Drink Beer, Save the World – in Chicago

I’m heading to Chicago tomorrow to speak at the Green Festival and shoot a video for Lime media about the importance of small, locally-owned, sustainable craft breweries. Beep, the region’s weekly entertainment newspaper, published this story below about me today. A few facts got mangled and I swear I never said some of the things the writer quotes, but overall the message is right on target.

Read the original story here:


Lisa Balde | Beep Staff Writer
Thursday, April 12, 2007

File Chris O’Brien under “beer activism.” Or rather, beer “activist”: an enticing brew-your-own job title O’Brien invented himself 10 years ago while attending grad school, back when funds were slim and alcohol intake was high (and necessary).

(Photo caption: This guy is convinced he can save the world by drinking beer. Well, locally-brewed beer. Hear what he has to say April 21 at Chicago’s Green Festival.)

It seemed like a great idea: save money, brew your own beer. (“It’s like making a big pot of soup,” O’Brien admits.) But then, something bigger happened. The idea morphed. It grew into a widely accepted environmental cause, one that sprouted roots and eventually sent O’Brien to the likes of Vietnam and Africa to preach his malted gospel.

His mission: convince beer lovers to drink locally-brewed craft beers. His logic: It’s not only a kick-in-the-pants to corporate breweries who use environmentally dangerous fillers to mask the taste of beer, but it’s also a promotion for small businesses whose delivery trucks travel short distances or use bio diesel fuel.

His motto: “Drink beer and save the world.”

Not bad for a revolution initiative. Jump on the global bandwagon with a beer in hand? Who wouldn’t want to metaphorically link arms with Al Gore’s green army from a bar stool, even if the words come out a little bit slurred?

Enter O’Brien, now 35, and author of “Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer & Save the World.” He’s traveling back from the Discovery Channel TV set where he taught a couple of lovebirds how to make organic beer for their all-natural wedding. He’s serious about this beer thing. He tells me so. And not even a corporate empire like Anheuser Busch can stop him.

“50 percent of the beer consumed in America is produced by Anheuser Busch,” he says, rattling off the company’s monopolistic trends. “There’s a reason we got rid of monopolies.”

Chris O’Brien speaks April 21: McCormick Place, Chicago, 5 p.m.

O’Brien’s beer advocacy creed says drinking locally-made beer helps the environment even on the simplest level. How? It supports a micro-industry that tends to thrive on environmentally friendly practices anyway. Wheat and barley, required tricks of the trade, are both “renewable” products. And it’s no secret that the less fuel exhaust zapped into the ozone, the better to slow global warming effects.

As such, the first thing O’Brien asks when entering a new bar is whether it serves locally brewed beers. Chances are, he says, the bar offers at least one or two. Even if your town isn’t home to a brewery, he says, regional microbrews are better than sipping Miller Lite. Midwest brewpubs include: Brass Brewery (South Barrington), Flatlander’s (Lincolnshire), Three Floyds (Munster, Ind.) and Great Lakes (Cleveland).

“Think globally, drink locally.” He says it strong and steady, as if he’s telling me the subhead to beer activism’s save-the-world Bible. If “Drink Beer and Save the World” had a companion book, this certainly would be the title.

As you may have guessed, O’Brien is an Earth-minded guy to begin with. He’s the director of Maryland’s Responsible Purchasing Network, a co-op that shows businesses how to alter their operations to help the environment – or at least to stop destroying the Earth.

O’Brien always knew he wanted to tread along the environmental path. After all, he sought out an organic cooperative straight out of college. But this beer thing, well, it came a bit by surprise.

Like, there he was, stirring brew on his stove, and the next thing he knew he was visiting every continent on the globe (it’s true, he counted them off with me on the phone). The latter was part of his research for “Fermenting Revolution,” which received beyond-favorable reviews, by the way. One guy commented, “This man should be president.”

Interesting side note from his research: Brewing has historically been a feminine traditional, rooted in family and spirituality. O’Brien is convinced that since men took over the business sometime later, brewing shifted into the cut-throat, money-grubbing industry it is today.

“Beer, at its best, is a fresh product,” O’Brien says. Big brewing companies not only spoil that for beer drinkers, he says, but for the environment as well.

“The planet has reached a crisis point,” he says. “You can only cut down so many trees.”

And you can only drink so much Miller Lite.


3 Responses to Drink Beer, Save the World – in Chicago

  1. I enjoyed your article and the suggestions that are provided. There are plenty of opinions out there that are both savvy and bad. If you have any more information concerning travel tips or related topics, that would be great. Keep up the great writing!

  2. Andy says:

    I have to say the following after reading this article. People who think composting the spent grain byproduct is a more environmental (green) method of handling the waste are sadly mistaken. The truth is a cow is nothing more than an edible walking compost bin and they provide meat fit for human consumption and their waste can be used for growing Agaricus Bisporus (common Button Mushroom), or methane collection as well as a fertilizer that may be applied directly on the fields.
    Most people don’t realize what they say about cattle causing environmental problems are wrong. Cattle can be raised where no crops can (hence range cattle) coupled with the fact they can consume many other byproducts besides brewery waste such as beet pulp from sugar beets, almond hulls, orange and apple pomaces, and a host of other vegetable based refuse that they and pigs have been eating for centuries. Cattle and pigs were fattened on vegetable scraps and fodder beets in England prior to the discovery of corn in the Americas.

    I do understand that the article was meant mostly for alternative methods of handling this byproduct; and that most people in the replies are either farmers or understand that feeding it to livestock is a great way of dealing with this instead of disposing it in a less efficient manner. I just want it said that composting the product instead of feeding it is an ineffiecent manner when compared with using this byproduct to its fullest potential and giving ammunition albeit false information about the environmental impact of cattle.

  3. occidental vacation club

    Drink Beer, Save the World – in Chicago | Beer Activist

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