Joe Bair developed a way to brew with the power of solar energy.
First, there was the guy who invented the wheel. Then the Wright brothers brought us flight. And now Joseph Bair has introduced the world to another important first, only this one involves something some would consider way more important: beer. After much thought and trial-and-error, Bair rigged up a contraption using a special lens typically found in items such as light-houses and projection televisions, and in the process, became the world’s first solar homebrewer.
“I use a Fresnel lens because the more light you collect, the more you can funnel it into power,” explains Bair, cutting-edge homebrewer and owner of Princeton Homebrew in Trenton, New Jersey. These lenses, the “secret” to Bair’s solar brewing, collect so much light with their complex, stamped design that the focused beam they generate can reach temperatures upwards of 800 °F (427 °C). Although the imprinted pattern is complex, the actual size of the acrylic lens Bair uses is relatively small, just a few feet per side. He can easily wheel it around in a basic wood frame he crafted to fit around the lens.
When the sun is shining, the lens captures light and converts it into power. The intense beam created by the lens can easily cook his barley and boil his water. Bair simply places anything he needs heated directly in the light ray, which efficiently heats all items in its path. And with that, he can brew. Bair even enhances the flavor of his fresh hops by roasting them first using the same solar method, imparting a distinct smoky flavor to his beer.
Furthermore, he says any homebrewer can use this technique to brew great beer and help the environment in one fell swoop.
“Homebrewers understand that this easy home project that uses an existing recycled projection TV lens has so many environmental benefits.” Solar energy creates no pollution, generates no noise and can be used for other household purposes as well. “Once a brewer has a functioning large Fresnel lens, it can be used for many cooking and heating endeavors, including blow torch applications.” Bair has been known to demonstrate this application by literally burning designs into wood using nothing but the concentrated beam. Aside from the practical and environmental benefits of this method, using solar energy also significantly reduces costs.
To boil the water, Bair puts the kettle in an old refrigerated case — the kind with the glass front door — to keep the heat in as the Fresnel lens zaps it with the intensely hot beam. Aside from the energy source, the rest of the brewing process remains unchanged.
Homebrewers who opt to use solar energy for brewing must always take into account one major factor: the weather. “It only works when the sun is shining,” Bair says. Checking the forecast first is a must to avoid losing energy midway through the process. Once a bright, sunny day arrives, roll out the lens and the kettle and brew away. Bair can swivel his lens to different angles via the hand-made rolling frame so that he can position it to directly face the sun at any time of day.
Not only is the system fairly simple, but Bair explains it has numerous other advantages as well. “This heating method is a free, clean, renewable and a wizard-like energy source,” he says. “Using solar energy to brew will help slow down the mad rush to use up all the non-renewable fossil fuels which create carbon dioxide.”
His efforts have not gone unnoticed. Bair has been nominated for a New Jersey Clean Energy award for the steps he has taken to make his business, which is primarily solar-powered, eco-conscious. However, as word spreads of his new brewing method, he will likely be honored in many more ways — on back porches and in living rooms across the country — as people raise glasses of solar-power-made ales, Pilsners, and stouts in his name: “To Joe Bair, brewing pioneer. Thanks to you, we can finally brew cost-effective, environmentally friendly beer.”