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Think global, drink local

Those of you who listen to The Archers on Radio 4 (that’s everybody, isn’t it?) will know that there has been a storyline recently in which Pip Archer makes an attempt during Lent to eat only food that has been grown or produced within 5 miles of her home, Brookfield Farm, in order to reduce the number of “food miles” involved in her diet.  Being a farming community, some food items are easy to source from within a short distance – eggs, vegetables, meat, cheese, etc.  But there are a number of things that we take for granted that involve ingredients travelling many miles to reach us – how about salt and pepper for a start?

This got me to thinking about the “beer miles” involved in the production and distribution of our favourite drink, and the environmental impact they might have.  There are a number of factors involved in this:

  • where do the raw ingredients come from?  The grain, the hops, etc.  This article from Friends of The Earth highlights some worrying facts about the amount of hops that are imported from overseas.
  • don’t forget the packaging.  Where do the packaging materials such as bottles, boxes, crates, casks, etc. come from?  Does the packaging take place where the beer is brewed or does it have to be transported?
  • once the product is complete and packaged, how far does it have to travel in order to get to you – brewery to warehouse to store to your home – or brewery to pub?  It’s wonderful to experience beers from other parts of the country, or even from other countries, but be aware that there is an ecological cost involved.
  • there is also an impact after we have drunk the beer.  Bottles are (hopefully) recycled – though very rarely these days are they re-used like they were when I was young (a penny back for each bottle returned to the off-licence).  Packaging has to be transported to landfill sites.

As I was doing some research for yesterday’s post about Bishops Finger, I was interested to discover that all the ingredients of the beer are sourced in Kent, and the barley is converted to malt in Essex (see Bishops Finger – How it’s made).  This is an excellent approach by Shepherd Neame, and I for one applaud it.  There is still the issue of the packaging, and of course the beer is available far away from the brewery in Kent, so it has to be transported considerable distances.

In my early drinking days it was unusual to find anything other than the local brew in the pubs around where I lived.  It was part of the fun of visiting another place that you got to drink their local brew.  These days many pubs have a range of beers from all over the place, both on draught and in bottles.

I’m not suggesting that everybody should stop drinking beer that is brewed more than a certain distance away from where they live – but why not try to seek out your local brews.  Most pubs seem to focus on well-known beers from the big brewers, but there are hundreds of small breweries that supply a few outlets in their vicinity.  Supporting these brewers can only help to maintain the variety of beers that are available – and might just contribute a little bit towards the environment.

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