Tuesday, 2 July 2013

VGS AGM: Otter Brewery

Last Wednesday saw the Vision Group's AGM hosting several key proponents of sustainable development in the area. Keith Bennett, head brewer at Otter Brewery, gave a talk on how this business has worked sustainably over the years. 
Welcome to one of the South West's leading breweries - Otter Brewery
Futures Forum: Otter Brewery
Futures Forum: Otter Brewery: further praise
Otter Brewery News

This is a 'conventional business', in that it is a family-run company, but Otter Brewery is anything but conventional otherwise.

All its products are reusable, whether excess barley fed to cattle, yeast to pigs or hops becoming compost.

 Gorgeous grains!
We recycle all the by-products of the brewing process, including the bags in which they arrive at the brewery!
Brewers grains are what is left of the malting barley after the mashing process. These grains make excellent cattle feed and all of ours are sent down the valley to feed Luppitt's own livestock. In return we get a bit of meat and some hedges trimmed. Then we have an annual bartering session (usually over a pint in the Luppitt Inn) with a few local farmers.

 Yummy yeast!
After fermentation, the majority of the yeast that has grown in our vessels during the fermentation process, has to be disposed. Our yeast is happily slurped up by the local piggery just outside Upottery. A weekly delivery gives the East Devon squealers their fix!
 Spent hops
These are the leaves and buds of the whole hops that have been boiled and have had their flavour and acidity boiled out. These spent hops make excellent leaf mulch and are hugely popular with gardeners and nurseries alike.
Otter Brewery set up its own recycling systems very early on - years before statutory, council-led systems were in place - by sourcing local companies. 
Our very first step along the recycling road was to separate and recycle all our rubbish, from cardboard, glass and plastic to composting food waste.

Fifteen years ago, Otter Brewery invested in a reed and willow bed system.
 Bringing waste water back to life
As the waste water passes through the beds, the roots of the willows suck out the nasties and use them as nutrients for growth. Regular testing of this source ensures that water that runs from the final lake is in pristine condition before rejoining the water course.To clean our waste water and return it to the water course, we use one of the oldest methods of waste water management known � the willow bed. The willow beds are of a series of ponds surrounded by over 8000 willows. The waste water runs from one pond to the next through these willow 'filter' beds and eventually feeds a larger lake at the bottom of the field.
At 2.25:1, the ratio of water to brewing is well below the average of 4 to 5 pints water used to 1 pint produced - the best in the industry being 1.8 and the worst at 10 (in Australia!). This is not only about water conservation: efficiency actually means both using less water and using fewer chemicals, "which has saved us a fortune!" said Keith.
Their info on-line, though, is now rather out of date!
 Spring water
Our spring water is the Otter Brewery's lifeblood. It takes approximately 5 pints of water to brew 1 pint of beer. That's 4 pints in cleaning and chilling to every pint served across the bar. Through our effluent management we return 4 of these 5 pints back to their original source.

The underground cellar has also saved the company a fortune - with a self-chilling temperature of 12*. Water usage has been optimized with the sedum roof providing cleaning water.
 A 21st century eco-cellar
Our new cellar - completed in Spring 2009 - has many features that will help reduce our carbon footprint, including: the top of the cellar was covered with a living 'sedum' roof which adds insulation to the cellar, and allows us to capture rainwater for the washing of barrels and vehicles; clay honeycomb block walls which have a low carbon rating, excellent thermal and sound insulation properties; 2/3rds of the ground floor has been built underground making the new 'Otter Cellar' cooler, so we have done away with electric chilling systems.
On a final note, Keith said that there was not much known about reed and willow beds at the time Otter Brewery installed its first beds, but through the Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, more research has been conducted - concluding that this is in fact the cheapest and simplest way to clean water. 
However, the banks see otherwise, and none are willing to finance anything other than conventional water treatment plants...

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