It doesn’t take a genius to figure out Helios Brewing has something to do with the sun.
Their logo is a glass of beer from which is emanating the light of the sun. Inside the brewery is a wall mural of the Greek sun god Helios riding a chariot in the sky, holding said glass of beer and the light of the sun. The brewery’s slogan gives a slightly more clear hint to the relationship with the sun: “Craft beer brewed with the power of the Aussie sun.”
There’s a burgeoning movement in the Australian craft beer scene for breweries to be more environmentally sustainable. It’s leading to more companies installing solar panels, donating spent grain to farmers, looking for ways to improve water efficiency and more.
But, at Helios Brewing, environmental sustainability isn’t an afterthought – it’s been built into its very DNA from the beginning. Founder and owner Scott Shomer is a career environmental scientist, and this background became foundational for Helios. The brewery was almost an experiment as Scott explored the question, ‘How green could a brewery be?’
In the design stage, Scott met with manufacturers to discuss the customisation of equipment.
“When it came time to design a brewery, which is normally very energy, gas and water intensive, and produces a lot of waste, I said, ‘How can I make this super efficient? How can we use less water, use less electricity? How much electricity can we generate ourselves?’.”
These questions led to a myriad of clever solutions in their hardware and processes: a solar thermal system made up of 90 evacuated tubes on the roof provides 90°C-plus water, meaning no power is needed to heat the water at the beginning of the brewing process for the mash. This alone reduces the power required for each batch of beer by about 30 percent.
Then there are the 59 335w solar panels, which produce enough power under the Brisbane sun that Helios is able to export 40 percent of it back to the grid – but only after using as much of the surplus as possible to cool water in the cold liquor tank for greater efficiency in the heat exchange process later.
“In essence, the hot liquor tank and the cold liquor tank are batteries,” says Scott. “They’re storing excess energy from the [solar panel] system in the form of hot water and cold water 'batteries'. It’s nothing too earth shattering, but nobody else is doing it.”
But it doesn’t end with the solar power. There’s also the insane amount of insulation installed on their glycol system, keeping the precious cold safe from the Queensland heat. Then there’s the innovative ways they re-use clean water, hot water and cleaning solutions. And the wastewater treatment vessel they installed under the parking lot, not to mention the outlet they've located to compost their yeast to keep it out of the wastewater. (And yes, they give their spent grain to farmers, too.)
In short? Helios is a Lean Green Brewing Machine.
Of course, if sustainability were all Helios had going for it, we might give the team some polite applause and go drink beer somewhere else. So it’s a good thing they make seriously good beer. Head brewer Jake Harrison stands at the helm of the brewhouse, bringing a keen sense of quality and a healthy curiosity to each of Helios’ brews. (And what was Jake doing before he became a brewer? Spending 15 years studying and working as an environmental planner. What a great fit for Helios!)
Each of Helios’ three-dimensional, balanced, complex beers is depicted as a god or monster from Greek mythology. Some are obvious – Hades is the bittersweet chocolate stout, Zeus is the big ol’ double IPA with the two thunderbolts – while some of the special releases may test your rudimentary knowledge of ancient Greek mythology.
Heading to the brewery bar at Yeerongpilly is the best way to try these brews of the gods. You can go with a tasting paddle and offerings from whichever food truck is around, or get a growler filled from one of the eleven taps.
And, of course, it doesn’t take much to get the Helios crew chatting about their beers and sustainable practices, or to show you around. That’s the joy of the local brewery, right? And along with the other breweries in the neighbourhood, Helios brings that joy to the area by the chariot load.