A Booze Lover’s Guide to Sustainable Drinking

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As much as we all like to indulge in a stiff drink, the production, packing and distribution of your favorite hooch leaves one hell of a carbon footprint. According to a study by the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER), a single 750mL bottle of liquor produces more than six pounds of CO2, which is the equivalent of six giant exercise balls full of carbon dioxide for every bottle of booze you drink.

Thankfully, some companies have gotten hip to the cause and are taking major steps toward reducing their impact on the planet. Below are five ways some environmentally conscious brands are minimizing their carbon footprints so you can imbibe with a clear conscience.

1. Source Locally

Dad’s Hat, a Bristol, Pa., “Good Food” award winner, uses locally grown rye, which founder and distiller Herman Mihalich calls an “inherently sustainable ingredient,” as it helps prevent soil erosion and requires minimal fertilizer.

Similarly, Charleston, S.C.’s Striped Pig Distillery sources corn and native heirloom grains from local farms and sugar cane from nearby Savannah, Ga. “Sourcing locally not only lets us take advantage of local terroir but also lowers our costs and reduces our carbon footprint,” says owner Todd Weiss. “It’s a win-win.”

Sourcing locally isn’t just a strategy of small distilleries. All of Maker’s Mark corn and wheat comes from farms located within 30 miles of its Kentucky facility.

2. Reduce and Recycle

At Prohibition Distillery in Roscoe, N.Y., founder and distiller Brian Facquet says, “Nothing is wasted or thrown away.” The distillery gives spent mash and carbon from the distilling process to local farmers for feed and fertilization, as do Striped Pig, Dad’s Hat and Big Springs Spirits in Victorian Bellefonte, Pa. The latter’s owner, Paula Cipar, calls it “a farm-back-to-farm practice.”

Prohibition also heats its building, a 1929 firehouse and former VFW hall, with reclaimed water from the distilling process.

Sombra Mezcal has worked with architects at the Consultorio de Asesoría Arquitectónica (COAA) to make adobe bricks using its agave waste that are then used for rebuilding earthquake damage in the Sierra Mixe district of Oaxaca in Mexico.

At Striped Pig, a closed-loop glycol water system helps eliminate waste and reclaims condensing water for use in other parts of the process like fermentation and chilling mash. According to co-owner Andy Nelson of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville, a similar closed-loop system saves an estimated “500 to 550 gallons of water” per twice-daily run.

Some companies have cut waste by simply cutting the places to dump it. Five years ago, Jack Daniel’s pulled every single dumpster from the premises, according to senior vice president and general manager Larry Combs. The reason? To make employees reconsider throwing away materials that could be recycled. These hypervigilant measures help the company ensure that less than 1 percent of its waste ends up in a landfill.

3. When It Comes to Energy, Go Green

Many distilleries take advantage of their surroundings to save energy and reduce their environmental impact. At Striped Pig, large windows and skylights provide generous light nine months out of the year, and the facility doesn’t have heating or air-conditioning in its 5,000-square-foot warehouse.

Seattle-based Novo Fogo’s zero-waste cachaça production facility in Paraná, Brazil, is built on the slope of a hillside. “Each room is set a little bit lower than the next, so gravity moves liquid from one room to the other for processing,” says marketing director Luke McKinley.

At Sombra, a rainwater collection system supplies water for the production process, while Montanya Distillers in Crested Butte, Colo., and Square One Organic Spirits, headquartered in Novato, Calif., utilizes wind power for production at its Rigby, Idaho, facility.

“We’re actually the largest user of wind power in the entire state,” says Square One founder and CEO Allison Evanow of its facility in Idaho.

Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery in Gardiner, N.Y., uses 53 large solar panels for electricity, and Don Q Rum in Puerto Rico installed a photovoltaic (PV) array on top of its warehouse that produces a third of the facility’s electrical energy needs.

And as the only two American distilleries to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, Big Springs and Mother Earth Spirits, in Kinston, N.C., have taken their environmental stewardship to the next level.

4. Pay Attention to Packaging

Once you’ve polished off that bottle of your favorite spirit, it likely ends up (we hope) in a recycling bin. But if bottles are frosted or screen-printed, they “muck up the whole recycling stream,” says Evanow.

Her company uses treeless labels with soy ink and “plain jane” shipping cartons to reduce consumer waste. Similarly, Charleston, S.C.’s Virgil Kaine uses labels made with post-consumer waste, nontoxic glues and eco-friendly inks. Mexico’s Mezcales de Leyenda uses recycled glass and paper, as well as natural corks for easier recycling.

At Atlanta’s ASW Distillery, customers are encouraged to return their used bottles for a 15 percent discount in the tasting room. Bottles are then recycled or repurposed, depending on their condition.

Evanow says Square One’s customers often take the brand’s distinct bottles and repurpose them into lamps, vases or, in the case of the Berkeley, Calif., restaurant Gather, lighting fixtures.

5. Give Back

Above and beyond sustainable practices, many brands are actively investing in the lands they use. Novo Fogo is involved in a reforestation project in Brazil, while Jack Daniel’s partnered with the University of Tennessee to develop and oversee a sustainable orchard to supply the company’s sugar maple and white oak needs. And while she tries to do business via Skype and other electronic means as often as possible, Evanow purchases carbon offsets for her business travel.

Ultimately, all of these business agree that what makes good environmental sense also makes good business sense.

As Don Q rum’s Roberto Serrallés, a sixth-generation rum maker who also happens to have a PhD in environmental sciences, says, “Environmentally responsible practices are good for the planet, good for our community and good for our business. If we as a global community are to achieve a framework for planetary sustainability, our industry will have to play a large role in these efforts.”

We’ll raise a glass to that.

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