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alcoholic beverages
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alcoholic beverages

by Jason Denney

Beer

Whiskey

Rum

Vodka

Gin

Tequila

Vermouth

Brandy

Wines (Unordered)


Like any beverage, a large portion of the environmental impact comes from the packaging and transport (also refrigeration, for beers). If not making it yourself, your goal should be to buy from local distilleries and breweries. Most local breweries and bars allow you to fill up reusable growlers. This is the best way to go, as recycling and producing new containers takes a lot more energy than you washing your own and filling up from kegs (which are also washed & reused). But if you’re going for six-packs, warm cans are the best option. Aluminum mining is horrible for the planet, however once produced, it’s the most recyclable and lighter than glass. Glass is the next best bet as long as it’s not being shipped far, which is another reason to buy local.

Water consumption is always a concern when it comes to food and beverages. Comparing between alcohol varieties, you can assume that the distilled varieties use more water, as they are usually distilled multiple times. However, people tend to drink less liquor, so it probably evens out? Even for the same type of alcohol, say beer, the usage can vary widely. One report said the ratio of water consumption to beer was 298:1, while Sierra Nevada reported 4:1. Perhaps some reports factor in end to end consumption (including water usage of raw ingredients), while others just report what they used for brewing their beer.

An interesting discovery this month, was that a few breweries are producing their liquors using food waste instead of grains, which greatly reduces their footprint. Discarded Spirits makes vermouth and rum using coffee bean husks and banana peels, while Misadventure makes their vodka from leftover bakery goods like breads, muffins, and cupcakes.

Some liquors, like tequila and rum, have waste problems and should ideally be avoided compared to other booze options. For every liter of tequila, you get about 11 pounds of pulp and 10 liters of acidic waste. Also, sugarcane is a notoriously destructive crop, producing massive amounts of wastewater and greenhouse gases… and Bacardi was sued for illegal waste dumping in the past. On the up side, DonQ rum turns its waste into compost and irrigation water (and my Puerto Rican friends rave about this brand).

FYI, I learned most beer is not vegan. A substance called Isinglass, a fish product, is used to remove yeast from beer.

In summary, try and make your own booze, but if you can’t, find someone local and use a refillable container. If you’re going for a big label, New Belgium is widely available and super ethical followed by Sierra Nevada. I should note that major labels like Bacardi and Budweiser are actually stepping up their sustainability game, so they’re at least moving in the right direction.

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