Meet Lab Culture, the innovative and eco-friendly brewery bathed in purple LED light.
Monday 06 July 2020
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Lab Culture, an innovative brewery in Redditch, just south of Birmingham, started life just over a year ago. It was borne from the desire to make use of the excess heat from the LED lamps on the primary business, Fresh Heights farm, which at the time was being wasted. As an eco-friendly company, this didn’t fit with its ethos of sustainability.
In his quest to have a sustainable, energy-friendly and environmentally-conscious farm, Fresh Heights and Lab Culture director Michael Capewell knew there must be some use for the near-boiling water that results from the process of cooling the LED lights. Mulling it over in the pub, he decided that instead of letting it run down the drain, he would use it to make beer - what better way to make use of excess heat than to use it to brew a tasty beverage?
Bathed in purple LED lights, the farm and brewery is really a sight to behold. Fresh Heights, a revolutionary vertical farm, has been going for about three years now - it’s a pilot facility at the moment, which Michael and his team are using to grow a select amount of produce, in order to test the waters before a big expansion in the near future.
This pilot facility allows Fresh Heights to work out the most efficient way to grow produce, with regard to height, light and timings, as well as being able to keep a close eye on customer feedback from the restaurants and local businesses it supplies at the moment. Once everything is figured out, it will be time to delve into setting up a new purpose-built facility, which is set to be a whopping 50 times the size of the current one.
At Fresh Heights they grow anything leafy and below 12 inches tall; their speciality and most requested plant is basil (everyone’s favourite herb - yum). Everything is grown indoors under LED heater-cooled lights, which hugely reduces the carbon footprint of fresh produce like this, as it’s so often imported from different countries and even different continents.
These farming practices also use a fraction of the water that growing on traditional farms usually does. Plus, Fresh Heights use no pesticides or chemicals, making the harvests even better than organic.
It’s a small site now, but even when it grows, it’ll have one of the most efficient uses of space of its kind - the plants are stacked up as high as possible, making dozens and dozens of times more use out of the space than a normal crop field.
At Fresh Heights they’re extracting as much as they can from the resources they have, and that includes the sister brand Lab Culture Brewery. The wasted hot water is diverted from the farm to the mash tun, which provides 80% of the energy needed for the brewing process.
In the future, there’s potential to grow climbing plants like hops as well - this, if successful, will be another way to avoid waste from the LED plant farming, as it would use the residual light that reflects onto walls.
Now for the good stuff. In terms of actual beer, when Lab Culture started out it had a core range - a West Coast IPA, a pale ale, and a session rye IPA, and a few experimental beers here and there. Since then, it has shifted the focus from solely this core range, to include more offerings such as a lime and basil saison, a milk chocolate stout, a New England IPA, a fruited gose in collaboration with Droitwich Salt at Churchfields Saltworks (which extracts salt from one of the oldest and purest brine springs in the world). So, it’s still making the original beers, since they’ve always been a hit, but it’s adding more exciting and seasonal beers to its repertoire.
Once the team returns to brewing after the Covid 19-induced lockdown, Lab Culture has plans to make some extra-special exciting beers on the smaller of their two brew kits - think big barleywines, imperial stouts, and an imperial Berliner Weisse. Also in the works is an Azacca single-hop pale ale and a peach and apricot gose, which are bound to be delicious and perfect for summer. Plus, there’s talk of a foray into small-batch cask beers, which is a new thing for Lab Culture, as well as some collaborations with other local breweries.
We all better keep our eyes peeled for Lab Culture Brewery in the near future - these guys are doing exciting things in more ways than just making beer, and they’re definitely one of 2020’s breweries to watch in this humble beer-writer’s opinion.
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