What a nice thought; being able to enjoy a glass of beer and knowing that you are doing your bit for the planet.
Recently, whilst on a trip to Exeter, I came by chance across the Two Drifters brewery and distillery in the process of construction. Not just another microbrewery, but one which is committed to being carbon negative. My first reaction was one of incredulity; how can beer, for which CO2 is central to its production and consumption, possibly be carbon negative? But that is the bold ambition of Two Drifters.
Two Drifters Out to Change the World
Two Drifters is the brainchild of two young entrepreneurs, Russ and Gemma Wakeham, who have put their money where their mouth is and are turning their passions for making beer and living sustainably into a business.
They are both well qualified to do so; Russ by profession is an organic chemist who has spent years researching carbon capture and Gemma by profession is a sales and marketing executive. They have taken the bold step to step out of their secure jobs to make a difference to the planet.
Living sustainability has been a growing part of their lives over the years. They cycle to work, try to eat vegan as far a practical and source their food locally.
So it is not surprising that while on holiday in Osoyoos (British Columbia) in 2016 that Russ had a light bulb moment:
I was becoming frustrated that my carbon capture work would never be translated into reality. Then it hit me in a flash; the answer was hidden in plain sight. Let’s create beer that tastes amazing, is fun to make, affordable and doesn’t harm the planet. If we could do it then surely other businesses can do the same.
Russ and Gemma should not be dismissed as green-eyed idealists, they have a clear commercial sense of what they are doing; offering a distinctive range of beers with a clean West Coast vibe and shunning the overcrowded market for designer gins to acquire first mover advantage in bespoke rum.
When I visited them tucked away on a business park outside Exeter I found Russ on a ladder craned over a vat of molasses carefully recording measurements of its specific gravity on a clipboard. Talking to Russ you understand he is someone who quietly and meticulously works through the challenges of producing carbon negative beer and rum; from undertaking the complexities of calculating the carbon dioxide released in their supply chain, right down to that from the production fertilisers used in growing hops and sugar cane, to setting up a brewery from scratch.
How to Drink for the Planet:
If you can’t drink Two Drifters:
- Drink locally produced, un-chilled, kegged ales,
- or brew your own, or
- best-of-all drink un-chilled tap water (very good for your pocket, your waistline and the planet!)
Gemma exudes passion for their products and with her marketing savvy it is no wonder that she is well advanced in securing outlets for them across the South West. Together they have been on a journey from Vancouver, via Swansea, in growing and perfecting their beers. Now they have come back home to Exeter to scale up for commercial production.
You’ve Got to Accentuate the Negative, Eliminate the Positive
It’s a serious business making carbon negative beer and rum. Russ and Gemma have forensically scrutinised every last step of their business to avoid or reduce the amount of CO2 that is emitted and also minimise their environmental impact.
Fermentation is a very energy intensive process and so using 100% zero emission renewable energy is a must. They shunned suppliers that relied on burning biomass and will make deliveries in an electric van.
They are minimising their water consumption by getting 2-3 uses out of every last drop: The warm cooling water from the first distilling (stripping) run is piped into a hot water tank ready for brewing beer the next day. In turn, the cooling water from the brewery is then recycled for cleaning.
The waste from malt and molasses is reused by a local farmer for animal feed.
These’s no stopping them…
Their commitment does not stop there; the tasting glasses and can holders are biodegradable, even their business cards are made from recycled t-shirts! They are investigating branded clothing made from recycled plastics and also other biodegradable merchandise and packaging.
The Sober Facts:
About 1.5% of the UK’s CO2 emissions come from alcoholic beverage emissions!
The weight of the CO2 produced by brewing a pint of internationally produced ale is greater than the weight of the beer itself!
The volume of CO2 gas produced is nearly 800 times the volume of the glass it is in! For a pint glass that’s about 100 gallons, about two and a half bathtubs of CO2 or about five times the volume of a car petrol tank!
Its carbon footprint is about 2,300 greater than un-chilled tap water!
These steps are only the beginning, Russ and I have plenty of ideas to innovate further to reduce our carbon emissions in the future, but our focus now is to get the business up and running. Our aim is to be selling beer and rum for the Easter weekend.
‘Tain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It), and that’s What Gets Results
So how effective are Two Drifters in reducing carbon emissions?
Russ estimates that every pint of beer from Two Drifters will generate 290g of CO2 which they will offset. They have teamed up with Climeworks who have a plant in Reykjavik that removes CO2 from the air and encapsulates it underground as chalk (calcium carbonate).
According to researchers at Imperial College  high-end lager produces about 668g of CO2 per pint. Locally produced ales have top marks for emissions at just 565g of CO2 per pint. So, remarkably Two Drifters production will be about twice as efficient as the competition.
By drinking a pint of Two Drifters Beers rather than a fancy cold lager you can rest easy in the knowledge that you have saved the planet from the harms of the CO2 equivalent  of 85 mobile phone charges or a 1.6 mile drive in an average car.
Two Drifters’ planned initial production of 1600 litres of beer a week will save the planet from the CO2 equivalent of driving from Exeter to Aberdeen and back five times a week!
Of course enthusiasm and diligence are not enough, reducing carbon emissions is an expensive business so how can Two Drifters be commercially successful?
Gemma explains The Two Drifters’ approach:
By offsetting we are effectively introducing a carbon tax on ourselves to ensure we reduce our CO2 emissions at every step. We will compete on price and quality. Even though CO2 reduction measures narrows our profit margin we are still commercially viable, as long as people like what we make!
Don’t Mess with Mister In-Between
If you are not fortunate enough to live in the South West to enjoy the double pleasure of Two Drifters’ rum and ales how can you help save the planet as you quaff?
It’s easy! Drink locally produced, un-chilled, kegged ales or brew your own!
Much of the CO2 emissions in brewing comes from transport, refrigeration and the production of bottles and cans.
So raise your low carbon glass of beer to Russ and Gemma and all the world’s green entrepreneurs who care about our future and drink to the planet.
With thanks and slight apologies to Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Melvin “Sy” Oliver and James Tummy” Young.