Beer made with solar power gets sunny reception

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Even on a cloudy week, Off Grid Ales produces up to 2,000 bottles of brew

By using solar power, Denise and Randy Rowe are able to brew up to 20 barrels of beer a week at Off Grid Ales. (Roger Cosman/CBC)
Randy and Denise Rowe say they've tripled their craft beer production three years after launching Off Grid Ales on the shores of Harvey Lake. Using only solar panels and a wind turbine to generate power, the Rowes have expanded their output from six barrels per week to as many as 20 barrels at their business about 45 kilometres southwest of Fredericton. . That means they can now distribute up to 8,000 bottles of beer per month to liquor stores across the southern half of New Brunswick, and they're providing kegs to a growing number of bars and restaurants. "I could double the power again," Randy said when asked what would help him to further expand.

Business growing

Denise and Randy Rowe make beer at their brew house on Harvey Lake about 45 kilometres southwest of Fredericton. (Roger Cosman/CBC)
The Rowes used to do all the labour themselves, from bottling the beer to making all deliveries but then they were able to hire two people to help. They also switched to an automated bottle-capping machine, instead of the one they had to crank by hand. "It would give me tennis elbow," said Denise, rubbing her arm.

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One of the two employees the Rowes were able to hire bottles beer at the growing business. (Roger Cosman/CBC)
Not far from the cottage-style brew house with its cedar shingle siding and steep metal roof, the Rowes live in a handsome two-storey house they built themselves, using wood from the trees they cleared on the lot. The house is also powered by solar panels and wind energy because the closest utility pole is five kilometres away. "This house was built from 12 pine trees that netted 8,000 board feet of lumber," said Randy. "A friend of mine has a portable sawmill and he milled it for us." The self-sufficient approach extends into their diet. In recent years, the rocky soil hasn't been great for gardening, but newly built vegetable beds appear to be flourishing with tomatoes and broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots and herbs.

In 2016, Portugal made history by running on renewable energy alone for 107 hours.

Simple living

Denise and Randy Rowe have tripled production at Off Grid Ales since opening three years ago. (Roger Cosman/CBC)
Denise says people often ask how they manage. "They think we're pioneers," she said. "But to us, it doesn't seem like it's a big stretch." Before they started the beer-making business, the Rowes took a kind of sabbatical, travelling North America in an RV, where they worked together in a tight space and had to live simply. That was after raising two daughters on a beansprout farm. "We had an old farmhouse that we renovated and re-insulated and made as energy-efficient as possible," Randy said of those days. "It was always my goal to get the power bill under $100 a month and then once I got it under $100 a month, I had to get it under $80 and then once I got it to $80, I had to get it under $60."

Power savers

The Rowes said they're still careful about the little things such as turning off the lights.

That's especially true on cloudy days, when the power supply is down.

It's often a choice between making beer or doing chores.

The bottles are labelled before being boxed and sent to liquor stores in southern New Brunswick. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

"I'm not doing laundry today. I'm not vacuuming today," said Denise who is also a professional photographer.

"I don't even have my computer on because it's a power hog."

She doesn't seem to feel it's a sacrifice.

"We just really love the place," Denise said from her verandah with its panoramic view of the lake. "It's a nice, quiet lifestyle."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Cave Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick. CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices Report Typo or Error
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