So you consider yourself pretty eco-conscious—you frequent the farmer’s market, your recycling game is on point, and you shop locally. But what about what you're drinking? That bottom-shelf stuff may quench happy hour cravings, but perhaps it’s time to put something greener in your glass—and no, we don’t mean Chartreuse.
In 2020, it’s surprisingly easy to drink sustainably. Bartenders across the country are redirecting their bar programs to embrace conscious cocktailing, and booze brands are following the trend. There are vodkas made from cheesemaker’s leftovers, and distilleries fueled by pedaling bikes. There are rums helping to rebuild the rainforest, and mezcals funding human rights campaigns.
What Makes a Spirit Sustainable?
It's fairly easy to recognize if food is organic and a wine natural, but what makes a spirit sustainable? Is it the quality and sourcing of the raw ingredients? Is it the brand’s philanthropic efforts? Is it the brand’s energy sources, or whether it hires from the local community?
Ideally, it's a combination of all: the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) recently set a standard for identifying sustainable spirits, awarding brands that partake in recycling and repurposing efforts (recycling casks, skipping single-use plastics, and use alternative energy sources), hire locally, and source ingredients consciously.
Spirits producers must have an energy-efficient production process, and use a local supply chain to reduce its carbon footprint. Bonus points if the brand funds community initiatives and puts a focus on employee holistic well-being.
So add a little green to your glass this Earth Day with the following feel-good bottles:
Most big brands tend to sidestep politics, but Ilegal mezcal is vocal about its support for human rights causes. The brand was famously behind a guerrilla street art campaign advocating for immigration reform (“The Only Thing That Should Ilegal is Mezcal”).
Over the years, Ilegal has also raised money for education, undocumented youth, wildlife animal protection, and LGTBTQ+ advocacy. Keep an eye out for the raucous brand-hosted concerts, most that sponsor emerging Latin American musicians or raising money for Planned Parenthood. Did we mention they also make some seriously smooth Mezcal? $49.99
Misadventure Vodka was born from the concept of hedonistic sustainability: the notion that you don’t need to punish yourself to do good for the world. After discovering that Americans dispose of 50-60 million tons of food a year, the founders (a bartender and an agricultural economist) came up with an easy-going vodka that diverts food waste destined for the dump (think stale muffins, baguettes, twinkies and beyond) and distills it down to make a crisp, gluten-free vodka. $21.99
Though Tanteo Tequila distributes their signature spice-infused tequilas (think smokey chipotle, grassy jalapeno and a deliciously biting habanero) across the country, locality is the heart of the brand. The vertically-integrated, community-led distillery is cooperatively-owned, with 85% of the co-op made up of local women including many who have risen to senior positions. For CEO and Master Blender Neil Grosscup, product quality is on par with worker happiness—staff are paid a living wage, English lessons are offered after hours and childcare is offered on-site (the brand is even turning old tequila tanks into a playground). $39.99
Diplomatico Rum & Canaima
Diplomatico’s elegant sipping rums are born and bred in Venezuela's Amazon. The distillery sits on acres of green pastures, where water buffalo and 700 Brahman cows (they also produce cheese and milks) feed on used grains from the distillery. All lingering water is recycled into compost, and solid waste is salvaged for recycling. Also from the distillery: the small-batch Canaima Gin, a bartender-founded gin brand that sources all botanicals sustainably from the Amazon and donates 10% of sales to rainforest conservation. $26-$221
Prairie Organic Spirits
Minnesota’s Prairie Organic Spirits does things old school. Very old school - all of the organic corn that makes the base of their award-winning gins and vodkas is harvested by hand in the same way the settlers did. They employ a co-op of USDA organic-certified local family farmers, and 1% of all sales goes into the Rodale Institute’s Spirit of Change fund to teach the next generation of farmers to use organic practices. $20
Novo Fogo Cachaça
Deep in the heart of the Brazilian rainforest is Novo Fogo’s carbon-negative, zero-waste cachaca distillery. The building sits on a slope, allowing the liquid to flow naturally through the distillation process, and a heat transfer process keeps energy use to a minimum. The brand has invested heavily in Brazilian reforestation efforts to preserve and restore the native trees that surround the 100% organic distillery. To mirror the sustainable production efforts, the brand runs a shot of health & wellness programs for brands and consumers across the world. Did we mention it's also the base for a very solid caipirinha? $36.99
Broken Shed Vodka
Broken Shed Vodka is inspired by the New Zealand concept of Kaitiaki, meaning that residents are the guardians of the people, lands and planets. The distillery starts with New Zealand’s purest water (sourced from a Northern geothermal system and a Southern natural filtration source), triple-distills it with whey protein from grass-fed cows, and finishes the vodka with no added sugars or sweeteners. $26.99
While this premium vodka reigns as the bottle of choice for nightclub ballers and other big shots, the company’s Nolet family distillery (it also makes Nolet gin) has a big sustainable lean. The distillery sources naturally chilled groundwater during the distillation process and all nergy is powered by an on-site traditional windmill (the world’s largest), solar panels, and electric bikes (staff take turns peddling). All excess power is sold back to the grid. Ketel One also hosts a globe-roving pop-up bar that educates drinkers on sustainable practices. $26.99
Black Cow Vodka
It’s said that Genghis Khan once asked if alcohol can be made of milk. Well, here’s your answer: each bottle of zero-waste Black Cow vodka is made using whey, the watery byproduct of cheese making. The folks at the British distillery source whey from local cheesemakers, ferment and distill it, and triple-filter the liquid through coconut shell charcoal. The end product is a creamy, crystal clear vodka—sip it in a martini, espresso martini, or a fitting White Russian. $36.74