Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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6 May 2014

The Circular Economy in a glass

William Blake famously wrote: 

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour”.

I’d like, in this post, to invite you to imagine the local Circular Economy.  In a glass of stout.  

For anyone who doesn’t know, stout, according to Wikipedia, is “a dark beer made using roasted malt or roasted barley, hops, water and yeast”.  Next Tuesday, May 13th, is the third Totnes REconomy Local Entrepreneurs’ Forum (see poster, below right).  It’s an amazing event that seeks to inspire, nurture and invite community investment in the new economy of the town.  


At the first Forum, in 2012, I was part of pitching to the ‘Green Dragons Den’ the idea of a new brewery in Totnes, a social enterprise craft brewery, called New Lion Brewery.  The name came from the original Lion Brewery which closed in the town in 1921 having been a major employer for many years.  Another business pitching that day was Fungi Futures, whose founder Adam Sayner had already started growing oyster and other gourmet mushrooms on Totnes’ old coffee grounds.  

Two years later, Fungi Futures are thriving, and winners of a Devon Environmental Business Iniative  award.  New Lion Brewery is now up and running, with a substantial membership, beers available in the town, and a powerful vision of what a social enterprise brewery, founded on innovation, sustainability, community and profitability could look like in practice.  

Alongside our core beers, we have already begun producing short runs of bespoke cask and bottled beers which support and document the wider Transition process happening in the town.  I imagine that in 10 years, an exhibition of all our beer labels and pump clips, arranged in chronological order, will powerfully tell the story of what has unfolded during that time.  

'Beer the Change', a one-off beer created for last  week's 'A Walk through Totnes’s Radical Past, Present and Future' event.

Since 1929, when oysters were first added to the brewing process in New Zealand, an idea which reached these shores 9 years later, the ‘Oyster Stout’ has been part of the brewing landscape.  But what about an ‘Oyster Mushroom Stout’?  This brings us back to our idea of ‘the Circular Economy in a glass’.  So here’s how it works.  

New Lion Brewery gives its spent grains to Fungi Futures.  Fungi Futures innoculate the grains with oyster mushroom spores.  The resultant mushrooms are dried and then given back to the brewery.  We produce a stout which is infused with oyster mushrooms, and the spent grains from that brew go to Fungi Futures, and so on.  And, by the way, it is actually delicious.  Really delicious.  

New Lion Brewery's Head Brewer Mat Henney and Fungi Futures' Adam Sayner.

Other local enterprises who have pitched at the Forum over the last 2 years include School Farm CSA, Babes in the Woods, and Transition Homes.  In the context of the local economy, you can start to see how these things can hang together, support each other, and create something larger than the sum of its parts.  The brewery can celebrate the evolution of Transition Homes through bespoke beers, School Farm could grow some ingredients we need for our more seasonal, locally-flavoured ales, and hops perhaps, and could take for their compost any grains Fungi Futures can’t handle. A tour of the brewery could be offered as part of any Babes in the Woods experience.  You get the idea.  What the Forum does is lcreate the opportunities for those discussions, and allow us to dream of what it would look like if this happened across the local economy.   

Circular Stout will only be available at the 2014 Local Entrepreneurs’ Forum, so if you would like to attend an event that immerses you in the birthing of a new, more resilient, local economy, you can book to come here.  It won’t be your only opportunity to get your hands on an innovative beer rooted in the future possibilities of Transition though. The following week (May 20th, Totnes Civic Hall), the Totnes Pound is relaunched, and for the launch event, New Lion Brewery are creating ‘The Totnes Pound’, a bottled IPA which will only be available on the night of the launch. William Blake would have been proud.