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How Adnams is brewing sustainability

In choosing a drink, your main criteria might not be a beverage’s resource footprint, but brewers are increasingly adding a dash of sustainabilty to their blends. Edward Perchard finds out how one, Adnams, is calling time on underutilised resources 

Beer is big business, and a lot of resources go into quenching your thirst on a Friday night. The past year has seen some breweries focusing in on the issue of waste, with the launch of Toast Ale, a beer made from surplus bread, and Wasted, an ale created using waste pears and croissants.

But while craft beers may have room to experiment, more traditional brewers face more of a struggle to mix resource efficiency into their brew.

How Adnams is brewing sustainability
Adnams's lightweight 500ml bottles weight just 280 grammes

Adnams brews 30 million pints a year at its Southwold base, where it’s been since 1872. Ben Orchard, Environmental Sustainability Manager, says that the dominant waste material created there is spent grain – what’s left over when all the sugars, proteins and starches have been extracted from the barley or cereal used to make the beer.

The grain absorbs water during the process, meaning that five tonnes of input malted barley becomes the same amount of waste. When all waste is calculated, therefore, across all Adnams’s operations, including its hotels, restaurants and shops, two-thirds is made up of this grain. Luckily, there are plenty of local farmers on hand to take the spent grain as animal feed, ensuring none goes to waste.

Another large swig of organic waste is the dregs left at the bottom of the vessel, which is used as the slurry
in the company’s anaerobic digestion (AD) plant. As well as this ‘waste beer’ (containing settled yeast and other protein particles), the plant takes in food waste from Adnams’s restaurants and hotels, as well as local councils and businesses. This comes together to produce clean biomethane for the grid and a rich digestate supplied to farmers. Work is currently afoot to create a closed-loop system, providing the digestate to the company’s local barley suppliers. 

Adnams's new distribution centre

The opening of the AD plant was just one of the projects aimed at driving a step change in the company’s sustainability. A refresh of the company’s values at the turn of the millennium led to plans for a new distribution centre and completely refitted brewhouse, all built on core ideas of resource efficiency.

The distribution centre was opened in 2006, using walls made from hemp and lime bricks to provide natural insulation (saving over 600 tonnes of CO2 equivalent) and a sedum roof to harvest rainwater. Two years later, Adnams’s Victorian brewhouse was completely renovated and kitted out with efficiency in mind.

This article was taken from Issue 86

The resource-efficient mindset extends to water as well, with Adnams using around three litres of water per litre of product, compared to an industry average of four or five. “We reuse some of our cooling water, which takes on heat and is then used as hot liquor water”, says Orchard. “We’ve got a hood on our kettle, which captures all the steam. A lot of breweries will just vent the steam from their boil into the atmosphere. We capture it and pass it back through heat exchange to heat the next brew. So we get 90 per cent of the heat requirements for the brew from the previous one.” Systems like this have enabled Adnams to reduce its annual gas use by 25 per cent.

In the past 10 years, the company has also worked on the end of the manufacturing process, following a lifecycle assessment that found that the largest carbon impact throughout the whole beer production chain was making the bottle.

In the past decade, Adnams has made the packaging of bottled beer (25 per cent of its output) more efficient, with lightweighting processes (a concept explored on page 32) reducing bottle weight by more than 38 per cent since 2007, saving more than 1,000 tonnes of glass packaging a year in the process.

Orchard says packaging improvements will continue to be developed, adding that Adnams is also working to improve processes elsewhere within the supply chain, and with customers, to create a greener ale and raise the bar within the industry. Cheers to that. 

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