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Whisky maker keeps the cows happy on the road to net zero

CONTENTED cows on a North Wales coast farm are being fed on a diet of malted barley that’s left over after being used to make whisky.

The Aber Falls Distillery, at Abergwyngregyn, is just 500 yards from Pentre Aber Farm where farmer Will Davies has a herd of 400 cattle, half of them dairy cows, and every day they tuck into four tons of the barley from the whisky stills.

It helps make the whisky from Aber Falls some of the greenest in the UK with the water used being pumped up from a borehole while the distillery’s visitor centre café also boasts an array of solar panels.

The single malt whisky from the distillery, which opened six years ago in buildings that once housed a 19th century slate works, last year secured coveted PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) UK status.

As well as being a popular tipple across the UK, Aber Falls whisky is now exported to more than 40 countries worldwide.

The distillery’s burgeoning eco-friendly credentials prompted a visit by members of the Net Zero North Wales Network who came on a fact-finding mission to see the green revolution in action.

The aim of the network is to share information and best practice to help other businesses and organisations in the region, as part of the campaign to help North Wales reach net zero status.

Head Distiller Sam Foster said: “There was already a borehole here so it made sense for us to use that natural resource, pumped up from 40 metres down, that’s right here on the property and as this is North Wales it’s never going to run out.

“With the farm as a neighbour we’re happy to offer them the used barley and they come along with a tractor and trailer and collect it every day free of charge and it’s then mixed with other feeds to make healthy and nutritious food for the herd.

“It’s a win-win for both of us. We get rid of a waste product that we’d otherwise have to pay to have taken away and the farmer gets free feed for his cows.

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“Almost all our barley comes from Pembrokeshire but if any farmers closer to home would like to grow a crop we’d be happy to hear from them.”

Farmer Will Davies is equally delighted with the arrangement and said: “We use the barley as part of the mix for the dairy cows and it makes up 40 per cent of their feed and they do very well on it.

“It’s a big help getting the barley free of charge and it’s only just down the lane so it’s easy to go and pick some up every day – it works for the distillery and it works for me.”

The water used to make the whisky from the borehole comes down from the Carneddau Mountains in the Afon Aber that tumbles spectacularly over the famous Aber Falls which gives the distillery its name.

The distillery uses about 200,000 litres of water a week from the borehole along with yeast and malted barley and its whisky is aged in oak barrels including from the famous Chateau Talbot estate in Bordeaux whose wines cost over £100 a bottle.

Those oak barrels, which cost at least £400 each, contribute about 50 per cent of the flavour and all the colour as the whisky is matured in them in a warehouse and bottling plant seven miles up the road in Bangor.

Their most recent release of 350 bottles of, on March 1, of a St David’s Day Limited Edition six-year-old single malt has just sold out at £85 a bottle but there is plenty of availability of their award-winning single malt for £27.

Ashley Rogers Chief Executive Officer of the North Wales Business Council with Sam Foster and Catrin Butler of Aber Falls Distillery

Sam added: “We would like to be even more sustainable in future. The borehole saves us over £30,000 a year and we are looking at putting in more solar panels while all our company cars are electric.”

Their efforts have been praised by Ashley Rogers, the Chief Executive of the North Wales Business Council, which runs the Net Zero North Wales Network.

Ashley said: “What Aber Falls and Pentre Aber Farm are doing here, using the resources we have within our own businesses and working with local partners to make the best use of them, is an amazing example of the circular economy in action.

“This working together and sharing ideas is at the heart of how North Wales will get to Net Zero.

“Aber Falls is a real trailblazer, not just in terms of making wonderful Welsh whisky but also in the innovative ways they are using to operate in such an environmentally friendly way.

“You can’t get much greener than feeding the malted barley to cows just 500 yards away.”

Jim Jones, Chief Executive of North Wales Tourism, said: “Aber Falls is a top visitor attraction and what they have established here at Abergwyngregyn is a really first class facility.

“They’ve got a great brand which is going out across the UK and farther afield, alongside the visitor centre which has the potential to be part of tours showcasing the region’s fantastic food and drink offer.

“What is also impressive for me is the way the company look at all aspects of how their waste is used and the way that benefits their neighbouring farm.”

The team at Aber Falls will be updating local businesses on their journey to Net Zero so far and where they are planning to go next at the free Net Zero North Wales Network session at Pontio, Bangor on April 25th. For more details go to  https://bit.ly/3PDPkqy

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