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This Oktoberfest, Let's Celebrate Mechanical Refrigeration

Oct. 12, 2018
Sure, the Brewers could win it all this year, but cold brews are a winner every October. Here, our sustainability expert takes a light-hearted look at the history of beer refrigeration and its environmental impact.

In spite of the recent spate of media and political attention to beer drinking, many of us still enjoy an occasional cold 'brewski'. For me, it’s with pizza, while watching college football (especially the Hokies!).  Of course October, famous for Oktoberfest, is the perfect time to sample the malt beverages made possible by modern refrigeration (you knew there had to be an HVACR hook in here). 
The official Oktoberfest is the oldest and largest beer festival in the world, dating back to 1810, and attracting more than 6 million revelers to Munich, Bavaria, Germany, every fall. It is also widely celebrated outside of Germany, with notable U.S. events held in Reading PA (Reading Leiderkranz Oktoberfest); New Braunfels TX (Wurstfest); La Crosse WI (Oktoberfest U.S.A.); Cincinnati OH (Oktoberfest Zinzinnati); New Ulm MN (New Ulm Oktoberfest); Mount Angel OR (Mount Angel Oktoberfest); Fredericksburg, TX (Oktoberfest Fredericksburg); Frankenmuth MI (Frankenmuth Oktoberfest); Tulsa OK (Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa); and Torrance CA (Alpine Village Oktoberfest).

From before the middle ages when ale was first brewed, until the early 19th century, beer and ale were served warm or even hot. The first cold beer is generally believed to have been Bavarian lager (hence Oktoberfest’s connection to Bavaria). This was also the first seasonal brew, since it had to be put outside in cold air to ferment and season, and thus could only be made in the winter. Before mechanical refrigeration, beer – and other foods and beverages – was kept cold with naturally-occurring ice, which had to be purchased from ice houses and moved to homes and businesses. In 1842, Dr. John Gorrie designed the first ice maker and less than 20 years later, vapor compression refrigeration systems were being used in commercial breweries. By the 1870s, breweries were the largest users of commercial refrigeration, and refrigerated railroad cars were being developed. The rest, as they say, is history.Now, since I’m also supposed to write here about energy and sustainability, my primary professional interests, I would be remiss in not pointing out that Oktoberfest comes with a hefty (carbon) cost. Last year’s Munich celebration, for instance, used approximately 2.7 million kWh, around 13 percent of the city’s typical daily electrical consumption. The Bavarian kitchens and beer gardens also used more than seven million cubic feet of natural gas for cooking and heating. According to the Brewers Association here in the U.S., breweries subject to the EPA Mandatory Greenhouse Gas accounting rule produce approximately 125 barrels of beer per metric ton of CO2(equivalent) emitted.So if you’re old enough to legally drink beer, drink it responsibly. And, please, remember to turn out the kitchen light when you go back to the TV for the second half…

A regular contributor to HPAC Engineering and a member of its editorial advisory board, the author is a principal at Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a south Florida-based engineering firm focusing on energy and sustainability.

About the Author

Larry Clark

A member of HPAC Engineering’s Editorial Advisory Board, Lawrence (Larry) Clark, QCxP, GGP, LEED AP+, is principal of Sustainable Performance Solutions LLC, a South Florida-based engineering firm focused on energy and sustainability consulting. He has more than two dozen published articles on HVAC- and energy-related topics to his credit and frequently lectures on green-building best practices, central-energy-plant optimization, and demand-controlled ventilation.