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Mining and Beer

Collection of beer bottle caps

Most Canadians enjoy spending Canada Day outside with their family and friends. They attend festivals, concerts and parades; take a canoe out on the lake or flip a burger at a BBQ by the beach. Flags are waved, songs are sung and some people choose to responsibly consume a beer or two to toast our home and native land.

What does this have to do with mining? Without mining, there would be no beer. In some parts of Canada, you may have seen a bumper sticker with the slogan "No Farms No Beer" based on the original "No Farms No Food" slogan of the American Farmland Trust. We think a "No Mines No Beer" bumper sticker would be just as accurate.

Beer is an alcoholic drink made of malt barley, hops, yeast and water that is stored in bottles or cans. Additional ingredients and the ancient and complex brewing processes used to make beer produce an incredible range of styles and flavours too wide to list. Here are eight minerals essential to beer production and consumption. Some may be obvious, but a few might surprise you. Cheers!

Silicon dioxide (sand) is used to make glass and aluminum is used to make cans

Aerial view of set of five beer cans

According to Beer Canada, over 2.2 billion litres of beer were sold in 2017 of which 60% was in aluminum cans, 30% in glass bottles and 10% in kegs or casks. This equates to over 500,000 tonnes of glass and nearly 94,000 tonnes of aluminum. Canada is a major producer of the raw materials needed to make both. In fact, Canada is the third largest producer of aluminum in the world, with facilities mainly located in Quebec.

Glass beer bottles are made from silicon dioxide, limestone, soda ash and chemicals to give the glass the green or brown hue that reduces spoilage from ultraviolet light. About 85% of beer bottles are recovered in Canada so they can be refilled an average of 15 times each and eventually crushed into cullet that can be used to make new glass.

A 330-millilitre aluminum beer can weighs 13 grams and often includes 1% magnesium and 1% manganese, which makes the can easier to form. However, the lid contains 4% magnesium because it needs to be stronger to contain the carbonated drink. After Canadians return 80% of their beer cans to stores or depots, the recycled aluminum reappears as another can after about two months.

Potash is used to make fertilizer for barley and hops

Hops and barley are the core ingredients of beer and need healthy soils to grow. Potash is one of the world's three most used fertilizer ingredients… Saskatchewan hosts almost half of the world's potash reserves and all of Canada's operating potash mines, supplying farmers around the globe with the fertilizer necessary to feed a growing population. In 2015, the province produced a record 18.2 million tonnes of potassium chloride with a value of $6.1 billion.

Diatomaceous earth is used as a filtering medium

Diatomaceous earth preparations are used extensively in the beer-brewing industry to filter yeast and other particulates from beer toward the end of the brewing process. Diatomaceous earth is a chalk-like sedimentary mineral that is derived from fossilized shell-like remains of marine algæ called diatoms. It is mined throughout the world including in two sites in the southern interior of British Columbia.

Iron ore, metallurgical coal and nickel are used to make beer vats

While a few breweries still use wooden vats for fermentation, most use tanks typically made of stainless steel. Stainless steel is made by mixing iron ore and carbon at temperatures above 1000 degrees Celsius. Metallurgical coal, or steelmaking coal, can be transformed into coke, the carbon source needed to make steel. Depending on the purpose, the steel is mixed with a variety of elements to make one of about six grades of stainless steel. For fermenting beer, the vat needs to be strong, corrosion resistant and able to withstand high temperatures. The best material is "duplex 2205 stainless steel" with 22% chromium, 5–6% nickel, 3% molybdenum, 2% manganese and 1% silicon. Of these, Canada produces nickel, molybdenum and silicon. In addition, Canada is the world's third-largest exporter of metallurgical coal, mined mostly in British Columbia.

Copper is an essential nutrient that is used to support the growth of yeast

Very small amounts of copper—0.2 milligrams per litre or less—are needed to "encourage" fermentation. As a result, where copper equipment is not used for beer brewing, copper and zinc are added by the brew master. However, the quantities need to be carefully measured because, like many minerals, too many or too few can be harmful to human health. In 2016, Canadian mines produced 707,605 tonnes of copper in concentrate, with almost half originating from mines in British Columbia.

So next time you quaff an ale, you can also thank Canada's mining industry. Happy Canada Day!

Discover more interesting facts about mining and minerals on the Learn About Mining page.