Wise Man Brewing may as well house a forest on top of its taproom.

Customers pull up barstools and order IPAs and other craft brews, while above them solar panels cover a leveled roof. The deep-blue metal reflects on the concrete and provides the Winston-Salem brewery and taproom with about half of its daily electricity.

Wise Man taproom manager Dan Rossow says the system went live about a year ago, around Halloween. The solar panels were laid out by Charlotte-based Renu Energy Solutions. Even though the process, including installation and paperwork, took a year, the staff at Wise Man Brewing believed the building was optimally designed for a more environmentally sustainable source of power.

“Our roof is big, flat, and there’s no shade around,” Rossow said. “Our location presents us with a lot of unfiltered sunlight.”

Beside the bar, a television screen projects a graph of the daily energy generated from the panels, with a peak in production just after 12 noon. The screen also displays the overall efficiency of the system. Over the past year, the solar panels have averted 74,488.59 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions — the equivalent of planting 1,876 trees. The brewery and taproom still remain partially on the grid, however, to stabilize power and avoid outages, which can potentially ruin an entire brew.

Beside the bar, a television screen projects a graph of the daily energy generated from the panels, with a peak in production just after 12 noon. (photo by Savi Ettinger)

Aside from marking the anniversary of the solar panels, October also brings Wise Man its first victory from the Great American Beer Festival. Outraged Daughters, an Irish Red Ale, won gold during Wise Man’s second year of submitting brews to the festival. A quote from a Celtic queen, Boudica, gave the brew its name.

“I am fighting as an ordinary person for my lost freedom, my bruised body, and my outraged daughters,” it reads.

The award-winning beer gets requested year round but gets a spotlight in springtime. The flavor profile features roasted barley behind hints of caramel, biscuit and fruit.

“We’ve been making it since essentially the beginning.” Rossow said. “It’s kind of a cult favorite.”

Wise Man’s environmental tilt opened up opportunities for other awards. Earlier in the year, the solar panels earned a Third Place victory in the microbrewery category of the Brews from the Sun competition, a contest from Solar United Neighbors that only allows solar-powered breweries as contestants.

Currently, Wise Man is nominated for the Piedmont Environmental Alliance’s Green Business of the Year award. Rossow says that the brewery has used the organization’s checklist as a resource, and has also worked with Wake Forest University’s sustainability program to design a more effective recycling can.

Beside the front door, the neon-green design stands out against the warm, reddish hues in the taproom. It towers over the trash can, with its front side displaying a lineup of cans to illustrate where guests can recycle.

Wise Man’s view on recycling plays into other aspects of their business too, including the very foundation and design of the taproom.  The history of the building that Wise Man now occupies lent itself to reusing materials.

“This is about a 90-year-old building.” Rossow said. “It was a wholesale store called Angelo Brothers for years.”

Wood from around the warehouse-like space that could be salvaged was transformed into the tables. Bars that once blocked old windows now hang from the ceiling, from which the lights dangle. Adding a bit of color as a background, chicken wire and glass from other windows became the menu that sits behind the bar.

Rossow mentions that the checklist by Piedmont Environmental Alliance leaves them with a host of ideas. The taproom currently uses glassware as much as possible to avoid plastics, but he says reducing or eliminating single-use plastic remains a goal to work towards in their mission for more sustainable beer.

“We are learning,” Rossow said, “and constantly trying to make improvements.”

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