Beer vs water: Bengaluru’s microbreweries in a time of water shortage

It takes seven litres of water to brew just a litre of beer! But as the city struggles with a water crisis, Bengaluru's craft microbreweries are finding ways to cut down their water use

Bengaluru has found a love for microbreweries that brew their own beer on small scales, thanks to the influx of well-traveled young tech workers. Known as the pub capital of India, the city now has an estimated 60-plus micro breweries. What you may not know, is the amount of water needed to brew a pint of beer in these craft breweries.

On average, it takes seven litres of water to brew a litre of beer. That number becomes many times higher when you factor in the entire water footprint of beer, including water required to grow the grain and water used in the attached pub. Where the crops are grown also makes a difference. For example, a 2009 study found SAB Miller beers produced in South Africa and the Czech Republic take 155 litres and 45 litres of water respectively, to produce a litre of beer. Rohit Parwani, the Head Brewer for The Bier Club on Vittal Mallya Road says they buy their barley and wheat from Europe and millets from local farmers.

But it’s not just the amount of water that is important to the brewing process, it’s also the quality of water itself. “In a microbrewery, it becomes extremely important to understand how water chemistry affects the beer profile,” Gaurav Sikka, the Managing Director of Arbor Brewing Company located by Brigade Road, explains. Sikka adds that, for beers like stouts you want harder water, whereas for pilsners you want water with more minerals. Ultimately, water makes up 90 to 95 percent of beer.

The Bier Club, a popular brewery and pub near UB City, brews on average 11,000 litres of beer a month. This is normal for most craft breweries in the city. But what this means is that, if they are brewing 10,000 to 12,000 litres a month and it takes seven litres of water to make one litre of beer, then they’re using upwards of  84,000 litres of water a month. This translates to 14 water tankers (6000 litre capacity) a month each. If you consider that the nearly 60 microbreweries in the city are using as much water, it translates to use of 1.68 lakh litres of water per day just to brew craft beer!

The importance of water is not lost upon the city of Bengaluru. With the looming threat that the city will run out of water as early as next year, many private citizens and businesses are attempting to be as water-conscious as possible.

Rohit Parwani of The Bier Club says they’ve been working to reduce their water usage, getting their ratio down to 4-5 litres of water per litre of beer the past few years.

As the Secretary of the Craft Brewers Association of India, a non-profit collective of brewers and brewery owners based in Bengaluru, Parwani says that as an organisation they are keen to encourage sustainable practices across the city’s industry. “We’re trying to spread that message, but ultimately it’s up to the individual,” Rohit says. “We can’t exactly suggest equipment to reduce water usage, but we can suggest best practices to brew and clean the tanks.”

Arbor Brewing Company opened their second brewery in Goa last year, which is solar-powered and is also not connected to the city’s sewerage system. Wastewater is recycled and used in their garden here. “Your input and output are the two things that you can make an impact on with water usage. Sustainability is a big part of our strategy,” Sikka says. Besides recycling waste water, Sikka says they also harvest rainwater during the monsoon season which they use in their brewing process.

Arbor Brewing Company has two locations, one by MG road in Bengaluru and another in Goa. Pic: Grace Madigan

Their brewery in the city does not harvest rainwater but they do use wastewater for their toilets, and are currently trying to find a way to recycle the water for cleaning purposes. Sikka explains it’s a bit harder to find these solutions in the middle of the city.

The Bangalore-based beer company Geist takes it a step further with its commitment to sustainable practices by becoming a Zero Liquid Discharge brewery, meaning no liquid is discharged outside the unit. “For us, the fact that water is so scarce in India is something that was paramount in our minds from day one,” Narayan Manepally, co-founder and CEO of Geist says. He says Geist’s unit at Nimbekaipura, on the outskirts of the city, has a treatment plant that produces agricultural-grade water which they supply to neighbouring farms.

Geist’s water usage is about 5.5 litres per 1 litre of beer, which they hope to continue to lower. One of the things that they do is use the ‘sludge’ that comes from their water treatment plant as fertiliser for plants and trees on their premises.

Because the water they get is from a borewell and changes in quality from season to season, they have to do a process of reverse osmosis so that the water will provide the same beer flavour consistently. However, this process only results in 50 percent of the water being usable for brewing, the rest is rejected. But rather than discarding the water, they are able to run it through a more intensive process of reverse osmosis again to produce more filtered water. Ideally, they would like to find a way to turn the discarded water into drinking water, but are yet to do so.

The importance of being water-conscious

Starting micro brewery outlets involves many regulatory processes, including licenses for retail vending of beer to a microbrewery license. They also need approvals and NOCs including sewerage connection from BWSSB, and Consent of Operation and Execution from KSPCB. Any industry producing beer is classified under the RED category. Manepally explains KSPCB has criteria for waste water treatment and parameters for discharging treated water.

Hence costs of starting and running micro brewery outlets are extremely high (even when not factoring in bribe expenses). Water costs constitute a small component (especially if supplied by BWSSB). Geist’s Manepally estimates that most breweries are only spending 3-4% of their overall costs on water.

During periods of drought or water shortage, it is common for cities in western countries to ask industries to cut their use. However in India, we see no specific directions or regulations from the government in spite of the serious water challenges we are facing; it is left to individual businesses to do the right thing to minimise their water footprint. 

“We were very cognizant of wanting to leave a better planet for our kids, we wanted to make a difference and set an example for others to follow,” Manepally says.

As an article on Water Deeply points out: The aspiration to be sustainable is driven both by a public relations strategy to portray themselves as environmentally friendly and by a concern about the bottom line. Because brewers are selling a product that’s mostly water, they need to figure out how to build resilience into their supply chains.

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