Chairman Jonathan Adnams is the fourth generation of the Adnams family to be brewing in Southwold. His great-grandfather and his brother bought the brewery in Southwold in 1872: “Back in the late 1990s our old cask-ale brewery needed to be modernized and adapted to current market needs. As a project manager, I very much wanted to build a new brewery that had great flexibility: it would need to be able to deal with a much wider range of raw materials, but also to produce a much wider range of beer styles.”
The English brewer wasn’t the only one to notice a shifting consumer demand. Moderation in alcohol consumption is on the rise all over the world. According to Euromonitor International, while the category of non-alcoholic beer contributed to just 2 percent of global beer volumes in 2018, between 2013 and 2018 it achieved an impressive 6 percent global compound annual growth rate (CAGR) compared to relatively stagnant alcoholic beer volumes during the same timeframe.
“People abstain from alcohol for many different reasons,” explains Tom Evans, Adnams’s Low and No Alcohol Ambassador. “A lot has to do with health and staying in control."
Some seek a less sugary beverage. Others have come to realize that they’re drinking a bit too much, so taking a month off will help them reset, recharge and return to drinking alcohol with a new frame of mind. Studies have recently shown that 72% of people who take part in Dry January are still drinking less, six months later.
The new brewhouse had to be built around the existing brewery building in the town center of Southwold, while keeping the old brewery going at almost maximum production. Adnams selected a Huppmann brewhouse – the last one by that name before it became part of GEA Brewery Systems. They also opted for the innovative MILLSTAR® wet milling technology, which allowed The English brewer to step up performance, introduce more flexibility and enhance the quality of their beers. But those weren’t the only reasons why Jonathan decided to work with GEA: “I was confident that GEA could build this challenging installation in a short period of time. They also helped us significantly with how to brew English cask ale in a continental brewhouse and do flavor matching. I knew we had a partner for the long term.”
In 2014, GEA was called upon for the new cellar project. It encompassed amongst others the installation of the HOPSTAR® Dry, which thermally accelerates hop isomerization and reduces annual hop expenditure between 15 and 30 percent.
What certainly has helped in the rise of low- or non-alcoholic beers, is their enhanced taste. They actually started to taste like ‘real beer’. Long gone are the days when they tasted cloyingly sweet and the ones drinking them considered as wannabees who didn’t have a clue what beer is about. Thanks to the new generation of low- and non-alcoholic beers, consumers don’t have to lower their standards or simply miss out. Because having a beer remains a very sociable act.
You don’t celebrate a victory with a sports drink – you want a beer.
Adnams had been experimenting and producing low-alcohol beer since 2011, starting with Solestar, at 2.7% abv. Over the next five years they reduced the abv to 0.9%. “But we really wanted to drop below 0.5 and get into that sort of proper low-alcohol territory,” adds Head Brewer Fergus Fitzgerald. “Since the installation of the new brewhouse back in 2006, GEA has put a lot of equipment in for us. We have a really good relationship with them, so when we started talking about our idea to brew low-alcohol beer, they invited us over to their German customer Andechs Monastery Brewery who are brewing a low-alcohol version of their wheat beer using reverse osmosis. The flavor was convincing!”
Fergus Fitzgerald wanted to get close to the flavor and sensation of Ghost Ship 4.5% abv, Adnams’s main seller: “That beer has quite a hop character and bitterness. With vacuum distillation, you're always adding some heat to it, which would alter the flavor too much.
With reverse osmosis, we’re doing it cold. In our dealcoholisation unit, we use a restricted fermentation brew. That means we don’t use as much malt and there isn’t a lot of sugar for the yeast to ferment. Plus, we ferment at a colder temperature than normal and at lower yeast pitching rates. Basically, we do everything we can to slow down and restrict fermentation of the beer, then we add a lot of dry hop. In that way, we can filter out the alcohol yet still retain the full flavor of the beer.”
In March 2018, Adnams purchased the AromaPlus Membrane Dealcoholization Unit. Within three months, the Ghost Ship Citrus Pale Ale 0.5% abv was ready to market. “It sold out within the first year,” Fergus remembers. International recognition followed soon. In August 2019 the Ghost Ship 0.5% abv won gold in the World Beer Awards. Keeping the beer on the shelves has proved a challenge, so they’ve nearly doubled the capacity in 2019 and expect to do so again in 2020.
The decision to brew the low-alcohol beer Ghost Ship 0.5% abv is perfectly in line with Adnams’ strong health agenda. Environmentally, the company prides itself on being the first UK brewery to complete a full carbon and water life-cycle assessment on their beer range. The GEA brewhouse back in 2006 was already equipped with an energy recovery unit, so they could reuse waste steam from the boiling process to heat their beer.
But what about the dealcoholization process, which requires more energy and water? “You can offset those impacts,” Jonathan explains. “We only buy green electricity. In the future, we hope to produce our own electricity from our bio-digestion unit nearby. And the water from the dealcoholization process can be re-used in the brewing process at a later date.”
Looking back on the collaboration with GEA, Jonathan says: “Building or modernizing a brewery is a big strategic decision. You want it to last for another hundred years. GEA provided us with that capability, based on shared values and a shared ethos.”
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