Sunny days at Arbru, a craft brewery that is completely off-grid

ArBru

ArBru Solar Brewery has what many breweries, cideries, wineries and distilleries popping up across Eastern Ontario have: excellent beverages made on-site, good home-cooking, patios and pubs, tours, take-out service and occasional entertainment.

But ArBru has something extra: the entire operation is off-grid, with 32 solar panels situated behind the 2,400-square-foot brew house and beer store. The 400-watt panels provide up to 13,000 watts at peak, enough to supply all of ArBru’s electrical needs.

In fact, there’s a surplus on many occasions, with the six lithium storage batteries filled to capacity. Currently, no excess power is sold to Hydro One but eventually ArBru could service some of its neighbours through a solar micro-grid.

Proud co-owner Phil Audet says complete reliance on solar power makes ArBru, located just outside Mallorytown, one-of-a-kind in Canada; while there’s a solar-powered brewery in New Brunswick, it has a backup generator, he adds.

Audet put two passions together to create ArBru, one for craft beer and another that came from his time running a solar company in Ottawa after earning a degree in sustainable energy engineering in Ireland. The company name is a take on the French word “arbre” – tree – reflecting Audet’s commitment to sustainability.

Lining up out to Quabbin Road, hundreds of curious craft beer fans got to experience Arbru for themselves when it officially opened July 30, with all of the standard attractions and the solar panels to boot. Audet was “overwhelmed” by the turnout, with people coming from across Eastern Ontario and beyond.

Phil Audet
ArBru co-founder Phil Audet is pushing is testing the limits of sustainable technology.

From their perches on the patio, savvy patrons could see that the ArBru setup includes growing hops, an essential ingredient in brewing beer. Audet said that, while hops are indeed grown on-site, much of the requirement comes from as far away as Oregon.

The company has committed to purchasing at least 50 per cent of the grains required in its process from Ontario farmers, including malted barley and wheat. A typical ArBru beer batch uses about 100 pounds of grain. 

Flights of draft selections were snapped up on opening day and gave visitors a quick sampling of the five varieties – soon to be six – emerging from the stainless brewing vats. The wood-baked pepperoni pizza – one of three flavours – almost demanded a second order.

An eye-catching standout among the beer cans lining the store shelves was the blue and yellow “Stands with Ukraine” selection, where a dollar from every sale goes to the nearby Gananoque Refugee Settlement Program. So far, Audet says, $700 has been raised. The brewery has one canned product, “Dazed in a Haze”, available at LCBO outlets.

Supporting Ukrainian refugees isn't the only good cause the brewery is championing: for every litre of beer purchased a tree is planted, with the current objective being to fund 10,000 trees around the world by the end of 2023. ArBru is supporting Eden Reforestation Projects, which works primarily in remote areas, often in politically unstable countries, planting up to one million trees a day.

solar
A wood-fired oven stands near some of ArBru's solar panels.  

With several special events in the works including an Oktoberfest, the company is happy to help out where possible with local fundraisers.

To date, some $700,000 has been invested in establishing ArBru, including $40,000 into the solar power system designed for easy expansion. There are no firm plans, but Audet says rapid success could lead to the growth of brewing capacity and the patio.

The co-owner expects the solar system to pay for itself in six to eight years. More importantly, he observes, it’s about effectively managing electrical needs, especially with the recent rash of storms in the region that has resulted in major inconvenience to Hydro One customers.

When those grid clients have been left powerless, ArBru has kept operating and has helped others by charging cell phones. When bad weather is in the forecast, the brewery can cut off non-essential loads and make it to the next sunny day for a recharge. Even when it’s mainly cloudy, the panels get enough of a boost to top up the batteries.

Audet says one of his objectives is to test the limits of technology and prove to others that you can go off grid without making any sacrifices.

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