In recent times, the world has become more aware of the environment and the now pressing climate emergency. Some individuals and groups have been increasingly more active in voicing their opinions on the subject, with the British-based Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement orchestrating mass protests across London back in April 2019 pushing for more to be done to avoid climate change. This has brought a lot more focus on how companies big and small operate. With this in mind, many breweries have been trying to embrace change.
There are many different ways that this can be done; using by-products to replace ingredients, re-distributing ingredients such as spent grain, hops and water, or disposing of these in a responsible way. Using a sustainable source for both water and energy. Keeping yield as high as possible, using reusable containers and packaging, the list could go on…
We decided to visit a brewery that has really been pushing this. The Welbeck Abbey Brewery is based in Nottinghamshire, and has been using an initiative called #GoGreenFor2019. Its aim is to introduce an innovative new range that focuses on sustainable production and zero waste. The brewery sits on the grounds of the historic Welbeck Abbey estate dating back to 1153, originally home to the Duke and Duchess of Portland, now housing a host of independent artisanal shops. They have been growing steadily since launching back in 2011, brewing 17,000 pints per week and serving beer to venues mostly within a 35 mile radius.
We had a chance to sit down and speak to Founder, Former Head Brewer and now General Manager, Claire Monk, and Creative Director, Jess Low, to chat about what they’ve been doing to embrace the initiative.
Sitting on the idyllic grounds of the estate on a lush, sunny afternoon Claire told us where it all began…
“I’d done a Biology degree and wanted to turn my knowledge of science to brewing. I turned up to Kelham Island Brewery one day and my job interview was three pints of beer with the boss and he was like, ‘yea, I’ll give you a job.’ They took me on and taught me how to brew and I was really lucky as I just turned up at the time when Dave Wickett, owner of Kelham Island Brewery had met the family here [at Welbeck Abbey]. The family wanted something for these sheds that fit in with the artisan foodie scene here and the Kelham Island Brewery had a load of spare kit, so between them they decided to set this place up. They then came to me and were like, ‘hey do you want to do it?’ and I was like, ‘yea why not!’
At the time, I was the youngest female head brewer in the country, aged just 23. The hardest thing was the sales side of things, especially when people haven’t heard of you before, but once I got people to try the beer they were like, ‘yea, it was good. We’ll have some more!’”
On achieving #GoGreenFor2019, Claire told us some of the specific steps they’ve taken, “For brewing, we use the estate’s own water supply that comes from a borehole that goes down to an aquafil [underground lake]. They have their own water treatment plant on site that doesn’t require much treatment as it’s so fresh. Once we’ve used it, it goes back into their water treatment plant where it gets recycled, ready for use again.
We’ve done a lot of work during the past couple of years in reducing water usage. Industry standard is between 5-6 pints of water used for every pint produced. We’ve managed to get ours down to 3.5 pints of water for every pint of beer that we produce. We’ve invested in some nice shiny new kit, so instead of using a two stage fermentation system, we’ve decreased it to one, which means [only] one lot of cleaning with chemicals and water. We’ve also changed from a using a hosepipe to a jet washer and that’s reduced a lot of the water as well.
With repackaging we’re also good at reusing it; We save pallets and give them to the dairy to use. The cardboard sheets in between beers on our pallets get reused for repacking beer. We love cask because it’s a reusable packaging and have recently moved to using our own kegs to limit waste. Although our mini kegs are recyclable we want to start a project this Christmas, promoting how to upcycle your keg when you don’t want to recycle it.
The one thing that we need to look into is more heating; we use a heat recovery system, so we’re using cold water to cool down the wort then recovering hot water from that. We tend to brew in consecutive days so that we don’t lose the heat.”
It’s a comprehensive initiative, for sure, as Jess elaborates, “We have a green flow chart to see the progress that we’re making and for ideas on other ways that we can change. It’s about looking at what we’re doing and thinking ‘can we do it better?’, whether that’s big or small. It’s not just about cost, it’s about environmental impact; We recently changed our beer mats to biodegradable ones with vegetable based inks from Thirsty’s just down the road, eliminating air miles.
Our Foraged and Found range has also come from #GoGreenFor2019, there’s a great community of artisan businesses and producers on the estate. Having all these local producers within a stone’s throw of us, we thought why not team up with them and use their food byproducts.
The School of Artisan Food is next door where diploma students practicing baking bread, and despite giving the bread to shelters, they still had shed loads left over. So we said we’ll make a beer, substituted it for the malt and made Breaking Bread. We then took the whey from the Stichelton Dairy, using it instead of water and made Out of the Blue Porter. Another byproduct that we used was the coffee grounds from the Harley Café around the corner to create Wake up and Smell the Coffee Porter. It’s been amazing, next one is a nettle pale called No Pain No Gain which we will be hand foraging!”
And going green clearly doesn’t do any harm, as Claire concluded, “We’re growing 10% year on year at a good pace. We’re potentially looking at getting some new tanks next year which will make us more efficient. We’re happy to keep growing gradually, with no aspirations for world domination, buyouts etc. We’re about locality and to be known as everyone in the area’s local brewery.”
Welbeck Abbey Brewery have certainly put the environment at the core focus of everything that they do, without compromising on the beer and even making it more experimental. We’re really impressed with this brewery’s clear commitment and vision. Many breweries are also embracing change and if all breweries made one change in the right direction, it will most certainly make a big impact overall. Hats off guys! 👍