Put a little green in your drink
The Handbook / Culture / A guide to sustainable spirits

A guide to sustainable spirits

Put a little green in your drink

Words— Kate Dingwall



Do you only shop organic? Is it almond or oat milk that graces your morning coffee, and do you pay that extra two dollars for organic avocados? If you’re conscious about what you put in your body—think far beyond organic apples and locally-grown tomatoes—well, you shouldn’t be skipping what’s going in your glass as well. 





It may feel like a burden to think about the environment when pouring up a happy hour beer—a cheeky drink is supposed to transport you away from your problems. Lucky for you, there are a host of brands out there that give back to the environment while still serving up all the bliss of an ice-cold drink, whether it is a mezcal that uses production waste to build homes for locals or a brand that harnesses wind and solar energy to churn out uber-smooth rum.


Brands like these are becoming more and more common on shelves. The International Wine and Spirits Competition recently set a standard for identifying sustainable spirits: mainly, they should partake in recycling and repurposing efforts (recycling casks, skipping single-use plastics, and use alternative energy sources) and look to locals to aid in production to reduce the carbon footprint. A little digging will unveil if your favourite brands meet the mark, but to help you kick-start your search, check out any of the below brands that boast a serious commitment to sustainability. 




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Fair Vodka

Sustainability extends far beyond what preservatives do and don’t inhabit your booze. Being a truly sustainable spirit means supporting the earth, your land, and your employees. The founder of Fair Vodka puts an emphasis on treating farmers with respect and paying them a living wage (hence the name). Made from quinoa over the usual platter of potatoes (harvested by a co-op of 1,200 farmers in the Bolivian Andes), Fair certified organic, gluten-free and, of course, fairtrade. If this sounds like the product of a new-wave California-cool distillery, it’s not: each bottle is made by a family in the Cognac region. 




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Montanya Rum

After studying the long history of rum production in Guatemala, Montanya Rum founder Karen Hoskin decided to adapt those techniques and bring them to the modern-day spirits market. Now, the Colorado distillery turns out award-winning white and aged rums with a sustainable lean. There’s a total of forty different environmental actions taken: all of the sugar cane is sourced from her family farm in Louisiana, then it runs through a sugar mill (run via biomass) and into the distillery (powered by wind). The distillery is located high up in the Colorado mountains (Montanya translates to mountain), which means less electricity is required to cool the fermentation tank: the icy mountain water does the trick just fine. 




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Ilegal Mezcal

While many corporate brands shy from sharing their stance on politics, Ilegal Mezcal welcomes it. Case and point: the brand’s infamous guerrilla campaigns with the statements, “The only thing that should be Ilegal is Mezcal,” in response to Trump’s immigration policy. And the brand stands behind their statements: sustainability and fair trade in the brand’s home of Mexico are pivotal to the brand’s pillars. They sponsor emerging musicians from across Latin America and have raised over $50,000 to date for human rights organizations.




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Black Cow Vodka

Black Cow earns points for creativity: the England-made vodka is completely zero-waste, made using leftover whey from grass-fed cow’s milk. The whey is left behind after two local kinds of cheese are made (Barber’s 1833 Cheddar and the Black Cow Cheddar), so instead of being left to the garbage or fed to farm animals, it is fermented (the sugars will turn to alcohol) and distilled, then filtered through coconut-shell charcoal. While that may sound like an oddly milky vodka, it’s just as clear as your regular vodka, but surprisingly smoother. 




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Sombra Mezcal

The Oaxacan-made spirit, founded by Richard Betts, a former environmental attorney and puts people are at the forefront of the brand. All of the waste from the mezcal production process is used to make bricks, which is then used to build houses for locals displaced by the recent earthquakes. The staff is made up of 77% (international PR and marketing teams make up the rest), and local Campesinos are on staff (with full employee benefits) to produce the agave and maguey. While agave in the region is traditionally ground by donkey pulling a limestone wheel (or tahona), here, it’s solar-powered, to avoid animal labour.




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360 Vodka

This vodka brand is green right down to the packaging: each bottle is made from 85% recycled glass, and all labels are made from 100% recycled paper. Once you get to the bottom of said bottle, the brand will donate $1 from every bottle sold to an environmental organization.




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Ketel One

Ketel One is often recognized as the drink of choice of ballers and big-shots, but the historic Netherlands distillery offers up more than a notable name. The Nolet distillery has been operating out of the Netherlands for more than three centuries, using a traditional windmill to produce all power and selling back unused power back to the grid. During the distillation process, groundwater is used to chill down the spirit while extra power is created by solar panels powered by on-site electric bikes (the staff rotates through peddling shifts).


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