Biodegradable six-pack rings are also edible - and sustainable, made from spent brewery grains. /Courtesy phoito

Biodegradable six-pack rings are also edible – and sustainable, made from spent brewery grains. /Courtesy phoito

 

Chris Gove didn’t expect his brewery’s latest idea, an eco-friendly, edible six-pack ring, to go viral.

“It’s awesome how the community has been so positive,” said Gove, president and co-founder of the 2-1/2-year-old Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach.

Saltwater Brewery Screamin' IPA cans and edible six-pack rings.

Screamin’ Reels IPA is Saltwater Brewery’s top seller. It will soon be packaged with the edible six-pack rings.


A week ago, the brewery staff posted a video on Facebook explaining the degradable ring, a sturdy, sustainable can-holder. It would replace the plastic rings typically used to bind a six-pack of canned beer or sodas delivered to markets.

The video took off, and even Time magazine picked it up for its website.

“We’ve only had them for a couple of months. They produced 500 for us, and we’re down to just a few,” he said. “It caught us by surprise, the fact that it went viral. We weren’t prepared for that acceptance right away.”

Plastic rings a marine killer

But others are anxious to replace the plastic rings now in use. The rings, used internationally, are linked to thousands of marine animal and sea bird deaths and injuries annually. The rings find their way to the ocean via landfills and floating dumps. Sea turtles and fish mistake the plastic for food, and ingest it, or get tangled in the rings and die from immobility.

It’s very exciting for the rapidly expanding brewery, Gove said. “This is sustainable, and something that fits our mission. It’s using something that we had to get rid of anyway.”

Saltwater Brewery's founders toast to the new venture in 2013.

Saltwater Brewery’s founders toast to the new venture in 2013.

Saltwater’s founders are all surfers and fishermen, and involved in ocean and reef conservation. Their mission at the brewery he says, “is all about the ocean. When we started, we wanted to make the business about good beer, and education about the ocean.”

Outside of work, they got into conversations with We Believers, a company that connects causes to manufacturing and marketing. We Believers came up with a prototype based on sugarcane packaging. Manufactured in Mexico, it’s evolved into a useable package that incorporates the spent brewery grains, Gove said. A few tweaks and it will soon be on the market commercially.

The current version is designed to break down rapidly. The brewery’s grain waste is normally sold as cattle feed, but at some point, Gove said, “you have to start figuring out how to move more of it. A brewery in Alaska, for instance, uses it for a fuel source to keep their boilers going.”

Though not designed as a food, the brewery’s product is still edible and digestible by sea turtles and other marine animals.

“We’re working with marine biologists to test everything,” Gove said.  These are ingredients, he acknowledges, not normally on a turtle diet. “It’s like eating something that’s not the most healthy for you. Fast food, sort of.” But still, he says, better than plastic.

Viral interest in edible six-pack rings

3Already other breweries have asked for some of the packages. “There’s definitely a market for them out there,” Gove said. He’s encouraged by the buzz among his brewing friends.

“It’s common for this industry to be eco-friendly. Everyone is on board to reduce our common footprint. It’s not just the guy on the end drinking the beer; it’s the others in the business, too.”

A degradable cardboard made from a sustainable plant would be ideal, but, he said, they can’t produce cardboard in the facility. “Hopefully, in the future, there will be a coop to produce them.”

As for the grain-based rings: “We’re at the 200,000 number for production for the whole year; they can already sustain us for now.”

Saltwater Brewery is expanding, Gove said, and they want to be good stewards for the earth wherever they go.

“We did 1800 barrels last year, and we’re on board to do 5000 this year. We’re running out of room based on our growth rate; this facility is only 8000 or 9000 square feet. We need to at least double that; we’re looking at locations now. We’ll be going a lot larger, but we plan to stay in South Florida.”

A staff addition will help. “We just hired a new brewmaster – he was one of the senior brewers with Brooklyn Brewery.” Justin Rick ran a few other large brewing systems and was in charge of quality control at Brooklyn.

Big plans, but Gove is ready, he says, to “eventually supply the whole East Coast with Saltwater beers.”

Beer GardenSaltwater Brewery

1701 W. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach

Tasting room hours:
Sun-Wed: 12pm-11pm
Thu-Sat: 12pm-12pm