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Feature

Adnams New 'green' Brewery

Added: Thursday, December 1st 2011

It has an inshore, whitewashed lighthouse, famous beach huts painted in pastel shades, attractive Georgian and Victorian buildings, a clutch of fine pubs and the North Sea on its doorstep.

But Southwold in Suffolk may soon become better known as the town with Britain's first "green" brewery. Global warming and dwindling supplies of oil could combine to change the way beer is brewed. In an attempt to grapple with the urgent need to conserve energy, Adnams, the regional brewer based in Southwold, has designed a new brewhouse that will come on stream in 2006 and will be highly energy efficient.

With world oil prices set to rise inexorably, the efficiency of breweries will be a major consideration in the years ahead. As Adnams' managing director Jonathan Adnams says, in conventional ale breweries a lot of energy goes up the chimney. That may not be possible or permissible in the near future.

The European Union has intervened with a new draft directive that will demand that industries waste as little energy or raw materials as possible. A EU working group is already drafting a proposal that will determine how much energy can be used and how much waste is involved in producing one hectolitre of beer.

Time is not on the side of breweries. If the directive is approved, all industrial companies will have to comply by 2007. If they refuse, they will face sanctions and even a ban on production.

Breweries heady with the delightful aromas of malt and hops could become a thing of the past, along with open fermenting vessels where yeast occasionally gushes over the tops and on to the floor.

Ale is traditionally made by a simple mashing regime known as "infusion". But, as Jonathan Adnams says, the traditional mash tun produces the sugary extract known as wort, runs off the wort and then rinses the grain with a shower of hot water to wash out any remaining sugars. Different temperatures are required and the mash tun method could not be described as either energy efficient or cost effective.

The new Adnams' German-built brewhouse will use a system based on a mash conversion vessel that will produce the sugary wort. The wort will be pumped to a second vessel called a lauter tun that will filter it, leaving behind the spent grain. A third vessel will heat the wort so that when it reaches the copper whirlpool, where it is boiled with hops, the liquid will already be at boiling temperature, which again means less energy will be required: in a conventional copper, the wort has to be brought to boiling point.

As the mashing vessel does not have to filter the wort and grain, it can be utilised with greater efficiency to produce more brews a day - four brews every 16 hours in the case of Adnams. The new equipment will also reduce the risk of oxidation, which means removing the risk of stale or "off" flavours in the finished beer.

Adnams' ancient wooden fermenting vessels have already been sidelined and replaced by new stainless steel vessels. They are enclosed to trap the carbon dioxide created as yeast turns malt sugars into alcohol and gas, but they are traditional square vessels: Jonathan Adnams says that beers made by warm fermentation - as opposed to cold-fermented lagers - produce the best aromas and flavours in square vessels rather than upright conicals. Annual production at Adnams will rise from 110,000 barrels a year to 150,000 when the new brewhouse is in operation. 2.5 million has been invested in the equipment. That indicates great faith in the future of the cask beer market, but as well as the brewhouse, Adnams is also building a new warehouse in a disused gravel pit in the neighbouring village of Reydon. The aim to is keep heavy goods vehicles out of the narrow streets of Southwold.

The complex will be 12 metres below ground to avoid being a blot on the landscape. It will have a grass roof that will help insulate the building. Walls will be built or painted with chalk, hemp and lime to further keep the complex cool. Rainwater will be recycled to wash vehicles and provide showers for the staff, and will then be run into surrounding reed beds. Solar panels will provide natural energy.

"We will become the industrial version of the Eden Project," Jonathan Adnams says. "We want to do business in a sustainable way. The warehouse will in effect be a giant Thermos flask."

In total, Adnams will invest 10 million on its brewhouse, warehouse and new branding for it beers. It has already added Explorer, a cask and bottled beer that uses American Chinook and Columbus hops for a quenching citrus aroma and flavour.

Flagship has been brewed to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Nelson's death at Trafalgar. It is made with the new English hop, Boadicea, which needs far fewer pesticides and fertilisers than conventional varieties. Flagship is also brewed with a small amount of wheat malt and the new brewhouse will enable Adnams to make a fully-fledged wheat beer if it decides to go down that route.

For beer lovers, the most important consideration is that Adnams' beers, tasted in the convivial pubs of Southwold, are as good if not better than ever. But a quiet revolution is underway in the town's brewery.

As our planet is ravaged by earthquakes, floods and hurricanes, and supplies of oil begin to dry up, the way in which Adnams makes its beers could be a harbinger for all British breweries in the years ahead.