In Good Spirits
Not that anyone needs another excuse to drink, but a trip to the bar just got altruistic
“Conscious” is hardly a word one would associate with the enjoyment of libations, but as an increasing number of alcohol companies and producers have aligned themselves with sustainable causes and practices, consumers can now contribute to saving the environment or help endangered animal species with every sip.
Vodka lovers can feel particularly virtuous, especially if they fancy themselves conservationists. Snow Leopard Vodka parlays 15 per cent of profits from the sale of each bottle to the Snow Leopard Trust, which helps keep alive the global population of less than 3,500 big cats. Since it was founded in 2006, the smooth, made-in-Poland, six-times-distilled spelt grain spirit’s sales has contributed over US$360,000 to snow leopard conservation projects in Mongolia, China, India and Kyrgyzstan.
Meanwhile, Organic Ocean Vodka shows its support for the environment through safe and sustainable production methods. On its plantation in Hawaii, organic sugar cane is harvested from ripe canes, leaving the young canes for the next harvest. This simple practice eliminates the need for burning the sugar cane to clear the strip land—a practice Singapore knows and loathes, thanks to the noxious haze from Indonesia that blankets the island several times a year.
Organic Ocean Vodka’s bottles are also made from recycled glass, while its facilities employ natural lighting and use natural cleaning. The brand, which happens to be gluten-free as well, supports organisations such as Save the Seas, Oceana – Protecting the World’s Oceans, and Reef Check.
Similar conservation champions can be found in other sectors of the industry. Elephant Gin (Germany), a distillation of 14 botanicals including African Baobab, Buchu, Devil’s Claw and African Wormwood, does for African elephants what Snow Leopard Vodka does for the mountain cats—by putting 15 per cent from the sale of every bottle to two foundations they support, namely Big Life Foundation and Space For Elephants.
Closer to home, Australia’s Noble Spirits launched the “world’s first ethical and sustainable gin” in April 2015. To make FAIR Juniper, Noble Spirits has teamed up with co-operatives of farmers in Central Asia and France to engage in Fairtrade practices, paying farmers the fair prices that enable them to cover their production costs and educate their children, among other humane needs.
That said, it is the whisky industry that’s the most united on the environmental front. In 2009, the Scotch Whisky Association launched an Industry Environmental Strategy for its member distilleries, which altogether produce for more than 90 per cent of the industry. The target was to obtain 20 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020, and 80 per cent by 2050.
In an industry where giant stills are traditionally heated by burning fossil fuels, this is a huge commitment. Evidently though, these distilleries—which produced the 1939 Gordon & MacPhail Generations Mortlach 75 Years Old Single Malt, Glenfiddich 50-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch, and Highland Park 50-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky—have put their money where their mouths are. They are ahead of their 2020 goal, having reached 16 per cent in 2012.
Stepping Up Sustainability
Like whisky making of old, the fuel-intensive processes of beer brewing and winemaking are hardly environmentally friendly. To that end, Mountain Goat Brewery has incorporated nine solar panels and an 11,000-litre rainwater tank to its headquarters in Victoria, Australia. The tank helps Australia’s first organic beer maker save approximately 250,000 litres of water annually. The vegan-friendly, preservative-, animal by product- and additive-free craft beer brewery also rewards employees for good environmental practices. Every Christmas, staff members are given a bonus based on the “number of times they rode their push bike, walked or caught public transport to work in the year,” says Moutain Goat brewery on its website. Hopefully, being bought over by industry powerhouse Asahi will not change these earth-friendly fundamentals.
In comparison, wines require far more water to produce than beer: it takes 7.5 litres of water to produce 30 millilitres of beer, and a whopping 13.2 litres for the same measure of wine. Fortunately, vineyards tend to enjoy plenty of surface area, and the recognition that nature can be helpful has long caught on. In California, for instance, over 110 wineries are solar-powered. Dana Estates, a Korean-owned organic vineyard in Napa Valley known for its Lotus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (the 2007 and 2010 vintages had scores of 100 from wine critic Robert Parker), installed 800 solar modules to produce enough renewable energy to power more than 81 homes daily. This prevents nearly 117 tonnes of harmful greenhouse gases from being released every year.
Across the pond in France, Champagne Duval-Leroy, the world’s first vegan champagne, has adapted the maintenance of its vineyards to nature. “We’ve taken a resource-conservation approach to prevent runoff and groundwater pollution, optimised machinery, and decreased our use of herbicides by over 70 per cent since the late 1970s through the grassing over of plots and using alternatives to insecticides, such as insect sexual confusion techniques,” said sixth-generation owner Julien Duval-Leroy. In an environment and industry that depend heavily on pesticides, the Duval-Leroys’ commitment is astounding—it took them 20 years to finally convert their champagne to vegan in 2015.
Among alcoholic tipples, cider arguably has the lowest environmental impact, and it all boils down to how it is made. Apples are pressed and then fermented at a much lower temperature than that for making beer and wine before being bottled. This means less fuel consumption, and if you’re consuming it where it is brewed, your carbon footprint is minimised (this applies for all alcohol).
Whatever your choice, the drift is clear: with more production methods going the sustainable route, and consumption benefitting more environmental and conservation issues, the bar may well become a more conscious meeting place. And that’s something else we can drink to.