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What Makes a Spirit Sustainable

It may seem strange to call a spirit sustainable. After all, sustainability promotes environmental and personal health, and, traditionally speaking, spirits aren’t considered the healthiest of beverages. But even so, many liquor companies are making serious efforts to be more environmentally conscious. 

“We think about sustainability as a multi-layered issue,” says Neil Grosscup, CEO of Tanteo Tequila. “It’s about using local Mexican glass instead of a lower-priced Chinese glass to reduce freight transportation and its carbon impact. It’s about being patient and not treating our agaves with unnatural fertilizers or chemicals to get a higher yield.”

With so many ways to be eco-minded, what qualifies as sustainable in the world of alcohol production?

The International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) has released a set of guidelines brands should meet in order to win the designation. The primary categories involve recycling or repurposing waste, creating an energy-efficient production process and the conscious sourcing of ingredients. 

Leading the pack on the recycling front, Canada’s Dairy Distillery and England’s Black Cow Vodka make their spirits from whey–the watery part of milk that remains after the formation of curds–that is leftover from local cheesemakers. Foxhole Spirits uses surplus grapes to produce its made-in-England Hyke Gin. 

Here in the U.S., Kentucky’s Maker’s Mark strives for more efficient production by focusing on water, perhaps the most integral ingredient of any spirit. 

“Production begins with water, which is why we created the protected watershed around our lakes,” explains Jason Nally, an environmental specialist at Maker’s Mark. “By owning, managing and preserving our own water source, we’ve eliminated the need for piped-in, chemically treated and cleaned water from a municipal source.”

Yet when it comes to sustainability, it’s not just about the supply chain. The health and well-being of employees and affiliated partners is also considered.

Coffee liqueur brand Kahlúa attempted to address this issue with an education initiative designed to positively impact Mexican coffee farmers and their families. Kahlúa offers training in sustainable farming techniques and promotes “problem-solving, solution orientation and collaboration within the communities.”

These companies’ recent steps towards greener alcohol production perhaps all begin with the understanding that any decision affects not just shareholders but employees, partners and the natural world. As Nally put it, “we care about our planet’s future, and recognize the role we play.”

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