Bench Brewing Company is a Belgian-inspired farmhouse brewery and restaurant located in Lincoln, Ontario. Situated on 8 acres of beautiful farmland in the heart of Ontario’s wine-country, the Niagara Peninsula, this brewery recognizes the importance of the land and resources this rich landscape provides them. Matt Giffen, founder of Bench Brewing Company, and his team have built their brand with the focus of sustainability and community constantly in their heads. Every detail of the brewery and brand is well thought out, from the reconstruction of the historical Maple Grove School into the brewery and taps room it is today, all the way to the brewing of their beer where extra measures have been installed to reduce their water waste and spent grain waste. The outcome of their dedication and attention to detail has allowed them to create delicious, sustainable beers that make their customers fall in love from the first sip and have created a culture of people just as passionate about Bench Brewery as the team itself.
Water, one of lifes most precious resources, required not only to nourish the population of a productive society but also an essential part of our economy, used in agriculture and energy and resource production. It is such an essential part of our daily lives, yet, as our population and demands continue to grow and climate change and pollution continue to affect our water supplies, water scarcity is becoming a growing and extremely pressing concern. Based on our current water consumption rate, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has estimated by 2025, “two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages” (WWF, n.d.). In order to meet the demand for water in the future, both water consumption and water pollution per industrial output must be reduced (UNIDO, n.d.). It’s extremely important, now more than ever, that companies develop a water stewardship approach to their operations. Water stewardship is defined by the UNIDO as using water in a socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial way (UNIDO, n.d.). A company who has done exactly this, building their operations around the concept of water stewardship is Bench Brewing Company.
When Matt first envisioned Bench Brewery back in 2014, he knew sustainability was going to be a part of the operations at Bench, but it wasn’t until he immersed himself into the community when he realized the importance of being stewards of the land. In talking to the farming community of this area, Matt recognized the need to run his operations in a way that would not adversely affect the environment and the community; one of the ways they do so is through their water stewardship efforts.
The first step in their water stewardship efforts is to minimize the actual amount of water used in their brewing process. The brewing process is one that requires a lot of water; in the average brewery it requires about 7-10 litres of water to produce 1 litre of beer (7-10:1)(Agnew, 2016). At Bench, the brew team has been able to reduce this number to 5 litres of water for every 1 litre of beer (5:1), and has a goal to further reduce this ratio to 4:1. In talking to Sarah Casorso, Head Brewer & Director of Brewing Operations, she revealed that due to their wastewater treatment facility (discussed in the following paragraphs) they take extra caution in side streaming all of their spent hops, yeast, wort, and other materials of that kind used in the brewing process. This side streamed waste is carefully stored in a designated waste tank which has reduced the rinse water, the waste that goes down the drain, and the water needed to process that waste. Another really important factor in reducing the required water in the brewing process was their precise recording of numbers. When they are brewing, the team makes sure to record all numbers to ensure that those exact quantities are going into the beer allowing them to accurately account for all the water used in the brewery.
Click the video below to watch my interview with Sarah Casorso, Head Brewer & Director of Brew Operations at Bench Brewing Company. In the video we discuss her and her team’s efforts that go into the brewing process at Bench and the challenges/adaptations made, in order to benefit from both the natural resources the unique landscape provides and from the sustainability of their operations.
The next step in their water stewardship efforts is the wastewater system they have developed. Being located in a rural setting, Bench Brewing Company is not connected to a town sanitary system, so putting all their water down the drain was never an option. They had 2 options in their case; the first and easiest being, to haul their wastewater to the local wastewater management plant. In my interview with Matt, he revealed that when looking at this choice Matt and his team estimated there would be 475 truckloads of wastewater they would have had to truck to the local wastewater management plant, which they recognized as not being an environmentally sustainable choice. The second option, and the one they went for was to purify their water on site. This system is divided into 2 waste streams; one system is for the wastewater of the bathrooms and kitchen which is stored in a traditional septic system. The other system is for the brewery waste stream. This system never co-mingles with the domestic waste system, leaving the property in a separate exit into their water treatment facility, the water barn, located on the north side of their property. This barn consists of 4 30,000 Litre tanks contained underneath the ground. The first tank acts as a settling system where bigger pieces of organic waste settle to the bottom of the tank. This then enters into 3 main treatment tools: ozone, UV, and reverse osmosis. The water runs through these treatment tools 8 times till it is brought up to a standard approved by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/. This water is then stored in a tank on the far side of the water barn where it is automatically fed out to their 3 acres of hops and to the approximate 170 acres of neighbouring apple orchard, fruit farm and vineyards through drip irrigation during the growing season.
Just to briefly mention; not only are they recycling and reusing the water used in their brewing process to feed their hops and neighbouring fields but they are also using the most efficient agricultural irrigation system to do so. Drip irrigation is an irrigation system in which a network of small plastic tubes transfer low-pressure water to their precise location in a garden. Due to its slow, precise water application, it is considered among one of the most efficient and sustainable irrigation systems in agriculture, minimizing the amount of water loss and exceeding an efficiency rate of 90% (Green Education Foundation, n.d.).
Although the majority of their ingredients used in their beers is grown locally in the spring & summer seasons this does not mean that brewing stops at the conclusion of these seasons. During the winter time, when the fields are out of the growing season and brewing is still in the process, the wastewater treated in their water barn is piped to a retention pond on their adjacent apple farm. This pipe is 1km long and runs 4 ft. under the hops field, a height at which the pipe stays under the frost line. The water is stored in the retention pond until the spring season. When spring rolls around, the water is then used to irrigate the 15 acres of apples on their farm and to irrigate two neighbouring tender fruit farms.
In the process of treating their wastewater, some residual organic waste is left over. This waste is combined with the spent hops and yeast of the brewing process that are side streamed from the wastewater before it enters treatment. The combination of these three materials creates a nutrient rich fertilizer used on their hops field and their neighbouring apple orchard, fruit farms and vineyards. This application of the organics as a fertilizer has also been from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)through a Non-Agricultural Sourced Material (NASM) plan.
Another waste that results from the brewing process and one that many of us are aware of is spent grain. Spent grain is the leftover malt and ingredients after the brewing process has occurred and can make up as much as 85% of a brewery’s by-product (Witkiewicz, 2012). All of the spent grain that results from the brewing process at Bench Brewing Company is given to a local farmer who uses it to feed his livestock throughout the year.
The last step in their water stewardship efforts officially closes the loop of all their efforts. The fruit that is grown on the farms using their treated wastewater and fertilizer is used as ingredients in the creation of their famous beers. Essentially, Bench Brewing Company has formed their own mini circular economy within their farm and the neighbouring farms. During my interview with Matt, it was revealed to me that through all of their efforts, Bench Brewing Company recycled 4.4 million litres of water last year.
Click the video below to watch my interview with Matt Giffen, founder of Bench Brewing Company. In the interview we discuss the process of creating the wastewater system at Bench, some unique challenges and benefits of creating beer in Ontario’s wine country, the importance of community in his operation, the development of Bench Brewing Company and the future of this operation.
Bench Brewing company places a heavy emphasis on the preservation of land and its natural resources but there is also a heavy focus on the community in which it operates & preserving the history of set community. When talking to Matt, he emphasized the fact that Bench lives and operates in the community of Lincoln, and as such it is an extremely important part of who they are. When he first moved into Lincoln and started talking to neighbours and members of the community he realized the rich history this town had, with some of his neighbours families living in the area for over 200 years. Matt was quickly taken under the wing of a group called the “Lincoln Archives” where he got to learn, in depth, about the history of this area and the members of this community. To honour both the beauty of this natural landscape and the history of the community Bench created their community range beers. The community range beers are available year round and are inspired by important moments in history and landmarks Bench wanted to pay tribute to. One of the beers in their community range is Stone Road. Stone Road, a white ale, is one of their more traditional beers with a lean but powerful malt profile named after the street they are located on that would bring Mennonites and Loyalists to the twenty valley in the late 1700’s.
Balls Falls, their session IPA is another community range beer that has a big hop aroma and dry finish. Balls Falls was named after the historical waterfall and conservation area in the town of Lincoln which got its name from the founder of the town Jacob Ball; a United Empire Loyalist granted land after the American revolution for his allegiance to the Crown.
Another community range beer is their Jordan Harbour, a Belgian pale ale with delicate aromas of spice and grapefruit with a dry, slightly bitter finish. This beer was named after the natural harbour on the south shore of Lake Ontario that, as the mouth of Twenty Mile Creek, acted as a water highway for goods to be traded and sold between colonies.
These beers were all carefully crafted to express Bench Brewing Company’s gratitude to the community for their constant support and loyalty since the beginning of their vision.
Not only do they pay homage to the community through the detailed and artisanal crafting of their beers but they have also teamed up with community partners from all over to support those within the community. These community partners include: Community Care of West Niagara (CCWN); a registered charitable non-profit organization providing essential services and support to individuals and families in the Lincoln community facing economic hardship, Gillian’s Place; an Ontario shelter for abused women and children providing safe refuge and programs to allow women and children to break the cycle of violence, and OutNiagara; a community organization with the mission to celebrate, inform, support, collaborate, and unite with the sexual and gender-diverse community of Niagara. They have also partnered with Niagara College to create and administer the Bench Brewing Scholarship and the Bench Brewing BIPOC Entrance Scholarship. The Bench Brewing Scholarship is a $2,000 scholarship awarded to Niagara College Brewmasters in their final term who have demonstrated “academic excellence, excellent brewing skills, and collaboration and a passion for the industry” (Cheng & McConnell, 2017). The Bench Brewing BIPOC Entrance scholarship is a $2,500 scholarship developed to encourage and support members of the BIPOC communities who want to pursue a career as a brewmaster. Bench designed this scholarship with the aspiration of making the craft brewing industry more approachable and diverse and to demonstrate that brewing can be a viable and rewarding career path for all cultures and communities.
This report would not be complete without talking about the kitchen at Bench. What was once a small classroom in the Maple Grove School is now a modern kitchen producing big, powerful food experiences for their customers. Working on the hostess team last summer, we would have customers running up with their mouths watering, so eager to see if their favourite dish was on the menu again. Chef Justin Lesso, head chef at Bench Brewing Company, and his team are the ones responsible for these amazing dishes. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Chef Justin Lesso over email about some of the practices in his kitchen related to sustainability. Based off of the knowledge received through my Sustainable Foodservice Professional (SFP)https://www.sfpcertificate.ca/ certification from LEAF and The Next Course, I asked Chef Justin Lesso questions covering 6 different topics of sustainability in an operation; source & supply, water conservation, food waste, energy consumption, packaging, and culture in the kitchen.
The first topic we covered was source & supply. Sourcing locally is an important aspect of sustainability as it helps to create food security in a community by building a strong & reliable food system within an area & helps to build a more resilient local economy by creating a multiplier effect in the community; the more dollars circulating in the community, the more income, wealth, and jobs they create. Sourcing locally also provides customers with the opportunity to taste the fresh flavours of a local community. Chef Justin Lesso informed me that at Bench although not everything they source is local they do their best to support local farmers and suppliers whenever possible. All of their meat is high quality, sourced from Ontario and their produce supplier works with local farms in the area and in the GTA. Being located in the rich, biodiverse landscape of the Niagara Bench, they use this opportunity to visit the farms stands around them to source products when the season is right. The bread used in their sandwiches is sourced from a local Bakery, De La Terre, once located down the street now just a short distance in St.Catherines. Most of the cheese used in their dishes comes straight from down the street from Upper Canada Cheese Company; a company of artisan cheese makers offering a selection of award-winning cheeses made from Guernsey milk and goat milk from local farms in Ontario. Chef Justin Lesso informed me that although they do not use a lot of fish in their dishes at Bench Brewing Company when they do, they use Ocean Wise certified products. Chef Justin Lesso emphasized that while it’s extremely important to source local and support local it also provides them with the opportunity to offer the freshest products available which translates to a higher quality food produced and a richer experience.
The next topic we covered was the topic of water conservation. According to restaurants Canada, “approximately 15% of all industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) water usage comes from the restaurant industry.” This includes all stages in the kitchen from prep all the way to sanitization (Szego, 2019). Chef Justin Lesso was quick to recognize that it takes a lot of water to run a kitchen properly and safely but is their responsibility to reduce this as much as possible. In order to reduce their water consumption in the kitchen at Bench, Chef Justin Lesso and his team ensure dish racks are fully loaded to maximize their dish washing cycles. The handwashing sinks are set on a short timer so they can shut off automatically when not in use. Another step taken is instead of filling up a pot to boil certain products then dumping that water down the drain they opt to steam these products in their smart oven which uses a small fraction of the water that would have been required in the boiling method.
The next topic covered was the topic of food waste. Food waste is a huge environmental, economic, societal, and business concern. Not only are you wasting the actual food product when something is tossed but you are wasting all the energy and resources that have gone into the production, transportation, storage, and prep of that product. Based on figures from the Food Balance Sheets and emission factors from Life Cycle Assessment studies the Food and Agricultural Organization was able to estimate that food waste has a carbon footprint of 3.3 GtCO2 eq (Gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide). If the food waste carbon footprint was considered a country, it would be considered the 3rd largest GHG emitting “country” in the world.(Food wastage Footprint & Climate Change., n.d.). In talking with Chef Justin Lesso I revealed that the topic of food waste is one I am very passionate about and he told me that this was something Bench was also passionate about and therefore make conscious decisions to reduce this issue in their kitchen. With all unusable food waste they are very careful to keep this separate from recycling and general waste in order for them to compost this unavoidable food waste effectively. Although an “onsite” compost system is not in play at Bench Brewing Company they have all of their composted food scraps picked up from MOLOK containers to be dealt with properly. All the usable food scaps and trims they have are kept for further use and transformed into stocks, soups, and other recipes.
The next topic covered was energy use. The energy required to run a restaurant is extremely intense. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “restaurants consume 3 times more energy per square foot than other commercial enterprises (RDT, 2020). Through my experience in the SFP certification I learned the problem of energy consumption was no easy fix so I was extremely interested how this was addressed in the Bench Kitchen. When talking to Chef Justin Lesso abot this topic I discovered that Bench uses 2 of the strategies recommended by the SFP certification; (1) turning off equipment when not in use and, (2) using ENERGY STAR-rated appliances. Chef Justin Lesso informed me that all equipment not in use is shut off until needed and that the main oven used the most in the kitchen is ENERGY STAR-rated and as well shut off when not in use.
The next topic covered was packaging. The issue of packaging is bigger than ever before due to the current circumstances that we live in. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic restaurants are in the position where they have to do a lot more takeout than ever before and also have to be more cautious to not accept reusable products for food and beverage takeout from their customers. All this takeout and the restriction of not being able to use reusable products at locations means a lot more packaging is being used and sent out to the world in order to provide customers with their favourite foods. When talking about this topic with Chef Justin Lesso I was extremely happy to hear that Bench had recently made the shift to have all takeout containers be compostable and materials made of recyclable materials. He also informed me that all their food products are stored in reusable food grade containers allowing them to reduce the disposal of single use packaging.
The last topic covered with Chef Justin Lesso was the topic of the sense of community and support in the kitchen. I feel as though with so many factors relating to sustainability in an operation, the sustainability of its people can unfortunately often be overlooked. The sustainability of a restaurant’s people is just as important, if not more than all the other aspects of sustainability because without the strong healthy support of your people you really don’t have an operation. In talking with Chef Justin Lesso I was extremely happy to learn that his team and the sustainability of them was something he was most passionate about at Bench. He emphasized that respect for one another in the kitchen was extremely important to the success of an operation. He understands that things can quickly get intense in a kitchen but with this mutual respect there is always a positive solution to all circumstances that may arise. Chef Justin Lesso has been cooking professionally for almost 20 years and has gained experience overseas in London, England and Ireland but yet he makes it known not only to his team in the kitchen but to the whole operation that he is always open to suggestions. Even with all this experience under his belt, Chef Justin Lesso states he feels he has “just scratched the surface of food”, and understands there is value in listening to and learning from someone who has had alternate experiences in the industry. He also encourages learning in the kitchen at all levels, especially in younger chefs new to the industry. He understands that mistakes will be made but this is just a part of the learning process. Another aspect of the sustainability of the people and culture in his kitchen is the work-life balance. Chef Justin Lesso respects that his team has lives outside of Bench Brewing Company and honours this by making schedules weekly and taking any and all requests for changes.
My last question to Chef Justin Lesso was not specifically on the topic of sustainability in his kitchen but instead on the topic of sustainability as a whole. I asked; “In this ever-changing world climate we live in, what is the significance of sustainability in your role as a chef and in your kitchen at Bench?”. His response, I feel merits its own direct quote: “This new world we live in is affecting our industry as a whole in irreversible ways at the moment. Just the fact that restaurants are surviving during lockdowns is mind boggling to me. Tight margins of profit mean you need to do constant turnover to make money and pay employees. Sustainability with food, staff, and local businesses is what makes us a “community” and the glue that holds our industry together. When other chefs I know need help, I will never turn down an opportunity to support and guide anyone in need of advice, a reference, or simply a helping hand. What goes around comes around, and that is VERY prevalent in our industry today.”. Through all my experiences during my time as the UGSRP intern, a constant and extremely important factor to the sustainability and resilience of this industry, that I have heard from multiple industry leaders, is communication and collaboration. Especially after this pandemic, the restaurant industry cannot be so secretive in its practices, failures, and successes, its extremely important restaurants communicate and collaborate and use this as an opportunity to come back even stronger than before and restructure their systems to be more resilient and sustainable for years to come.
Working at Bench Brewery last summer provided me with the first hand experience of getting to see all these sustainability efforts in play in the operation. By fully immersing myself in the culture of Bench and getting to see all the dedication and hard work that went into maintaining, building, and improving their sustainability efforts, my interest in sustainable breweries was quickly sparked into a passion; and for that I will always be grateful for the experience. I am so proud to work at a company that is just as passionate as me about sustainability and has allowed me to explore my passion, providing me with the necessary support to better my skills and knowledge every step of the way. I look forward to seeing what they do and where they go in the future!
A huge thanks to everyone at Bench Brewing Company who has helped me during the production of this report, I would not have been able to complete this without their help so thank you all so much!! Your constant support throughout this process has been greatly appreciated.
Certified B Corporation
During the development of this report, Bench Brewing Company announced on April 6th, 2021, that they had become a Certified B Corporation (B Corp)https://bcorporation.net/, joining a group of companies around the world who have demonstrated “the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose” (Certified B Corp, n.d.). This certification isn’t just based on what services or products your operation provides but instead takes into account all the positive impacts the company and brand does for their workers, the community, the environment, and their customers. This certification is a long and rigorous process that acts as a highest standard of which an operation has committed too; it’s about using business as a force for good and creating the necessary shift in society to redefine success in business and build a more sustainable economy. (Certified B Corp, n.d.)
Where to find Bench
If you are hoping to visit Bench Brewing Company in the future their Taproom & Kitchen and Bottle Shop are all located at 3991 King St., Beamsville, ON L0R 1B1. Visit their website: https://benchbrewing.com/ to watch their mini series on the development of Bench Brewing Company, located under the “About Us” tab in “our story”. You can shop from their merchandise, drink accessories, and beer directly from the website and even check to see what beers of theirs are offered in an LCBO near you. Hungry for some of the delicious flavours the Niagara area has to offer, carefully crafted into a beautiful dish from Chef Justin Lesso and his team in the Bench Kitchen? Order takeout from Bench from 12-8pm all week!
Follow them on their social media’s to stay up to date on new beer releases, events, and other opportunities happening at Bench Brewing Company:
Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook: @benchbrewing
WWF. (n.d.). Water scarcity. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity
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Certified B Corporation. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2021, from https://bcorporation.net/
Szego, C. (2019, August 08). How restaurants can Save Water: 10 tips For FOODSERVICE OPERATORS. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://blog.restaurantscanada.org/index.php/2019/08/08/how-restaurants-can-save-water-10-tips-for-foodservice-operators/#:~:text=Approximately%2015%20per%20cent%20of,water%20throughout%20their%20whole%20process.
RDT. (2020, April 10). Restaurant energy consumption statistics and the high cost of energy. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://solutions.rdtonline.com/blog/restaurant-energy-consumption-statistics
Food wastage Footprint & Climate Change. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/a-bb144e.pdf.