Founded in 1998 by David Gladwin, Black Isle Brewing Co. are Scotland’s only organic brewery and producer of the widest range of organic beers in the UK. Sustainability has never been a gimmick for the team up there in the North of Scotland, it’s a way of life and is rooted in the very fibre of everything that they do. I recently had the chance to speak to David’s brother Mike Gladwin Operations Director at Black Isle Brewing Co. about why they do what they do, how they do it and why it’s so important to them, and the planet.
“The brewery has always organic, right from the start and this our 21st year,” Mike tells me. “When David started the brewery, his ethos and the idea was to produce beer as organically and sustainably as possible. We’ve got organic accreditation which we’ve now rolled out across the farm. So, we’re growing a percentage of our own barley that goes into the beer on our farm here.”
Despite Black Isle’s commitment to organic and sustainability from day one, there have been doubters who disregard the organic side of things as a fad or for-marketing-purposes-only. Through action, however, Black Isle have consistently proven they are the real deal.
“The amount of times we’ve accused of jumping on some sort of bandwagon really makes me angry,” Mike says.
“We have always been organic. Every beer we have produced has been organic – to great expense. Because we’re a family brewery, we can it work.”
Brewing as organically as Black Isle do (which is 100%, by the way) is an expensive task. Organic ingredients are more expensive and difficult to source than their GMO alternatives, but this is no deterrent for the team at Black Isle. They are passionate about what they do and how they do it, and are willing to go the extra mile to achieve their goals.
“Our margins are tighter and we accept that,” Mike explains. “We make less money but it’s something we really believe in. And it’s brought more customers to our door because we’ve stuck to our guns. We’re going to produce things organically; it’s expensive but we believe it’s the right thing to do.”
Black Isle’s commitment to sustainability extends far beyond organic ingredients, however. Part of Mike’s role as Operations Director is the make the entire process – from them brewing the beer to you cracking open a can at home – as sustainable as they possibly can. This involves sourcing new-and-innovative solutions which greatly reduce their carbon footprint, plastic usage and more.
“Right now, there’s a huge amount of emphasis on sustainability – on social media and everything,” Mike says. “People are beginning to realise we’ve got to do everything we can to save this planet. It has been our lifestyle and our ethos since our inception. We hope people will recognise that now.
“In order to be as sustainable as possible, we use packaging materials that are more expensive. We are currently trialling a label to use on our cans – we installed a canning machine in April. Most cans, and most people canning, use a polypropylene label because it reacts better to being put onto a cold can. This stuff is plastic, basically.
“We’re trialling something at the moment that’s made out of sugar cane fibres; it is biodegradable. It’s more expensive, it’s going to cost us a couple of pence more per label, but that’s one of the things we’re going to have to soak up. We’ll talk about it. We’ll tell people about it. So, hopefully people will understand that our costs are greater than others so hopefully they’ll be willing to pay one or two pence more per can.
“Our pallet wrap is another thing; we use a biodegradable pallet wrap. There’s so much plastic in packaging and I know the government are now getting onto it, finally, but it’s a no-brainer for us. Plastic wrap goes around every pallet that leaves every brewery in the country. That stuff takes thousands of years to degrade.”
Beyond plastic alternative packaging solutions, one of the key initiatives Mike highlights as playing a vital role in increasing sustainability at Black Isle Brewing Co. is cans.
They’ve recently installed a canning line so more and more of their beers are making their way into cans – from core beers like Blonde and Goldeneye to seasonal, special releases such as Springboard and the new sour Rhuby Tuesday. Indeed, all four of Black Isle and Flavourly’s Crowdsourced Collaborations – Helles, Session IPA, APA and Amber – will be exclusively available in cans.
“Purchasing beer in cans is very important when you think about carbon footprint,” Mike elaborates. “Recycling glass is one thing but the sheer weight of transporting bottles around the country, around the globe… On a single pallet, we can ship 2,400 cans but only 1,728 bottles. Cans reduce transport. The beer within a can is just as good as the beer you get in a bottle.”
We’re in awe of Black Isle’s commitment to brewing things their own way for the better of the planet. From the beer itself to the packaging it finds itself in and beyond, sustainability is at the heart of everything they do. It’s been a risk, increasing costs isn’t something a business tends to do voluntarily, but it’s paid off. When the beer is as good as Black Isle’s is, it’s easy to see why…