Quionia's & oscar's wild eco-dream about 'full circle beer'
Quiònia and Oscar are sustainable entrepreneurs and true eco-dreamers too. They started as homebrewers in 2013 with an eco-dream and now they are the proud founders of a sustainable project in rural Catalunya, called the Lovilot Farm Brewery.
Quiònia and Oscar are both children of local farmers, but it took them some time to find their own vocation. Quiònia studied biology, and worked for some time in the development of renewable energy. She lived in Barcelona, The Netherlands and Malta before she decided to return to the village of her childhood.
Change your local enviroment and you change a bit of the world
Quiònia and Oscar wanted to develop a sustainable project that would fit their personal interest, would made them proud, and support them in making a positive impact on their own local rural community. Because: “If you can change your own local environment, then you change a bit of the world”.
“We didn’t start our project because we wanted to earn money. We started it because we wanted to live like this; a natural lifestyle. But we need to earn a living of course and make money otherwise the project will simply cease to exist.” They also focus on doing things in a natural way to limit the impact on the environment. “We are living in a world where the weather changes a lot. It is 30⁰c in April, that is crazy. We have to do something about it.” That is why they farm organically and use sustainable energy sources when possible. And try to do everything as local as possible which has a positive impact on all three sustainability elements. “Our aim is to sell everything as close as possible and so we try not export a lot of our products. First we focus on finding buyers as close to our location as possible, but if we cannot find them, we have to look further.”
It started with a wild eco-dream. Quiònia did not like the taste of beer and wanted to create a craft beer she actually liked and do this locally, using only homegrown organic ingredients. Today, 10 years later, Quiònia, Oscar and Mansabary, manage a brewery, craft beer tastings at the farm and 12 hectares of sustainable cereals and 4 hectares of hops. They have 25 types of full circle craft beer. Full circle means that they produce all of the ingredients for their craft beer locally. They also sell their sustainable cereals, malts and hops to other breweries and manufacturers of cosmetics. All their products are also organic. “We don’t use the word organic. We could, but we don’t. We don’t want to make it more complicated as sometimes consumers confuse sustainability with organic and biological. They think that all the organic products are also sustainable, but this is simply not true. All the organic craft beers for example produced in Catalunya are not sustainable, because all the ingredients are produced abroad. This is not sustainable, even though it is organic.”
The hop field. Image by Lovilot
Malts produced by Lovilot. Image by Eco-dreamer
The Lovilot farm brewery. Image by Eco-dreamer
Sometimes sustainable choices = more effort or time
Often people tend to look at companies to make more sustainable choices, but also consumers themselves need to make more sustainable choices. We wonder which choices eco-dreamers make when it comes to their own lifestyle and consumer behavior. Which sustainable products and services do they use? Do they also buy sustainable clothing and gifts for others? In short, how do eco-dreaming entrepreneurs take stock when it comes to the sustainability of their own lifestyle and consumerism?
Quiònia and Oscar think they have a quite sustainable lifestyle. “We live in the village and it is small but we have everything we need locally. Oscar engineers most of the used machinery himself and he buys locally or has parts made by local craftsman. Our family also grows their own vegetables. Another thing is that at home we use wood pallets and solar panels too. Only a few times a year, we will have to buy a product online or catch a plane to get somewhere in Europe. We could go by van, but then we need more time. A luxury which we don’t always have with a farm.”
dare to Make small concessions to make impact on the whole
Quiònia an Oscar really take pride in their independence as entrepreneurs and that is why they decide not to work with investors, but fund their project step by step. “Imagine we have more then 25 different types of craft beer and we sell mostly 3 of them. Investors would make us only produce those 3 craft beers. And we want to produce all the types of craft beers, we want to produce and want to be able to choose the way we want to do it. We just love trying new things for example spontaneous fermentation craft beer; with this type of craft beer you do even know if you will bottle it one day or not.”
Sometimes you have to make small concessions on a single step to continue to be able to make an impact on the whole. “In 2017, when we had our first craft beer, our Sant Joseph Eco beer, made 100% with our own sustainable ingredients, we could demonstrate to everybody that our project was possible. Now we have to prove it is economically sustainable, because making 1 ton of organic malt here is still more expensive than buying it from a maltery abroad. We are producing it and will continue to produce it, because with this malt, our craft beer is sustainable all together. And our ‘Full circle beer project’ is completed.”
“We try not to export a lot of our products. However, we do sell hops to buyers located in South of France, but that is closer to us in Catalunya than some parts of Spain are. For some of our specialty craft beers, like the Lambic craft beers and second spontaneous fermentation craft beers, we know we don’t have a market in Spain. We think that for the coming 10 years, we will have to continue to sell abroad, because otherwise it is just not economically viable because of the size of our local craft beer market. This year we want to look at possibilities in some other European countries with a more established beer culture. So we will visit the Borefts Festival, which will be held on 22nd and 23rd of September 2023 in Bodegraven, The Netherlands. So if you are interested in meeting us and in tasting our craft beers, you can visit us there too.”
Challenges in a rural area: Creating exposure & matching infrastructure, ambition & belief
Sustainable entrepreneurship in rural areas also presents some unique challenges. One of their biggest challenges is constantly creating enough exposure for their story. “This is more difficult than scaling our production. It was hard especially in the beginning. Now everybody related to craft beer knows about our project; at least in Catalunya. They know that there is a farm brewery in the far west. The far west is dry, not very populated, in the middle of nowhere and fantastic”, says Quiònia with a smile.
Currently, the brewery and the farm are located on 2 separate locations in the same community. To take a next step in sustainability, you would aim to limit transportation. And this would mean trying to combine all the business activities on one location. Doing this in a rural area can present some additional challenges. “In the beginning we couldn’t brew our craft beer on the farm. Now, legislation allows us to move the brewery to the farm, because now more than 70% of all the ingredients are made on the farm itself.” But the challenge is creating an energy supply that enables them to scale up the beer brewery and create an extra maltery at their rural location to meet the demand. “Here at the farm, we have been using sustainable energy sources for our maltery from the beginning. It was a practical choice. We didn’t have any energy infrastructure here and that is why we started with the use of solar panels and wood pallet. Now demand is growing and growing. The size of the maltery we have is enough to create malt for our craft beers, but now we also sell malt we don’t use to other brewers. That is why we are now considering building a new bigger maltery here. The biggest challenge is not the investment needed to build maltery in this area but the heavy investment needed just to create an energy supply to support it.”
Moving their maltery to an industrial location with an existing energy infrastructure is not an option as it is not available in their community and even if it was they feel it does not fit their eco-dream.
Have fun with it & keep finding ways to help each other out locally
Finally, Quiònia an Oscar have three learnings for other sustainable entrepreneurs they would like to share. “It isn’t easy and people will not always believe in your eco-dream; or any other type of dream for that matter. You will also have to invest a lot of time and effort, so having fun in what you do is the most important thing.”
An essentiality, is working together with other (preferably local) entrepreneurs and find ways to help each other out. For example, Quiònia an Oscar work together with their neighbor, a cattle rancher, they barter wort for manure to nourish crops. They have also worked together with other local smaller brewers to investigate if, together they could produce enough sustainable craft beer together using Lovilot’s organic produce to create enough volume to cater for big festivals.
Don’t forget a lot of problems can be overcome if you stay true to your belief, use your inventiveness and take it step by step. Nobody thought it was possible to grow hop in the heat, dryness and windiness of Catalunya. And they proved them wrong. Many people thought it was not possible to create ‘Full circle beer’. And they proved them wrong too. They made it possible by closely monitoring soil and weather conditions and continuously exploring new methods for example to trellis their hop, make cuttings or to use an algae as a natural sunscreen for leaves.