Cup of kindness: beer

Categories: Product stories

Fortnum & Mason food writer of the year Clare Finney explores drinks at Borough Market that have been produced using ingredients and methods that put sustainability front and centre. This week: beer

It would be easy to underestimate the environmental impact of beer, particularly craft beer, much of which is brewed by passionate, forward-thinking people whose primary aim is to serve a local market. Yet in reality the carbon footprint and drain on water resources of even the smallest and most progressive of breweries can be significant. Between grain and glass there are numerous ways in which beer leaves its mark on the world; there are, however, increasing numbers of brewers attempting to address this in their sourcing, production and packaging.

In keeping with its environmental ethos, Borough Market has sought to limit any negative impact when brewing its own beers—a well-established annual project. Not only are the beers flavoured with hops grown in the Market Hall, but these hops are fertilised with old coffee grounds from coffee traders and watered with harvested rainwater. “It gives the beers a sense of place, and terroir,” says Daniel Tapper, founder of the nomadic Beak brewery, who has helped create the beers for Borough Market in partnership with different local craft breweries. “It also means you have the shortest possible route from where the hops are grown to where they are brewed,” continues Daniel, who collects the hops then hops on a bus or a tube—one of the more environmentally sound transportation methods available.

Butterflies and bees
“I think a lot more breweries are striving to become more environmentally friendly,” says George at The Rake, Borough Market’s specialist beer bar. Adnams, based in Southwold, Suffolk, whose beers are available at The Rake and Utobeer, is an example of a business that is investing considerable time and money to improve sustainability. The result is a marvel: no waste is sent to landfill, a 48 per cent reduction in carbon emissions has been achieved, a green roof encourages butterflies and bees and helps to regulate internal temperature, and solar panels heat the water for brewing and cleaning equipment. The brewery’s innovative ‘brewstream’ comprises fermentation vats and a network of pipes that recover 100 per cent of the steam produced during brewing and convert 90 per cent of that back into heat to warm up the next batch.

But Breweries don’t need the investment funds available to a relatively sizeable business like Adnams in order to make a difference. Fourpure, a small brewery in Bermondsey, has made giant strides in tackling water and energy efficiency and waste disposal. Fourpure has invested in water recovery systems, so that waste water from the water treatment facility can be used for cleaning floors and tanks, and spent grain is sent to the local urban farm in Surrey Docks to be used for cattle feed. Plastic wrap is eschewed to ensure that all delivery materials are fully reusable, from the palettes to the layer sheets, and the brewery also favours aluminium cans which, unlike glass, can be endlessly recycled.

Mixed, sustainable ecology
Some breweries have committed to solely organic production, believing that sustainability starts at the source—with the malt and hops. “Black Isle Brewery in Scotland respects the environment by not supporting the use of pesticides,” says George. Black Isle grows its own organic malting barley, as well as vegetables, herbs and salad for its bar in Inverness. The brewery mash goes to the house cow and a herd of Hebridean sheep. The brewery is organic, its owners say, because this “promotes biodiversity, helps wildlife, and provides a mixed and sustainable ecology for flora and fauna to thrive”.

From George’s perspective, working behind the bar of The Rake, one of the biggest shifts he has seen is in keg use: “There’s been a lot of movement toward keg sharing schemes, instead of disposable or branded ones.” Where, just a few years ago, the majority of beer kegs would have been disposable or branded by the brewery, now companies like Kegstar are making unbranded, durable kegs which can be used, and reused, all over the world. “An American brewer will send their beer over to England. It arrives here, we use it, then give the empty keg back to the keg company, who will send it to a local brewery. That beer will then go to America, or Australia, in those kegs, and so on,” George explains, “so you’re not shipping empty kegs across the world.”