Being Green in the Wye Valley

The Wye Valley is a particularly beautiful part of the country, straddling the Anglo-Welsh border it’s protected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. To say that it’s a green and pleasant land would be an understatement; It’s one of the most dramatic and scenic landscapes in Britain and it is home to Wye Valley Brewery.

The brewery has called Herefordshire home since 1985, set up by ex-Guiness brewer Peter Amor and using locally sourced English hops to brew cask, keg and bottled beers, it has gone from brewing just 10 brewer’s barrels a week to a mighty 800, the equivalent of 12 million pints a year. That’s a lot of beer; that’s a lot of water. Inspired somewhat by the beauty of the green land they call home, the Wye Valley team have pushed to be as green as they can possibly be and in doing so are building a reputation not just for well-made beers, but for the increasingly environmentally mindful way in which they are brewed.

A Mean Green Brewing Machine is how the Wye Valley brewery put it, or rather, in the team’s words; “Very few other breweries can match us when it comes to sustainability. Here, being green isn’t just about ticking boxes; it’s part and parcel of our commitment to brewing beautiful beers, caring for our local community and looking after the land so that it remains beautiful for generations to come.” It’s working for them too, having recently picked up a win in the Water Efficiency Category of the Marches Blue Business Awards, ‘We work hard to consistently reduce our impact on the environment”, states Vernon Amor, Managing Director of Wye Valley Brewery, “with 47% of all energy used by the brewery coming from renewable sources. The efficient brewhouse has been designed with efficient cleaning operations meaning a below 4:1 water to beer ratio, far below average for a brewing house of our size. It’s fantastic that the work we do to protect the environment has been recognised.”

In the past two years the brewery has seen its sales increase by 35%, with an increase in visibility across all social media channels, this is a team looking to tap into the market of the youthful, social media-minded drinker and with an increase in followers across its social networks I wonder if the environmentally mindful nature of this brewery is something that is resonating with drinkers and helping to connect it with an audience other brewers are perhaps missing.

According to not-for-profit consultancy Ethical Consumer, the market for ethical spending is worth upwards of £80bn in the UK for products and services, so being a brewery with green credentials is going to be an increasingly important advantage in an increasingly crowded market. “We believe all brewers should make an effort to be as sustainable as possible”, state the team, “At Wye Valley Brewery, sustainability is a big focus when looking at brewery development and production. Naming but a few of our green credentials; 70% of our hops are sourced from farms within a 10-mile radius of the brewery, 275kw solar panels we’ve installed will be generating more than 50% of our electricity on site this summer. Our innovative Brewhouse boasts new technology for wort boiling, which has helped reduce our carbon emissions by 48% since the new Brewhouse was installed in 2013. Our water usage is much lower than other breweries our size, and we treat our effluent on site and discharge clean water back into the environment.”

The scale of the environmentally friendly nature of Wye Valley is impressive, that’s for sure and it’s a concept that seems to be spreading across the country, as more and more breweries take on the task of tackling environmental issues. And as a nation we need that. We need to be talking about these issues, we need to be tackling it on every level we can and if beer and breweries can help with that then bring it on.

That being said, one of the industries’ biggest issues is the use of Isinglass finings to bring aesthetic clarity to cask conditioned beer. These traditional methods are derived from fish, which makes the beers containing them unsuitable for vegans and is something more and more brewers and modern drinkers are stepping away from. It makes sense too, customers are more conscious about what they’re purchasing these days, with a focus on clean living and social and environmental responsibility, brewers surely want to market their beers to as many people as possible? “Traditionally, we have used Isinglass finings in our cask conditioned beer to aid clarity,” say the team at Wye Valley, “Isinglass is a form of collagen obtained from dried fish bladders and is the brewing industry’s leading ingredient for the clarification or fining of beer. However, as more and more vegan-friendly clarifying solutions become available, we are starting to trial alternatives. Initially, in 2019, we will be able to label our limited-edition keg and bottled products as vegan-friendly.”

With vegan-friendly beers on the cards what else is next for the team at Wye Valley brewery? “Our most recent project has been to divert rainwater from the roofs of our buildings into a 25m pond, which will be planted in the spring to include a wild flower meadow and Wye Valley Brewery bee hives.” The combination of having a clear vision to be as sustainable as possible whilst pouring quality into every pint and being a brewery who’re experiencing growth in an uncertain market, Wye Valley brewery have garnered a strong reputation locally, but it should certainly be on more beer drinkers’ radars. The beers of Wye Valley brewery may have a traditional old-world style compared to many of the ‘trendy’ new-wave releases coming to the market, but this brewery is proving that it is anything but stuck in the past, and long may it continue.

A version of this article was originally published in Beer Imbiber magazine, March 2019. Photo credit to Wye Valley Brewery.