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Growing speciality mushrooms from whiskey waste

Growing speciality mushrooms from whiskey waste

The owners of Canterbury Brewers & Distillery were unsure whether anyone would fund their ‘wacky’ idea to grow mushrooms using the waste from their whiskey distillation process. However, finding the confidence to apply for grant funding has led to unexpected results and created new opportunities they hadn’t anticipated. 

We caught up with owners Jodie and Jon Mills, who explained how receiving a grant from our Business Sustainability Challenge has helped to significantly grow their business and ultimately benefit their local economy.  

About Canterbury Brewers & Distillers   

Canterbury Brewers & Distillers is a bar, restaurant, brewery, and distillery based on a single site in Canterbury. The business is run by partners Jon and Jodie Mills.   

They produce over 14 craft beers and ciders, as well as a large spirit range including rum, gin, and vodka. They have also recently embarked on distilling whiskey, for which they are receiving international recognition. In March 2024, they took home four top awards from the World Whiskies Awards for their single malt whiskeys.   

Topping off a successful March, Jodie was also awarded the Kent Women in Business Awards 2024, for the Growth Award category.   

Thinking sustainably  

Making sure their business is environmentally sustainable is an important consideration for Jon and Jodie. They have successfully designed and built a system to capture the waste energy from their brewing and distillation processes to heat their restaurant and bar. The captured heat is also used to provide hot water for brewing the next day.  

Jodie and Jon wanted to take this further and find a use for all the waste from their whiskey, beer and gin making. The by-products from this process are waste heat, carbon dioxide, water, and spent grain.  

An idea was planted! Could all this waste be used to grow food in the form of speciality mushrooms which could then be used on the menus in their restaurant?   

Watch: Jon Mills explains their heat recapture system with Low Carbon Kent

Funding their innovative idea  

In March 2023, Growing Kent & Medway launched the first round of the Business Sustainability Challenge. The grant was available to local businesses that had an idea to make their production more sustainable or create circular economies in the food and drink sector.   

At first, Jon was unsure whether to apply, not confident he would be given funding to test his theory. Fortunately, they put in an application and were awarded £13,810 in funding towards their project to grow mushrooms from their production waste.    

The application process involved filling out a form and answering questions about the business and project idea. The application was less challenging than Jon anticipated. “I am not a very good filler of forms, don't be put off. Just put some time aside and systematically work through it. If you believe in what you are trying to do, you already have all the information,” assured Jon.   

Testing the theory   

The grant funding is being used by Canterbury Brewers and Distillers to test whether mushrooms can be grown entirely from the by-products of whiskey production.   

Mushrooms need the material they are grown in to be pasteurised at high temperature, which uses energy and is expensive to do. During the distillation process, the grain, known as mash, is incidentally pasteurised. Using the mash as the substrate, or growing material for mushrooms, should remove the need for a separate pasteurisation process. The mushrooms also require a certain amount of carbon dioxide, and of course water and heat, to grow – all of which they have available at the brewery.   

Over eight months, the grant project is testing several varieties of mushrooms on their different spent grains. The trials will also look at different temperatures and pH levels.   

The hope was to develop the small-scale production of speciality mushrooms, which could be added to their restaurant menu and sold to their customers.   

As well as aiming to grow delicious mushrooms for human consumption, their spent grain is given to a local farmer and used for cattle feed. The trials will look at whether growing the mushrooms in the spent grain before being used as livestock feed will result in added protein and be beneficial to the farming sector.   

The results  

The trials have been more successful than Jon and Jodie had anticipated, and in ways they hadn’t expected.   

So far, they have successfully cultivated two types of mushrooms; black pearl and blue oyster. Each week, distilling a single whiskey batch has the potential to yield around 160kg of mushrooms, based on trial results. This substantial quantity of mushrooms is more than they could use within their restaurant, so the partners are now exploring innovative routes to take these mushrooms to market. From luxury food products, tinctures and even full circle back to mushroom-based spirits.   

The potential scale of the opportunity also means they are now considering building a new production facility on a local brownfield site. This could have a significant impact on the local economy, boosting tourism and creating new jobs in the region.   

As well as directly leading to the potential growth of their business through new revenue streams generated by their new products, taking part in the grant programme has had other benefits they didn’t expect.   

Project updates on their social media accounts with #MushroomMondays have generated great engagement and interest in their business.   

The project has also led to unexpected connections and collaborations with other businesses. From conversations with other experts and academics, to waste management companies interested in their results. They’ve even connected with a vineyard in Australia and are sharing ideas to learn from each other about innovating with their waste products.   

The trials have resulted in the development of new skills for not only the owners but several staff members too.   

Jodie comments, “[The grant] provided the resources needed to invest in key areas such as infrastructure, research, expansion, training, and partnerships. This acceleration has enabled us to further develop our sustainable initiatives and enhance our overall business operations.”  

The future  

Having never previously applied for innovation grant funding, this project has given Jon and Jodie the confidence to seek new funding opportunities to continue to grow their ideas. Jodie added, “Now we've bitten the bullet, and gone for it, we've learned how much easier it was than we anticipated in terms of all the help that [Growing Kent & Medway] has given us. Without that support we wouldn't have made the progress that we have, so we realized how important it is to seek out these funding opportunities.” 

If you’re considering applying for an innovation or R&D grant, Jon’s advice is to go for it. “If you have a great idea and are prepared to work hard, apply and doors will open,” he says.   

Jodie added, “So it might be a small idea that you've got already that could really blow up and expand with the help of Growing Kent & Medway. They provided lots of advice and support. And their network of people is huge, so that’s a real positive.”  

As part of their commitment to building a sustainable business, Jon and Jodie are keen to inspire others and share their project and ideas with the community. Customers can hear all about their commitment to sustainability when they visit

 > Further information about the Business Sustainability Challenge.

Jon and Jodie first contacted Growing Kent & Medway to talk through the idea and were encouraged to apply once they were provided with a few pointers about how to develop their initial idea into a project that could receive funding. If you have an idea and want to talk to one of our Innovation Growth Managers to see if it could become a reality, like Jon and Jodie’s project, email [email protected].

Further information about the current round of Business Sustainability challenge can be found here. Deadline for applications is 30th April 2024. 

Black and white text Canterbury Brewers & Distillers Logo with Canterbury Cathedral graphic image