09/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Tastes Great! Less Footprint! Greenopia Rates 15 Breweries on Environmental Impact

Who doesn't like popping open a cold beer on a hot summer day? Even folks who aren't big drinkers say there's nothing like a chilly brew after an afternoon of yardwork or over a backyard BBQ. But like everything we consume, beer has an environmental footprint -- sometimes a significant one. The good news is that there are breweries, big and small, that are doing their part to consume less while making sure the beers still taste great.

Greenopia today released a comprehensive rating of environmental impact of 15 of the largest breweries in the world. New Belgium Brewery took top honors, receiving four leaves (out of a possible four) and Eel River received three Greenopia leaves. "We have found that the large amount of resources that go into beer production is not common knowledge," said Doug Mazeffa, Greenopia's Research Director.

One of the oldest beverages in the world, beer has only recently been getting attention for its environmental impact, which varies depending on the efficiency of the brewery and ingredients used. Concerns include the fact that beer production often requires 7-10 liters of water for every liter of beer and its key ingredients are often difficult to obtain through organic means.

Some beer companies, like Eel River and New Belgium Brewery, have taken significant steps to decrease their impact, which is why they earned top marks from Greenopia's research team. New Belgian, makers of Fat Tire, source their packaging locally, use only organic ingredients, and use renewable energy to power their pints. Eel River makes porters, stouts and IPAs from organic ingredients and the company runs on biogas. But others, including Anheuser-Busch, Corona, and Labatt Blue, also get green points for initiatives like LEED-certified facilities, reduced emissions and greener packaging, and bottle reuse, respectively. Each earned one leaf and are actively working towards greener operations.

Greenopia used a comprehensive set of criteria to determine the beer company ratings. Data was collected from the companies themselves pertaining to the growing practices of the barley, malt and hops; transportation of the beer; brewery production efficiencies; and attributes of the beer packaging. Weights were set based off the relative life cycle impacts of each criterion during beer production.

To find stores who carry eco-friendly beer near you, check out Greenopia"s local green business directories. And if you're not into beer, Greenopia just recently rated the sustainability of wineries from coast to coast, so find your favorite varieties here.