How to Make Your Pint of Beer More Sustainable

Because beer can be good for the planet

It’s no secret that we are a nation of beer lovers; according to the Grocer’s report on Britain’s biggest alcohol brands in 2023, five out of the top ten were beer brands. But producing beer is not an eco-friendly undertaking. A huge volume of water and amount of energy is needed to brew the stuff and that’s before it’s packaged and transported anywhere. Then there are the byproducts, such as spent grain (it’s estimated that 100 litres of beer generates 20kg of brewer’s spent grain) and wastewater, to contend with. That doesn’t mean you need to give up the good stuff though. Just as we brought you ways to make your glass of wine more sustainable, here’s how you can help ease the impact on the environment without sacrificing your pint.

Buy from a better brewery

The easiest way to make your pint more sustainable? Source it from a sustainable brewery. Making use of waste products is one of the cornerstones of a sustainable operation and that’s exactly what Toast Brewing is doing. It’s estimated that 44% of bread gets wasted so the biz uses leftover bread (from bakeries and sandwich makers) to replace a portion of the malted barley used to make its beers, which has saved over three million slices of bread from going in the bin. Toast also donates 100% of its profits to food and environmental charities in an effort to make as positive a change as possible. You can try Toast’s beers, including a helles-style lager, an IPA, a hazy pale ale and a 0.5% ABV lager at the Toast Taproom at Good Company, the Regent’s Place cafe it runs in collaboration with Change Please. 

Where Toast focuses on bread, Gipsy Hill has put its attention on barley. The south London brewery has worked with Wildfarmed to create the world’s first offset-free carbon beer, meaning each pint removes more greenhouse gases than it produces. First the brewery sources certified regenerative barley (the way the barley is grown sequesters more carbon than it releases into the atmosphere). Then the barley is combined with recaptured hops, reusing the hops left after the fermentation of a previous batch of beer to flavour a new one, rather than throwing it away. That means that Gipsy Hill’s Swell Lager is produced at -40gCO2e per pint and its Trail Pale Ale at -30gCO2e per pint, in comparison to the 350g of CO2 emissions produced by a typical pint. 

At Small Beer Brew Co. in Bermondsey, founders James Grundy and Felix James are also running an innovative brewing operation. Not only are their brews big on flavour but low on alcohol content, they’re also running the only entirely dry-floor brewery in the country. Water saving is a key part of the Small Beer operation as the beer industry is notoriously water-intensive; the pair have managed to go from an industry average of eight to ten pints of water per pint of beer right down to just a pint and a half of water per pint of beer. On top of that, the one-of-a-kind brew kit used at the brewery to maximise the flavour whilst minimising the alcohol production also recaptures, recycles and recirculates the water they do use. And the short neck bottles mean that 150 more bottles can be transported each time compared to long-necked bottles. 

Drink fresh 

For the smoothest, crispest pint, you’ve got to get as close to the source as possible and that’s where tank beers come in. Typically found in taprooms attached to breweries, like Five Points, Howling Hops, Brixton Brewery and Camden Town Brewery (though you can find tanks of Meantime, Staropramen and Budvar in pubs and bars across the city) metal tanks help keep the beer inside fresh as the flavour isn’t affected by exposure to light, heat or oxygen. 

Storing and pouring beer this way is also more sustainable; if it’s being served at a brewery, the beer hasn’t had to travel, and if it’s being served at another venue, it’s better than being transported in kegs. Not only do kegs require more cleaning and refilling, which requires them being sent back to the brewery they came from, thereby adding up the miles, carbon dioxide has to be added to allow the beer to be dispensed. 

growler of beer being refilled

Fill and refill 

Just like you’d refill your dry goods, your detergents and your wine, you can do the same for your beer – just get your hand on a growler. These large glass jugs, which usually come in 1-litre and 1.89-litre sizes, can be endlessly filled, cleaned and reused (and are also recyclable should you ever find yourself not needing a ready supply of beer). Many craft beer stores, like Clapton Craft and No Boring Beer to name just two, have refill facilities and they’ll fill your growlers with draft beer, so you’re getting a superior-tasting product compared to what you’d find from a can or bottle. And even though aluminium cans and glass bottles can be recycled (which does consume way less energy than manufacturing a new container from scratch), using a refillable jug cuts it out completely.

Pick a sustainable pub

You don’t always have to search out a sustainable beer if you’re looking to be kinder to the planet when enjoying a pint, you can also switch up your venue to a more sustainable pub. Granted, sustainable restaurants are currently more common in the city than pubs but there are a few boozers that have proper eco creds as well as cold beer. 

The Spread Eagle in Homerton is famously London’s first fully vegan pub, where not only is all the food and drink (their beers have no finings) vegan, the fixtures are plant-based and there’s a strong emphasis on minimising waste. But being animal product-free isn’t the only way to be better for the environment.

Islington’s The Duke of Cambridge is Britain’s first organic pub and has been certified by the Soil Association since 1998. Just as the kitchen makes use of organic ingredients for its seasonal menu, there’s also an ethical approach to the drinks list. The Culpeper is part of the same family as The Duke of Cambridge and operates with a similar ethos. The rooftop space is used to grow produce that appears in both dishes and drinks, and they don’t use any chemicals – they even use a wormery to make liquid feed for the plants using waste from the kitchen.