Tired of the industry’s lack of environmental standards, and inspired by the US, Forest Road Brewing Company are taking sustainability into their own hands.Forest Road’s story begins with Pete from Boston, armed with a biochemistry degree, a passion for craft beer, and a knack for making great IPA’s. With a lot of work (and quite a few parties along the way), their back-garden brewery grew. Now they’re the creators of Work – London’s fastest-growing pale ale – and are on their way towards creating a more sustainable type of brewery.
We chatted to Ian McRae, Operations Director, or ‘Greaser of Operational Gears’ at Forest Road to hear more about their plans, the technology they’re using and how they’re contributing towards a cleaner, smarter London through the brewing industry.
Inspiration from across the Pond
Ian explains how sustainability came to be something central for Forest Road. “Our focus on sustainability came about through a lack of industry standards: we hate there aren’t more regulations in the brewing industry to protect the environment, when it’s clearly a hugely important issue. Many of our favourite breweries in the US were leading the way in sustainability across all industries while many breweries in the UK were still dumping chemicals and waste effluent into the Thames water…”
Ian points to Sierra Nevada Brewing Co, the first ever business to be awarded the zero-waste platinum certification. They are industry leaders in the US: their brewery runs almost entirely on solar and wind power, they recover 99.8% of their total solid waste through reusing, recycling and composting, and they have rainwater catchment systems that have reduced their water intake by 25%. They’re leading the way over there, but there’s no laws to state that breweries have to consider their environmental impact to any great degree.
Opportunities for UK breweries
At Zipcar we love that these sustainable processes are starting to inspire pioneering breweries in the UK such as Forest Road. There is huge potential, quite simply, to brew better.
Forest Road are currently setting up their brewing site in Shoreditch. With sustainability high on the agenda, the first action was sourcing their brewkit, and finding one that was as energy-efficient as possible.
“That’s why we’ve landed on Rolec’s state of the art equipment. Brewing is all about heating and cooling, and what Rolec have done is pair these transitions up beautifully. So, for example, steam generated when boiling in the kettle is used to heat water for mashing in the next brew. This is great in terms of reducing energy usage as well as cutting down the amount of water that we need to use.”
So they’re already well on their way to their sustainable site. They have the kit, and the brewery manufacturers are coming over next month to take a look at the site ready for development.
“It’s as if we’ve put down the deposit on a car, and now need to sort out the logistics of getting it home.”
Trying something new
But the next thing that Forest Road are experimenting with is something really quite special. Working with a local university and a good friend who is doing his PhD there, Forest Road are looking to implement the first UK brewery pilot of an in-line waste water-to-energy treatment system.
“Without going into too much detail, bacteria chew through organic waste and transfer that energy to a matrix within the pipe. I only just barely understand it and I did a chemistry degree! We’re taking his concept and putting it in practice.”
Ian explains that it’s a risk because there is no guarantee it will necessarily work. “But we’re willing to take a chance on it. If it works, it will make such a huge difference to our brewery’s environmental impact, and for brewing as a whole.”
And it doesn’t end here
“Being an independent business means we’re able to think about more than just our bottom line. Everyone knows that being environmentally responsible is the right thing to do, but too often that goodwill crumbles at the first push from investors – or even at your own desire to impress with profit, rather than persistence.”
“Interestingly, if you take even just a medium-term view, sustainability can still make financial sense. Many of the energy saving measures we’re looking at have real-world benefits in the form of reduced energy and water bills.”
And Ian’s keen to share that this isn’t the end of Forest Road’s experiments. “We’re still really open to any ideas that can make our brewery more sustainable, and we’re always looking out for ways to do it all better.”
We’ll hear more from Forest Road in the coming weeks. Next we’re taking a look at their unorthodox start-up story, and will later check in to see how their new site, and sustainable vision, is developing.