Making beer is a very water-intensive process, and the less that is used the better it is for the environment. It also helps the brewers to save some money if they can use less water. The industry standard used to be that it takes ten pints of water to make one pint of beer, but that is being reduced, in some cases considerably. Many of the small craft breweries are around the 8 - 1 mark, but the larger brewers are making some great inroads with some of them claiming around 4 – 1, and at Adnams they say they are closer to 3 – 1.
Indeed, the beer industry has grown considerably within the last few years, thanks in part to the huge number of small craft breweries which have sprung up. Even so, what is an amazing statistic is that 88% of all the beer in the UK is made by just four companies – Heineken, Molson Coors, Carlsberg, and Anheuser-Busch InBev. While a lot of their water saving attention is drawn to countries that are facing drought, they nonetheless pay attention to their UK operations as well. For example, Heineken has three breweries in the UK, at Tadcaster, Manchester, and Hereford, and cut their water use by 3% just in 2016/2017 alone. They have also managed to achieve beer usage savings by the introduction of their SmartDispense system which reduces the need for beer line cleaning by 75%. This reduces the amount of water used for cleaning, reduces beer wastage, and reduces the amount of chemicals needed for cleaning. They calculate that in 2016 they saved water amounting to 35 million pints.
Apart from the big four, the rest of the beer drunk in Britain comes from around 2,500 independent breweries, and from imports. Some of the independents are well-known names such as Marstons, Greene King, Shepherd Neame, and Fullers, while the many smaller breweries only operate in their own backyard and are never heard of elsewhere. However, they are still able and willing to save water where they can. A micro-brewery in Hertfordshire, Farr Brew, has its waste water, which is rich in biodegradable materials and nitrogen, used by a local farmer as a fertiliser.
Another brewer, Freedom, in Staffordshire is using water that it draws from its' own borehole. All of the water used that is not turned into beer is returned to the land in a water treatment system. The water goes into an aerobic digestion pond, then flows through three swale ditches, then goes into another larger aerobic digestion pond. After that, it flows into a reed bed and another ditch, before finally flowing into a local brook. The company's head brewer, Jonathan Smith, says that it is a completely natural process, and the water is back in the brook only half a mile from the brewery's bore hole.
However, it is the ongoing cleaning of everything in a brewery where water can really be saved. In order to make good beer, everything has to be totally clean, and it is estimated that most brewers spend 90% of their time on cleaning. Purity Brewing Company in Warwickshire has a clean-in-place system where the tanks and vessels clean themselves, rinsing away the detergents. The system has built-in PH sensors and as soon as the rinse water gets to neutral the machine stops automatically, reducing the need for any further rinses.
Over at Adnams in Southwold they use peracetic acid which is a food grade chemical that is a fast-acting cleaning agent. It does not foam, and it breaks down into harmless by-products which need very little rinsing away. Adnams has an environmental sustainability manager, and also controls losses through evaporation by timing the boils strictly. In addition, it has smart meters that detect leaks and spot abnormal flows.
Of course, another way of making beer usage savings is by making the timing between beer line cleanings longer. There are systems available which can extend the interval between cleans from a week to as much as six or seven weeks which obviously saves a considerable amount of water and also saves beer wastage. If you throw away three pints of beer with every line clean, that is a lot of money going down the drain every month, so anything you can do to extend the interval is good for business and good for the environment.