Wasted Degrees Brewing | More Than Just Beer

Wasted Degrees Brewing was established in 2017 by Conall Low and John Thompson who left their degrees and day jobs behind in a move that saw them graduate from being keen hobbyists to microbrewery owners.

Brewing a core range and an ever-changing line-up of small-batch, limited edition beers, in the five years since it launched, the company has scaled several times. Most significantly, it moved from Conall’s parents’ garage in 2019 to a fully operational site in Blair Atholl where it is now on target to produce around 225,000 litres of beer by 2026 giving a 66% compound annual growth rate over 5 years.

The business is underpinned by a strong sense of social and environmental responsibility. Along with its fully electric renewables-powered brewhouse, Wasted Degrees makes a consistent effort to support local agriculture by brewing with Perthshire-grown ingredients whenever possible. From a social perspective, they have partnered with Musselburgh-based firm Hey Girls, with free period products being made available to visitors in an effort to tackle rural period poverty.

Although principally a production facility, the team began opening the brewery’s Taproom in 2020, supplemented its existing free tour offering and bringing customers closer to the brand both physically and on a personal level. The Taproom opens on Saturdays from April to September, serving-up pizzas, stews, and BBQ alongside up to twelve draught beers and cider.

With a 125% growth in production output over 2021, the team were shipping increasing amounts of beer across the UK. This, combined with the additional operational demands, allowed the team at Wasted Degrees to grow and a brewery assistant role created and filled in summer of that year.

This was followed in November 2021 by a change in ownership as Conall’s brother, Jack Low, acquired John’s share of the business. Jack’s background as the International Business Development Manager for The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, brought experience in commercial and proposition development to the business.

Wasted Degrees 05 1

Connall Low, founder of Wasted Degrees.

Photo Credit: Peter Sandground
The business is underpinned by a strong sense of social and environmental responsibility.

Securing The Green Recovery Capital Development Grant

In March 2022 Wasted Degrees successfully secured funding via the Green Recovery Capital Development Grant (more here link) to enable the purchase of a canning line and labelling machine, both of which are designed and manufactured in the UK by Bolton-based Microcan.

Conall commented, “The acquisition of a canning line has been transformational for Wasted Degrees and will likely represent the largest single investment of the next 5 years. As a business that began in a garage as a hobby running out of control - the ink was barely dry on my teaching degree - we’re now brewing back-to-back up to 6 days a week and preparing to launch into Europe this summer.”

What challenges were you facing as a business that led you to apply?

JACK: “Frustratingly, our plans for acquiring capital assets had been delayed due to the various challenges posed by Covid-19, particularly the reduced economic momentum which had led to fewer opportunities to grow our cash reserves. Whilst Wasted Degrees has grown significantly since 2017, the brewery was not in a position to fully fund the acquisition of the canning line – a cost of £45,000 ex-VAT – on its own.

“The brewery’s incumbent packaging operation and staff base was operating at full capacity, and we had no means of automating the process. 1,200 litre batches of beer would take us four days to bottle and label by hand. This had led to sizeable inefficiencies and combined with the lockdown closure of pubs and consumers pivoting to eCommerce, it had proven detrimental to the growth of the business.

CONALL: “Our business thrives because it’s orientated to supporting the circular and local economy. We support domestic agriculture by brewing with ingredients from Perthshire and wider Scotland where we can, and our recipes aim to reduce both food waste and food miles, while championing the region’s produce.

“For example, we regularly brew with delicious-but-blemished Perthshire raspberries that are rejected by supermarkets and our next new beer, has been brewed with locally foraged Spruce tips in place of imported hops. We use exclusively Scottish barley in our recipes and to take things full circle, our spent grain goes back to local farms to feed livestock.

“As well as positively impacting the bottom line, the move to canning, rather than bottling, is a better environmental choice. Cans are infinitely more recyclable; according to Stanford University, when it comes to the five most recycled household materials, recycling aluminium is the most energy efficient by a significant margin. And interestingly, recycling glass is the least energy efficient.

“Aluminium also creates less carbon during their overall lifecycle of production, transport to the brewery, filling, and transport to consumer simply because they weigh so much less than glass.

JACK: “It’s worth adding that we are positioned in a postcode that also suffers from inflated ‘Highlands and Islands’ shipping charges; the weight of the glass bottles was an issue in this respect too. We weren’t content with creating economic and environmental gains through our use of local raw materials only to erode those gains through sub-optimal packaging solutions. We needed the canning line to enable targeted and sustainable growth.”

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The canning line has enabled Wasted Degrees to scale in a sustainable, responsible, and carbon-conscious manner.

Photo Credit: Jack Low
It has turned that four-day job into a four-hour job, instantly delivering operational efficiencies and environmental savings.

How has the funding benefited Wasted Degrees?

JACK: “The grant award – 50% funding – made buying a canning line and labelling machine an immediate option which in turn, allowed us to move to the next level of production. It’s that simple. The fact that we could source such high-quality kit as designed and manufactured in the UK just made this even sweeter.

CONALL: “As we’ve already mentioned, we were at a point where we were struggling to keep up with demand and the canning line has enabled us to scale in a sustainable, responsible, and carbon-conscious manner.

“It has turned that four-day job into a four-hour job, instantly delivering operational efficiencies and environmental savings, as well as enhancing our speed to market.

“In addition, we’re now producing a product that appeals more to the drinker and trade customer. In our experience, cans lend themselves better to shelf space optimisation and improve the average order value via multi-unit purchases.

“Although it’s early days, the sales run rate of cans is around 40% greater than that of bottles. We’re grateful to Kirsty Easton, Alan Dobson and the rest of the team at Perth & Kinross Council – they’ve all been superb.”

How will it impact on the business ongoing?

CONALL: “The largest ongoing impact commercially must be realising the potential to sell our product beyond Scotland. That, and the fact that the cans create fewer overall carbon emissions across their lifecycle.

JACK: “It’s a confidence boost to the business, enabling us to chase opportunities that had previously been out of reach. We are on the cusp of signing a deal to export 15,000 units to Europe later this year. We’re really excited.”

CONALL: “From Mum and Dad’s garage five years ago, to selling our product abroad and giving people more reasons to love Perthshire, it’s fantastic!

What would you say to other small businesses thinking of applying?

JACK: “We treated the process as a learning and development opportunity. We went deep on reading academic research, specifically to better understand how we could scale the business in a carbon-responsible way. This really benefitted our business plan, adding more perspective into long term plans and better illustrating to us and our team the cause and effect of certain growth levers.

“Quantifying our ideas in different ways was helpful. Through reading various papers, we learned that a six pack of beer in bottles would take a single mature tree over 50 days to offset the associated carbon emissions. It really puts growth into perspective. By moving to cans, we think that we can save something like 60 tonnes of CO2 equivalents in year five of our current business plan. The time spent on applying for the grant has been valuable to us in more ways than one.”

Discover the brand : www.wasteddegrees.com

09 June 2022 By Nicola Martin

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