If you live outside California or the West Coast, you may not be familiar with the folks at Anderson Valley Brewing Company (AVBC) and the roads they’ve paved for sustainable beer brewing in the last few years. Since changing ownership in 2019, AVBC has gone out of its way to become a pioneer in the industry. Reaching the brewery’s sustainability goals has not been easy, but with a driven attitude to reduce his carbon footprint, CEO Kevin McGee has made the brewery a hotspot for beer lovers and sustainability enthusiasts.
Originally opening in 1987 in the lower level of the Buckhorn Saloon, Anderson Valley has been a major player in craft beer for a while. Since 1996, their growth has been superb, brewing up to 22 beers as of 2022.
AVBC wouldn’t fully implement sustainability measures without the work of Kevin McGee. An up tick in extreme weather events and a changing climate has forced the brewery to reevaluate some of its strategies. Coupled with the California drought, McGee has been leading the way in reducing water and energy consumption in the brewing process. He’s dedicated to reusing water from previous brews, using 40% solar energy, donating grain for healthier livestock, and using recycled cans. They also source wooden barrels from bourbon makers to make aged beers, cutting back on production costs and wood needed to make new barrels.
So how did McGee get involved with AVBC? He said it was a combination of career factors and personal connections that led to his purchase of the company in December 2019. “My career has taken a winding path, but in retrospect it feels like I had been spending the last few decades preparing for my family to acquire AVBC,” McGee said. “I’ve been working with alcoholic beverages for just about 20 years now, and when I founded Healdsburg Beer Co., I was spending my days working at Jackson Family Wines as Jess Jackson’s consiglieri and spending my nights and weekends brewing.” Healdsburg Beer Co. was a brewing company he started in his garage in 2007.
An attorney by trade and having a Master’s from Stanford University, McGee has worked for multiple California wineries, including Jackson Family Wines, and it would be the late Jess Jackson who would teach him how to run a beverage-making company. McGee says her guidance was an “irreplaceable education” on his path to AVBC.
McGee prides himself on ushering in the sustainability measures for AVBC. His “Leave No Trace Brewing” policy has enabled the water-recycling methods, but most importantly, building a solar array grid for power. AVBC became the first brewery to run only by solar energy and stated they were going “110% solar in 2022.” The brewery’s grid is independent of California’s and can help power the surrounding community in case of power failure.
In addition, McGee has pledged to keep his beer prices low as an uptick in pricing has occurred due to supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rather than using new cans, McGee’s use of recycled cans and bottles allowed him to keep prices lower than competitors, resulting in lower shipping costs.
These sustainable practices gave AVBC a platform to thrive economically without overusing or wasting resources.
McGee highlights the biggest challenges facing the brewery: the ongoing California wildfires, COVID-19 fallout, and growing competition from alternative craft spirits. The fires present the most significant threat, with McGee undergoing three evacuations since he bought AVBC. He’s less worried about the industry competition, remarking that there will always be a beer market.
In terms of the pandemic fallout, Anderson Valley did well during the worst of it, even taking on more staff when layoffs were happening en masse. McGee has made it his mission to make AVBC the best sustainable brewery in the country, and the hope is that more breweries will follow suit. While there is still lots of work to be done, the company enters the 2020s with a strong sense of community, environmental consciousness, and ambition for the future.