Does alcohol damage the planet? Well, currently the answer to that question is yes, but then practically everything that us humans do does. But it doesn’t have to be as damaging and there are some excellent sustainable alcohol brands out there doing an excellent of changing the status quo.
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Hat’s off to anyone who doesn’t drink. I know my life flows better without it. That said I wouldn’t want to give it up completely. I love a good glass of red wine, despite this non-essential commodity being trucked or shipped here from abroad.
If you’re like me, you’re fond of the gargle, and just looking to reduce the environmental impact of your favourite tipple read on to find a list of eco alcohol companies to support.
One of the best ways to reduce the carbon footprint of beer is to buy it in reusable containers. Something that is now possible in Ireland. A few pubs are selling beer in returnable growlers (beer containers) , which are filled with draft beer from the tap. I’ve listed the places I know of on my Map of Eco Businesses in Ireland. Find the one in your area.
If reusable containers isn’t an option for you then aim to buy beer in cans. They are lighter to transport and easier to recycle than glass bottles meaning lower carbon emissions. Also try to buy loose in order to avoid the plastic wrapping or plastic rings that accompany packs of cans.
Buying the largest size possible is another way to reduce on overall packaging, like hiring an entire key for a party or simply opting for 500ml cans/bottles instead of 330ml. But there’s a catch. It only makes sense to do this if it doesn’t lead to excess consumption which is wasteful in itself.
It’s also good to support local, independently beer makers where you can and you can find a list of Irish craft breweries on the Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland website.
We’re now seeing beer brewed from food waste onto the market including one from leftover bread by Rascal Brewery in Dublin. Called Toast Ale this product is available in 4 packs in Dunnes Stores with profits going to charity.
If your body is a temple you might be interested in Munster Brewery’s organic beer called the 12 Towers.
Viking Irish Drinks make cider (and wine and a liqueur) on their farm in Waterford. According to their website, production is organically based and wastewater is fed to a reed bed system. Also all bottling and labelling taking place in their cidery.
As with beer there are a few places the offer wine refills now so check out my Map of Eco Businesses in Ireland to see if there is any in your area.
I’m so glad to see organic wine sections becoming the norm in a lot of off-licences and supermarkets, and they can be very reasonably priced. Supervalu still sell a lovely organic red Tempranillo by Clearly Organic for €8.50 and Molloy’s sell a reasonably priced organic prosecco by Fascino for €12.95, which I’ve tasted and heartily approve of!
A recent trend in the world of organic wine is what’s termed ‘natural’ wine. The certification schemes for ‘organic’ or ‘biodynamic‘ wines are only concerned with how the grapes are grown, they don’t get involved in how they’re processed into wine. ‘Natural‘ wines on the other hand are made with minimal intervention. On a practical level this typically translates into the grapes being hand picked and de-stemmed, the absences of any machine pumping and mechanical separation of must from pomace (it is only hand-pressed), and finally, nothing introduced to the tanks or barrels other than the wine must. Natural wine making processes don’t allow makers to rectify the wine by adding acid or sugar to control the alcohol content, or enzymes. Instead the wine is only fermented with indigenous yeast that is naturally occurring on the grape’s skin. Also no additional suphites are added to natural wines – although there will be naturally occurring sulfites. This can mean that natural wines are more unstable.
The problem for me is that the term ‘natural wine’ is not legally defined and not certified so any Tom, Dick or Harry could label their wine as ‘natural’ and hop on the bandwagon. So I’ve decided I’m will give ‘natural’ wines a go but only those that are labelled organic or biodynamic, because knowing that a producer has gone to the trouble of being certified for these labels gives me greater confidence that they’re being genuine when they use the term ‘natural’.
One good source for organic and biodynamic wine is the online wine company Nude Wines
Another way to buy more sustainably is to buy local. In Ireland that means supporting Wicklow Way Wines, who make raspberry, blackberry, strawberry wine from local berries, or Lusca Merlot wine grown and made in Lusk, Co Dublin. or Waterford wine from Viking Irish Drinks
A hop across the pond and you have a biodynamic and organic vineyard in Wales called Ancre Hills. The 12 hectares of vines at Ancre Hill Estates are inspected by DEMETER every year to ensure all cultural practices in the vineyard go above and beyond organic standards in line with the full bodynamic accreditation achieved by the vineyard in 2014. Their building on site has walls constructed from straw bales and a living, green roof and waste water is treated by a series of ecological pools and plantings.
Sea Change is an interesting wine supplier in Ireland and they UK. They donate to marine charities every time a bottle of their wine is sold. They’ve also removed the unnecessary plastic wrap around the cork, use renewable plant-based closures and labels made from certified sustainable paper and grape waste. Their wines also appear to be vegan.
Just a quick note on wine corks. I keep reading how they’re compostable and yet we frequently find old wine corks in our compost heap, some more than 7 years old! Of course natural corks are a much better alternative to non-recyclable plastic corks but it’s impossible to tell which bottle has which until you open it. Plus the foil cover on corked bottles is only collected for recycling in Ireland if you can make it into a tennis balls size! This is why I prefer to buy my wine with a screw top if I can. That way I can avoid all non-recyclable packaging.
Whisk(e)y – I am delighted to report that we can now buy organic whiskey from Waterford Distillery. My hubbie and Father in Law did a tour of the distillery and tasting session and raved about it! (This wasn’t a free gig, we paid for the tour ourselves, we don’t do sponsored posts or accept gifts)
Slane Whiskey is a paragon of sustainable distilling. They harvest rainwater, use river water to cool their still thereby avoiding refrigeration plant and equipment. They also recover waste heat from their Stillhouse and Brewhouse batches to heat up the next batches of brewing water and distillation washes, and operate an anaerobic digester on-site generating natural gas to fuel one of their steam boilers. Their waste is fed to local cows and they actively promote biodiversity on the site including restoring a section of a nearby river and planting break and cover crops and planted additional hedgerows in the field margins of their farm.
Nc’nean in Scotland makes certified organic whisky from organic Scottish barley and natural spring water, in stills powered by biomass boilers run on timber from their own land. Their whisky is bottled in recycled post-consumer glass bottles with a natural cork stopper and wood top, sealed with a compostable tamper seal, uncoated paper labels (with a small amount of plastic) and comes in a gift tube made from 90% recycled materials. The company minimise waste and pollution wherever possible, diverting by-products to feed cows and fertilise land, and using natural cleaning products on site. They also use rainwater to cool their stills, which they recycle back into a pond on site.
Gin – Dublin based Stillgarden use botanicals from it’s pollinator friendly community garden to flavour it’s gin. Also if you return a Stillgarden glass bottle with a stopper to their Distillery Shop to get €2 off your purchase, or you can return 10 empty pouches by prepaid post or drop them off at the distillery to receive 1 free 500ml pouch
In Northern Ireland, on the shores of Lough Erne The Boatyard Distillery make gin and vodka from organic ingredients, while in England you can also get certified organic gin from Fatty’s Organic Spirits in bottles printed with organic inks, and sealed with cork and wax by had.
On the Isle of White the gin distillery of the same name has successful been certified as being carbon neutral with plastic-free packaging. While Cooper King Distillery, in York offer carbon-negative gin, flavoured with local ingredients and packed in locally-made recycled card boxes and FSC certified paper. They also use a 100% green energy supplier and have planted native trees on their site. The company is a member of 1% for the Planet, meaning they donate a minimum of 1% of Dry and Herb Gin sales to the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, offsetting the carbon emissions generated by production.
Vodka. Sapling Spirits in the UK has a vodka made from British grown wheat, and if you’re not vegan you might be interested in Black Cow vodka, made entirely from grass-grazed cows milk on an organic farm in West Dorset. They even do a strawberry infused one! Grown-up milkshakes anyone?
Brandy – Irish company Highbank Orchards, mentioned above, make certified organic apple brandy, and the aforementioned Killahora Orchards produce apple port and apple ice wine on their 200 year old estate. Over in Normandy Avallen Spirits, another 1% for the Planet company, is focused on making apple brandy in a manner that supports local bee populations.
Grain Spirit – Falling outside all of the categories above, but equally impressive, are spirits from boutique Highland Boundary in Scotland, who infuse their alcohol with locally-foraged botanicals. Their electricity comes from solar panels on their farm roof. Their offices are heated using biomass and the cooling water of their still from a nearby natural spring that is recycled through a wildlife pond once it has cooled. They state that they are committed to using only biodegradable (wood, cardboard and paper) and recyclable glass packaging for their products.
Liqueurs – Viking Irish Drinks makes an award wining blackcurrant liqueur with local blackcurrants, blended with their own Rondo red wine & honey for six days before being gently cold pressed and finished carefully with grape spirit.
Irish Cream – Five Farms Irish Cream is made with triple-distilled whiskey by a cooperative of family-owned farms in Cork. Their product is made within 48 hours of the cream being collected from cows that are outside for 300 days a year.
There’s nothing that says party like a cocktail and I love trying new ones. that said making cocktails can be hella wasteful, what will all those cartons of juice, soda bottles or fruit leftovers. To make life easier and to cut down on waste try out Cocktail Syrups. You can make these ahead and because their flavour is intense a small bit goes a long way, cutting down on waste and consumption. Another simpler, but so-on-trend idea is to flavour some gin or vodka with botanicals like rosemary or borage flowers and some orange rind, or cucumber or lime slices.
Remember the idea is not to life the most sustainable life possible, but to live the best life possible sustainably. And for me that means the odd indulgence in the most sustainable poitions my budget will stretch to.