Eric Steen, Founder, Beers Made By Walking
Former art teacher Eric Steen was on a canoe trip down the Yukon River when his guide made an offhand comment about a plant: “I wonder how that would taste in a beer.” That comment was a convergence of all Steen’s interests: recreation, conservation, and brewing. He went on to launch Beers Made By Walking, which connects breweries with local organizations to raise awareness about environmental issues. They partner to lead nature walks, teaching the public about local flora and fauna, and encourage brewers to use foraged ingredients in their recipes—like the GABF-award-winning Deschutes Sagefight Imperial IPA, or Hopworks Salal Slap, a Berliner Weisse made with Salal berries. With hikes scheduled along the West Coast and new BMBW-inspired beers being tapped regularly, Steen still can’t believe how quickly his passion project took off.
How does spending more time outdoors affect your mindset?
I think that we inherently belong outside, and we are connected to the Earth in ways that we may not understand now. When we go outside, it puts things in perspective. Nature does a good job of showing us the sublime, how meaningful we are or are not.
What’s the connection between beer and nature?
I personally have become interested in beer that has a sense of place. What I mean by that is using local ingredients, specialty farms, places that are growing things that are natural in a given region or fermented with the air from that region. Beer is an agricultural product and it picks up those flavors and nuances. Also, you have the conversation about beer bringing people together.
What can breweries gain from incorporating foraged ingredients into recipes?
I like to think breweries care about the environment, and that they know that brewing is an intensive process on the environment. It’s just one thing breweries can do to offset the carbon or water footprint they might have. I would say that Beers Made By Walking is a fun experimentation opportunity. A lot of brewers are so busy making the same IPA over and over again, and to have the opportunity to get outside and literally learn something about invasive or non-native, non-invasive plants that are growing in your region, next to your brewery, or a short drive away on a hiking trail, and learn that they have medicinal or edible properties—that’s cool. I think that it just gets the wheels turning a little bit and allows brewers to do something they wouldn’t normally do.
What have been some highlights of running BMBW?
I made beer with New Belgium Brewing on their pilot system. It was the second beer they ever made on that pilot system. That was probably one of my favorite honors. Others would be simply getting out and seeing different parts of the country. Another great honor is that I started something that is bigger than what I can handle, and other people still want to run with it. I had no clue when I started this [project] with homebrewers and a brewery in Colorado Springs that I would work with 150 breweries, and that well over 200 beers would be made from it. ■