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How mint distillation just got cooler

12 August 2015

Summerdown Mint wanted to ensure a sustainable means of distilling the herb oils by reusing the water needed for the process. The company called on the services of cooling systems experts, Albion Cooling Systems Ltd.

Sir Michael Colman's Malshanger Farm in Hampshire makes an array of award-winning peppermint products and oils. What the consumers of the tea, mint chocolates and other products don't necessarily see is the sustainable nature of the business.

Summerdown Mint is renowned for growing Black Mitcham Mint - renowned throughout the world and known by French flavorists and perfumers as menthe Anglaise. Unusually, this farm distils its high quality single estate peppermint oil on site, to create a prized ingredient. It also grows and distils sought-after organic lavender and camomile.

Farm Manager Ian Margetts, who has worked for Sir Michael for the past 33 years and has run the herb business since it started 17 years ago, explains: "Distilling relies on heating water to between 75oC-80oC. We wanted to cool the water rapidly and efficiently to 30oC so that it could be reused time and time again. Our old system had served us well but it was time to upgrade".

Albion Cooling Systems, based in Essex, had supplied a cooling tower to a neighbouring farm in Hampshire and so the supplier was recommended to Sir Michael Colman's team because they were impressed with what Albion supplied. Albion are experts in this sector and, as well as supplying towers, offer filtration equipment and also provide parts and services for most makes of cooling tower. Helping specialist distillation processing plants is a growing part of Albion's wider business.

Martin Robinson, who runs Albion Cooling Systems, assessed the requirements and, in 2011, supplied a cooling tower which enabled the water to be re-used instead of wasting water. He says: "We reviewed the needs of the business and suggested a unit known as an Induced Draft Counter-Flow Tower which we installed in April 2011. This year, additional equipment was necessary to cope with the needs of an expanded business and so we supplied a second cooling tower to improve throughput and efficiency." 

Albion also tackled the need for easy installation. "Being a farm, they didn't have access to a crane or want the expense of hiring one in so we supplied a tower that could be delivered to site completely pre-assembled and off-loaded with a forklift. Usually towers are supplied in at least two sections requiring assembly on site," explains Martin Robinson. "We're now keen to work with more farms and distillation plants that are producing oils to specialist flavours and fragrance standards".

The water used is abstracted from the farm's own borehole and softened due to the chalky terroir.

The cooling tower was delivered in June 2011 and has been in operation ever since. In February of this year, Ian Margetts contacted Albion again. "Our business has been very successful," says Ian Margetts. "Due to the amount of oil we now distil, we needed a second, identical, tower in time for this year's mint harvest. This was delivered to us in May 2015 and is now fully operational".

Whilst most of the water is cooled and reused in the distillation process, some of the heated water is siphoned for use in the farm's boilers.

Ian Margetts adds he is "very happy with both towers - and with the service Albion provided".

Describing the background to the business, Mr Margetts says: "The second World War meant that land previously dedicated to Black Mitcham Mint growing was lost to other more essential food crops. The skill and the experience was lost and so we had to start from scratch. I learnt a lot from visiting other farms and distilleries in the USA and we gradually built this into an award-winning business. Most of our oil is used for the Summerdown brand. I like to point out that we export chocolate to Switzerland, lavender to France and tea to China. In practice, we also export oil and our branded products to Australasia, the Americas, other parts of Europe, Japan, Scandinavia and Egypt".

The 2,500 acre farm is mainly devoted to combinable cereal crops and to oilseed rape but 140 acres is devoted to growing an estimated 500 tonnes of herbs producing 1½ tonnes of peppermint oil, 400 kilos of organic lavender oil (mostly for use by Neal's Yard), plus a small amount of camomile oil.

Ian Margetts is justifiably proud of the farm's sustainable management. "Apart from our water re-use, Sir Michael Colman and his family were way ahead of their time in conservation matters. We do much in the way of conservation work to assist wildlife and the environment and always have done throughout my 33 years of managing this land," he says. "Albion Cooling Systems contributed to our sustainability record by helping us re-use water that might otherwise have been wasted."


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