At Harriet’s of Hove, we’re not just about selling sustainable products; we’re about celebrating the stories, passion, and achievements of those who create them. In our supplier spotlight series, we’re proud to introduce Old Tree Brewery, a pioneering social enterprise in the world of eco-friendly brewing. Founded in 2014, they’ve made significant strides in sustainability, biodiversity, and connecting people with the land. Their dedication has not gone unnoticed – Old Tree Brewery was recognized in the top three for ‘best drinks producer in the UK 2023’ at the BBC Food and Farming Awards and has also won two Great Taste awards for their flavoured kombuchas. Join us as we delve into the inspiring journey of Old Tree Brewery and their fruitful partnership with Harriet’s of Hove.
What’s the story behind Old Tree Brewery, and how did it all start?
We are a social enterprise founded in 2014 with a commitment to improving biodiversity and connecting people to land and place. At the heart of our operation is the use of fermentation to unlock the superpowers of plants, creating drinks that are beneficial for both people and the planet. Our approach is deeply rooted in sustainability and community connection. In tandem with our brewery, we have Old Tree Soil, a sister business that collaborates with local communities to make complete compost. This partnership is essential for us, as all our compostables from the brewery go to Old Tree Soil, contributing to feeding community gardens in and around Brighton.
Additionally, we’re engaged in educating and sharing knowledge about our practices. We run workshops covering topics like fermentation, composting, soil & gut health, furthering our mission to connect people with the environment and sustainable practices.
Could you share with us the sustainability practices that are integral to your production process?
In our brewing process, we strictly use organic ingredients that are either locally sourced or locally foraged, despite not having organic certification. Our commitment to sustainability extends to our packaging choices as well; we use materials that are compostable or recyclable and opt for reusable crates for our deliveries.
A key aspect of our sustainable practices is our approach to deliveries within Brighton, which are carbon-neutral, thanks to our partnership with the incredible bike delivery company Zedify.
Moreover, we’re deeply invested in composting all of our organic waste on-site. This organic waste plays a vital role in feeding community gardens around Brighton, contributing positively to local ecosystems.
In terms of our ingredients, the sugar we use is fairtrade, perennial, and native, sourced from organic sugar canes. We choose ‘Native’ as our supplier because they share our passion for enhancing biodiversity and are committed to creating a sustainable system of sugar production.
Additionally, the green and black teas that we use in our brews are organic and sourced from an independent, local tea supplier. This choice supports local businesses and ensures that we maintain the high standards of quality and sustainability that we set for ourselves.
How did your relationship with Harriet’s of Hove start, and how has it influenced your business?
Our partnership with Harriet’s of Hove began when they adopted one of our refill stations, around five years ago. As a refill store, they started stocking our kombucha, which has been an ongoing collaboration since then. We view Harriet as not just a business partner but as a fellow eco-warrior and a Brighton legend in her own right!
The impact of our collaboration with Harriet’s of Hove has been significant for our business. Their continued support in stocking our products and advocating for our local drinks mission has been crucial. It has enabled our business not only to survive but also to continue thriving. We are incredibly grateful for their support and the role they have played in helping us sustain our operations and mission.
Is there a particular product that you supply to us which you’re especially proud of?
We’re particularly proud of the kombucha we supply to Harriet’s of Hove. To make our kombucha, we start by brewing a huge batch of green & black tea in an oak barrel, adding sugar and our starter liquid. This mixture is left to ferment aerobically for 7 days. After fermentation, we bottle the kombucha by hand and let it carbonate naturally.
For our flavoured kombuchas, we steam-distil herbs in an alembic copper still. The floral water (hydrosol) collected from this process is then used to add aroma and taste to the drinks. Our kombucha is not diluted, filtered, force carbonated, or pasteurised, making it one of the most live and delicious kombuchas available.
Could you share some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in maintaining your sustainable practices?
It certainly has been a huge uphill journey. One of our biggest challenges is the market’s inclination towards larger, industrial, mass-produced products. This trend poses a threat to smaller, ethical businesses like ours. However, despite these challenges, we refuse to compromise on our values. Staying true to these principles often means taking a more expensive and difficult path, but it’s a choice we’re committed to.
Another aspect we grapple with is the limitation in scaling up. Since our kombucha is fully live, it’s not feasible for us to scale up production massively or ship internationally. This constraint makes us more reliant on local supply chains. But we see this not just as a challenge but also as an opportunity. We focus on building strong local supply chains, fostering friendships and local support. These are aspects that larger businesses often cannot replicate. Our commitment to local sourcing and community engagement has become a defining characteristic of our business.
What goals do you have for Old Tree Brewery?
For our growth and sustainability, we envision creating a network of microbreweries across the UK. Our goal is to utilise the local landscapes by incorporating plants native to each area into our drinks, focusing on supplying locally rather than shipping our products over long distances. This approach is aimed at connecting people to their local landscapes more intimately.
We moved our brewery from Brighton to Glynde at the beginning of 2023. It’s been a challenging transition, especially since live cultures are sensitive to moves. However, we’re looking forward to hosting an official launch party for our new premises in June 2024. It’s an event that we’re very excited about and marks an important milestone for us.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about Old Tree Brewery’s activities or how they can stay updated on your latest ventures?
In addition to our brewing activities, we run pop-up bars and host events around Sussex and in various other locations. These events are a great way for us to connect with the community and share our passion for sustainable brewing practices. For those interested in staying updated on what we’re up to and where our next events will be, we encourage you to join our mailing list. You can sign up at www.oldtreebrewery.co.uk.