Tuesday 17 November 2009

The Environment

My fellow Cumbrian brewer Stringers is very concerned about the environment. And of course they should be, anybody who takes the head-in-the-sand view that global warming is an invention by nutter environmentalist sandal wearing do-gooders really is ignoring an important problem for the future. The science community is just about completely in agreement on the subject and it's only industry and commerce that depend upon our carbon economy that wants to really deny it. To my shame I do very little to help the situation. Stringers do by making their beer from renewable energy and write a nice blog too.

I've mentioned my new project, my barley wine. It's going well and I think could be a fantastic beer. Then again it might be a complete failure which would distress me in more ways than one.

When I mentioned it before Stringers asked:
"Barley wine? How long are you having to boil it for? How much power does that use? Do you get your own dead polar bear?"
Yes, good point actually, about 360kwh to be precise, over 24 hours boil for not much more than 240l of beer. 2 dead polar bears and half a dozen penguins as well I suspect. Compare that to an ordinary brew which might use a quarter of the energy, if you aren't being careful. Beer does take a lot of energy to make irrespective of what it is.

One of the good things about the big breweries are their economies of scale. 100 tonne capacity mash filters running many mashes per day. Banks of coppers with condensing flues to recover heat. Energy recovery systems on the fermentation tank cooling systems and probably many more energy saving features on modern plants. It's not done for altruistic Arctic creature survival, no, energy costs money and it makes business sense to save money.

Back to my own place. I've a big building. It's old, very old, parts of it probably over 500 years old. The walls are made of granite rubble held together, where it's well made, with lime mortar. A previous owner reports there is one part that appears to be held together with little more than clay. We don't want to investigate to see if that is true. Some walls we have had to put holes through show that the mortar is only used on the outer 4 inches or so and inside the wall is dry cobbles. The windows are 150 year old sash windows that are drafty. It makes our place energy inefficient. We spend more on energy than we do on the mortgage.

Lets look on the bright side. I use precisely zero carbon fuels to transport my beer from the brewery to my cellar, about 30 metres. I wonder how much energy mass produced beers use to get them to the retail outlets and moreover how much energy is wasted on these fancy extra cold condensation sweating fonts?

I do worry that in trying to keep this ancient hostelry running that I am in fact chasing an ideal that has no place in our modern world. Large town centre pubs, in disused bus depots, can be made all energy efficient and modern. Compact distribution networks that provide volume economies of scale so your pint can be sold at £1.69 and so also help out the environment. Furthermore, these great drinking barns are fully fitted with modern efficient kitchens, modern heating systems and no doubt the building is refurbished to building regulations insulation levels. Just to put the icing on that cake the town centre locations provides footfall levels that enable even further economies of scale and further kwh/pint sold benefits. Polar beers and penguins rejoice.

I think the traditional pub has a huge problem with modern efficiency needs. This is not what I want, because I like remote country pubs, in all their fabulous forms, much more than most town centre locations. But real carbon fuel consumption reduction is going to happen for economic reasons, not altruistic ones. I foresee that our traditional pub is going to become more and more expensive to run as the cost of energy increases over the next few decades. Will we still be prepared to pay the price, both fiscal and environmentally, in a few years time, to keep the traditional, inefficient pubs and breweries going?


The Beer Nut said...

It's fact that needs to be recognised, I think: beer isn't environmentally friendly. Energy aside, there's the vast water wastage, and the nasty sanitising chemicals. And the more ethically-sourced and artisan the beer is, the less eco-friendly it's likely to be. Your extension of this analysis to the premises where the beer is served is very interesting indeed.

I don't think there's much to be done about this, other than encouraging some effort at improving the situation, as we see at Adnam's and BrewDog. But more importantly people should recognise the environmental cost of their beer and make their decisions based on that. And hopefully some of the marketeers bleating about how tree-huggy their beer is will be seen for the frauds they are.

Cooking Lager said...

When it boils down to it (get it?) I suspect trying to make out that small inefficient craft brewing is somehow better for the environment or carbonwise that a large efficient continuous production leaves you open to all manner of corrections and retractions as the dodgy maths is found out.

You like your beer 'cos you think it tastes nicer and are happy it costs more to make. You have a business 'cos enough other people agree with you to carve the niche.

That not enough? Or is it more that you see the hemp wearing anti global yogurt weavers to be an easy sting in the marketing dept?

Tandleman said...

Seems to me that you'd be better burying your head in the sand Dave. You have seemingly exposed yourxelf as a prime polluter. (-;

As for global warming, what you, I, or everyone we know does, won't make a jot of difference, other than appealing to our consciences. That's an inconvenient truth.

StringersBeer said...

The thing about beer, or indeed any product, is that it isn't of itself environmentally sound, or unsound. The process by which it is manufactured, transported and packaged - the behaviours attached to its consumption - these are the things that lead to measurable environmental impacts.

The big brewers should be congratulated for their energy and water efficiencies, but efficiency isn't good enough. We choose to use high-priced power with a renewable provenance. We, as a privately owned venture, don't have to make a business case to shareholders, although you'd probably be able to make a reasonable stab at it on marketing grounds. On ethical grounds it's simple. We pay the full cost for the power we use. We internalise the costs of our energy usage. It comes off our profits, or it goes on our prices, for anyone to see, pay or not pay). We don't save money on power by expecting someone else (elsewhere or in the future) to pick up some of our bill. That would be stealing.

As far as water goes, we're not very efficient at all - we use a little over 6 litres of water for every litre of beer we produce (that's all in - including cleaning) which is about what a big brewer was using in the early 90's. Some bigger brewers are pushing their water usage below 3 litres. This is fantastic, particularly for their shareholders. However, the upstream "water-footprint" of beer production dwarfs water usage in the brewery. Something like 300 litres per litre of beer, most of that going into growing the grain. So the claims of huge efficiency improvements in the big breweries are, frankly, dicking about with the last couple of litres, and of little real significance.

Dave, you're developing the Woolpack as a high quality, high value destination, right? (I think that's the right kind of jargon). If your offering is taken up mainly by domestic travellers, it's precisely the kind of thing that we need as an alternative to international travel. If we must stay at home, let there be somewhere good to go. So it's draughty. So burn more local logs in a good stove. We get our logs from witherslack when we're passing and our stove came from Firebelly in Halifax

Curmudgeon said...

and it's only industry and commerce that depend upon our carbon economy that wants to really deny it.

You know, I keep wondering when I'm going to see those Exxon dollars in my bank account :|

Ed said...

A Danish company are already marketing as environmentally friendly a beer made from unmalted barley and an enzyme solution.

Darcy Rodger said...

This is only partially true. Recent growth in the wine industry has cannibalized some of the beer industry. While as a nation we could consume more, there is of course a limit. At that point growth of one industry will come at the expense of the other.Perhaps the point is, for most of us, there is a time to enjoy both.

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Mad Old John said...

The biggest motivator to me is that once you understanding that global warming is happening, it is impossible to do nothing!
The Mill Green Brewery in Suffolk produces cask ales in a micro brewery powered by solar energy,local coppice wood and topped up by 100% renewable elecricity. They also have organic malting barley grown 3 miles from the brewery waiting to be malted and a trial crop of organic hops in the ground.(SIBA award winners)

Brian, follower of Deornoth said...

I shouldn't worry about your beer, if I were you. The carbon dioxide emitted as a consequence of your brewing it will be as naught compared to the carbon dioxide your customers emit coming to drink it.

Having said that, I'm inclined to the view that the 'head-in-the-sand view' is the correct one, so I shall certainly emit the needful carbon dioxide when your brew is ready.

StringersBeer said...

Mill Green seem to be doing good stuff. Of course, you don't need a big capital spend to take some control of your environmental impact. If you sold nothing but your own beer you'd have saved a lot of diesel for a start. No, hang-on, what am I saying...

Seriously, there's lot's of things we can all do to make a difference, if we choose to. There's a balance to be made. Barley wine is a good thing. We need to think of ways of having the good things without mucking it up for everyone else.

Head in sand is not an honest option. If we're going to dump on the poor, and on the future, we should at least be honest with ourselves.

Incidentally, Mr Tandleman, when did "let your conscience be your guide" stop being good advice?