Six spirits producers at the forefront of sustainability
Sustainability has never been a more important consideration, in the drinks industry and beyond. Drinks producers are increasingly looking at ways to improve their businesses in this regard, not only when it comes to their supply chain, production process and packaging, but taking social aspects into account too.
And while these practices are becoming more widespread, there are some that are leading the charge, incorporating this mindset into every aspect of their business and brand, and pioneering new approaches too. Below are some of the spirits category’s sustainability pioneers.
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Nc'nean Distillery, Scotland
Scottish whisky distillery Nc'nean was set up to “create light and delicious spirits which can exist in harmony with this planet we call home”. The distillery gets its name from the queen of spirits in ancient Gaelic mythology, Neachneohain, who is said to have been a fierce protector of nature.
From the outset, the company has operated using sustainable practices, and published a sustainability report in 2020, the same year it bottled its first whisky. By then the distillery already had net zero carbon emissions, operating on 100% renewable energy. The b-corp distillery is certified organic, and zero waste too, recycling or reusing 99.97% of the site’s waste.
Like the rest of the range, the distillery’s core whisky, Nc'nean Single Malt, is produced using 100% Scottish barley, and is packaged in a 100% recycled glass bottle. In addition to all of its sustainability credentials, it’s an exceptional whisky too.
In addition to its quirky marketing and unusual range of spirits, Sauna Barrel vodka among them, Finland’s Koskenkorva is dedicated to sustainability, considering it a way of life.
This starts with the distillery’s bioenergy plant, which runs on the barley husks from spirits production, and powers distillation. The ashes created by this process are in turn used to fertilise the barley fields, and other barley waste is used to make animal feed or paper. This all contributes to a recycling and reutilization rate of 99.9%, not to mention a reduction in carbon emissions of more than 50% since 2014.
One of the distillery’s bottlings, Koskenkorva Vodka Climate Action, highlights the benefits of regeneratively farmed barley, a farming method that removes CO2 from the atmosphere, storing it in the ground. The distillery has committed to offering training in regenerative farming to all of its contract farmers by 2025.
Foxhole Spirits, England
Waste is the primary focus of the sustainability practices of England’s Foxhole Spirits. According to the distillery, its use of surplus materials is not only sustainable, but results in more interesting spirits too.
In the case of the distillery’s Hyke Gin, for example, the surplus materials are grapes imported into the UK that aren’t visually suitable for being sold in the UK, but are still ideal for spirits production. Foxhole’s rum, Mad City, uses sustainable botanicals where possible, not to mention the use of molasses – a byproduct of sugar production used by much of the rum industry.
Hyke Gin Very Special makes use of a by-product of the English wine industry – the grape must that would usually be discarded after pressing. The resulting English grape spirit is blended with neutral grain spirit and redistilled with 19 botanicals.
Another English distillery making extensive use of surplus produce and byproducts is Greensand Ridge, with a range of interesting spirits well worth exploring.
Discarded Spirits Co, Scotland
Among those drinks brands that have sustainability and waste reduction at their very core is Discarded. Set up by William Grant & Sons, this range first launched in 2018 with a Sweet Cascara Vermouth, made using the fruit of the coffee berry, usually a waste product. Not only shining a light on this particular waste product, and creating an interesting vermouth in the process, it helped to start a conversation about waste in the drinks industry.
The range now consists of three products, including a vodka made from Chardonnay grape skins and fruit that are a byproduct of wine production. Also added to this is the alcoholic by-product of dealcoholized wine.
Discarded Banana Peel Rum, meanwhile, not only makes use of banana peels that would otherwise have been discarded, but rum that is used to season casks for malt whisky maturation, which can sometimes be discarded too.
The Lost Explorer Mezcal, Mexico
Sustainability is a hot topic in agave spirits, with sustainable practices being adopted throughout the industry. One brand that is inextricably linked with sustainability, and with a focus on the social aspect in particular, is The Lost Explorer Mezcal.
The core of this is a partnership with global charity Voice For Nature Foundation, resulting in support for three projects that have an impact on the brand’s local communities in Oaxaca. The Lost Explorer makes use of a range of sustainable practices in its production too, from solar panels in its agave fields for renewable energy, to biodiversity practices and work at The Lost Laboratory to germinate seeds of genetically diverse agave.
The Lost Explorer range consists of three mezcals, namely an Espadín, Tobalá and Salmiana.
Another agave spirit producer pioneering sustainability practices is Mijenta Tequila, the first tequila to be b-corp certified, as well as being recognised as additive free by Tequila Matchmaker. The company is carbon neutral, makes no use of herbicides or pesticides, and uses packaging that’s eco-friendly.
Cooper King Distillery, England
When Cooper King Distillery was set up, it incorporated a number of sustainable practices, encompassing everything from renewable energy to packaging initiatives to reduce waste.
A relatively new distillery – its first products were launched in 2018, the same year it began filling whisky casks – Cooper King is among the few distilleries in the UK to have run on renewable energy from the outset. Its use of vacuum distillation makes use of significantly less energy than conventional stills, and a closed-loop system for cooling condensers saves water too. The distillery also captures and recycles hot water from its whisky distillation process.
Cooper King Distillery claims to produce England’s First Carbon-Negative Gin, removing 1kg of CO2, and planting one square metre of woodland, per bottle of Cooper King Dry Gin and Herb Gin sold.
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