And while these brewers have come up with many new variations on the tradition pint, many of them are also embracing sustainability and environmentally-friendly production methods to prove a decent beer should not necessarily have to cost the earth.
‘More and more breweries are taking sustainability seriously and making real efforts to have as a low impact on the environment as possible,’ says the chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), Mike Benner.
‘From basic steps such as recycling water or using heat exchanges, to building reed bed filtration systems, fitting solar panels, or even building custom designed ‘eco’ breweries from scratch – independent craft breweries across the UK are doing their part in creating a greener beer industry.’
One of the highest profile has been the award-winning Toast Ale, which is made from surplus bread, which would otherwise be thrown away or sent to landfill.
Toast Ale was launched last year by the environmental campaigner Tristram Stuart and has also been endorsed by the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
The company was founded on four core principles: to produce good beer, eliminate bread waste by brewing with as much of it as possible, to raise awareness of the issues around food waste and to give all profits to the food charity Feedback.
The recipe has also been open-sourced, so home brewers can try it out at home.
Speaking at a Tedx talk event, the company’s ‘chief toaster’, Rob Wilson said 44% of all bread baked in the UK gets thrown away.
‘One third of the food we produce in the world is going to waste and the worst culprit of them all is bread,’ he said.
‘We believe that if you are going to change the world, you have to throw a better party than the people and the corporations that are destroying it. For us there is no better way to get a party started than with great tasting craft beer,’ added Wilson.
‘Before too long, we hope we can put ourselves out of business. Our mission is to cut off our own supply chain. The day there is no more waste bread to be brewed is the day we can shut up shop and say mission accomplished.’
One of the latest schemes is the Zero Impact Brewing project in Sussex, which is the brainchild of Chris Drummond and Russ Wheildon. Drummond spent 15 years working in the renewable energy sector before hearing the siren call of craft beer.
The project has launched its first beer, a Belgian Witt beer.
Drummond originally set up a beer club – Crafted Crate – for fans around his native Brighton, but as he travelled around the county visiting brewers he began to notice several issues around sustainability and environmental impact.
‘Eventually, we couldn’t really sit back and do nothing,’ he tells Environment Journal. ‘My big dream with this is the Zero Impact Brewing project becomes like a Fair Trade stamp. If the craft brew world starts doing it, then maybe big brewers will start listening as well.’
The project is based on a farm in Uckfield and uses both solar and biomass energy to power a small brewing kit, which is capable of producing 1,500 cans at a time.
‘We can get our brewery up to 100% sustainable,’ says Drummond. ‘I don’t believe that’s the case for every brewery. We’re quite lucky here being on a farm, but it would be great if we could get breweries in cities having a 50% reduction in their processes, whether it’s through saving water or energy.’
‘It takes about 100 pints of water to bring one pint of beer to life, including the farming and brewing process.’
The water used by the project is sourced from a local stream, which goes through a small and energy efficient filtration process.
And in order to reduce the amount of water being used in the process, Chris is looking into bringing in some long root grain from the United States, which is perennial and therefore does not need ploughing an sowing every year, and also needs far less irrigation.
‘We’re hoping it will be a great base grain for craft brewers to use instead of or as well as the traditional barley and other malted grains,’ he says. ‘We should be able to use it within two seasons.’
He is also looking at the refrigeration, which he uses a lot of electricity and environmentally harmful gases.
Drummond says they are also turning the spent grain, which is left at the end of the process, into a ‘high protein, high fibre’ flour, which is being sold in shops around Brighton.
‘One of the reasons I got into this industry was because of how much craft brewers work together,’ says Drummond. ‘They collaborate and great things come from it. Everyone takes you seriously and nothing gets dismissed. Every brewer in Brighton is working together. I have taken my zero impact idea to all the brewers here and they all want to get involved.’
Photo credit: Tom Moggach