 pounds of food to people in need.

“I got people in the kitchen to make sure that the food that would have been tossed in the compost is actually getting separated and then put in a cooler,” Ian says. “It gets picked up like every other day and brought out to people that need it and can’t afford food in Whatcom County.”

Ian was also exceptionally proud of Aslan’s Planting with Pitchers initiative, which plants trees in stressed national forests. For every purchase of a pitcher of their classic light lager, Aslan donates the money needed to plant a tree. As of 2019, they have donated more than 200 trees to forests in need that have been affected by fire, disease or deforestation.

Responsible business practices can make a huge difference in reducing one’s carbon footprint. “Businesses control the materials that go into their products, how those materials are collected and transported, how the materials are designed and the durability of the product,” Jack Hudd, a business and sustainability major, explains. “All of these qualities determine consumer habits, as well as how the product can be disposed of at the end of its useful life. All of these factors contribute to a company’s carbon footprint.”

Aslan also aims to lower their ratio of pints of water per pint of beer. The farmer uses water to grow the crops for Aslan, water is needed to clean the steel tanks and the inside of the cans.

“Figuring out how to brew beer with less water is difficult because you don’t think about how much water you’ll actually need from growing grains to hosing down the equipment,” Dylan Hayes a Huxley graduate explains. “Understanding where in the brewing process you can use less water is vital to create a sustainable brewing practice.”

Aslan is leading the way for sustainable businesses and wants to encourage other organizations around Bellingham to challenge themselves to shrink their carbon footprint. “To decrease this impact, businesses can buy materials from local suppliers, use more durable, sustainable materials themselves, and create programs that allow for the recycling of their product or proper disposal down the line,” Jack says.

Every initiative Ian has done has proved cost effective and has allowed the brewery to achieve its goals. Sustainable Connections and the Pollution Prevention Center offer free audits to local businesses and can give them financially friendly solutions to shrink their carbon footprint. “One of the main things that businesses can do is just use the resources, and they were all free,” Ian’s eyes light up behind his rectangular glasses. “You can pay a lot of money for some environmental consulting, but I found that these companies give us cost effective solutions.”

As climate change takes control of our world, businesses across the country can play a huge role in decreasing waste and helping slow down this world wide epidemic.

Just a retired collegiate athlete who really likes to write.