The Aesthetics of Brewing

By Susanne Retka Schill | July 15, 2010
The International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo in St. Louis was upbeat, with great speakers as always. You'll read all about it in this issue. After taking in the special event Wednesday night at St. Louis Anheuser Busch brewery, I want to tease our ethanol producer readers out there a little bit. You guys have to seriously spruce up your act. If it weren't for a few steel columns poking up, there was barely a hint that AB (as I understand the locals affectionately call the century old institution) is a brewery with its brick-walled buildings and manicured landscaping complete with flower gardens. Only once on the tour did we catch a tiny whiff of grain and beer smell.

Yes, AB is a showcase, hosting thousands of tourists each year (2,800 a day at the peak). There must be a tradition of well-appointed breweries, though. The family-held, 100-year-old Schell's Brewery in New Ulm, Minn., also has wonderful old buildings with character and lovely landscaping to accommodate tourists at the functioning brewery. There may be a lesson here for ethanol producers. The following letter, sent via email and published here as is (spelling, capitalization and all), comes from an unhappy ethanol plant neighbor:

i live a few blocks from your plant, and i can not for the life of understand why you were given the ok, to build where you did. the smell is unreal, the dust from the chemicals that lays in my house, car and lungs is so bad that i now have more breathing problems, than i have ever had in my 57 years of life. But will you do anything about it or even let your neighbors know, heavens no, then that would that you would have to admit to doing something wrong. that like health and well being of others. you should have to pay all of us in eastend for having ruin our lives. sincerly, lks

We all have dealt with cranky neighbors who can't be placated, but perhaps the long tradition of landscaped breweries arose for a reason. In the days before thermal oxidizers, nice buildings and landscaping would help a community take pride in the local brewery. Ethanol plants today are more like industrial sites, and I know from my tours of a handful of ethanol plants that great pains are taken to keep the buildings clean and expensive technologies maintained to minimize odors. Yet many plants are built on the edge of town. Would a bit of attention to aesthetics, in addition to cleanliness and good pollution control, pay off in community good will?

Susanne Retka Schill, Editor