Vodka is a perennially popular spirit, often praised for its versatility. As a neutral liquor, free of bold flavors and aromas, it can be enjoyed on its own or mixed with other ingredients in a cocktail. Vodka’s adaptability might make it even more appealing in the current climate. With more people choosing to imbibe at home, it’s the perfect spirit for a home bar: vodka goes well with just about any mixer, and classic cocktails like Bloody Marys and screwdrivers are quick and easy to make.
So perhaps it’s no surprise the nation’s craft vodka scene is flourishing. Many producers boast pleasing subtleties in taste and texture from briny to peppery to creamy. Although there’s no standard definition for what constitutes “craft” vodka, the term typically refers to vodka produced in small batches or any production process that prioritizes quality over quantity.
Craft brands often build their identity around a sense of place, usually where their product is made or where their ingredients are harvested. The owners of Humboldt Distillery, based in Northern California, draw inspiration from the rugged beauty of the surrounding Redwoods, and because of this, are “ever mindful” of their environmental impact. Our/Vodka operates a series of micro-distilleries in cities around the world, with each one embracing the unique characteristics of its locale. Their Los Angeles distillery partnered with nearby farms to create a line of botanical essences that can be added to cocktails or other beverages.
Craft distilleries’ focus on localism and the environment seems to be in line with consumers’ preferences. Consumers are increasingly curious about where their food and beverages come from and want to support sustainable brands and products. The philosophy behind craft vodka – that is, small-batch production with consciously sourced ingredients – is already itself a sustainable practice. But craft distilleries go even further, innovating and adopting practices to build a business that is as eco-conscious as possible.
Organic Ingredients, Among Other Things
Several craft brands focus on organic ingredients. Crop Vodka, for example, begins with Minnesota-grown, USDA-certified organic grain, meaning the grain is grown and harvested without the use of artificial fertilizers, chemical pesticides or genetic modification.
Los Angeles’ Greenbar Distillery offers a range of organic, hand-crafted spirits. Their vodka line, TRU Organic Vodka, boasts organic ingredients and a lightweight bottle with a recycled paper label. Additionally, the company plants a tree for every bottle of liquor sold.
Buying organic is not only better for a consumer’s personal health, but organic crops also support the environment by maintaining soil health and reducing the amount of toxic chemicals that end up in our rivers and streams.
The Zero-Waste Distillery
Marble Distilling, based in Carbondale, Colorado, focuses its sustainable efforts mainly on the distillation process. The owners developed what they call a Water Energy Thermal System (WETS) that captures the water and heat generated in the distilling process and uses it to heat and cool the building. According to the company, WETS “saves the planet more than 4 million gallons of water annually and captures 1.8 billion BTUs of energy – enough to power 20 homes.”
A typical distillation process requires vast amounts of water and energy, but Marble Distilling advertises itself as “zero-waste.” The distillery also uses American-made distilling equipment and sources local grain. Their motto is “drink sustainably,” and their actions certainly support that endeavor.
Waste Not, Want Not
Rather than produce grain for distillation, San Diego’s Misadventure Vodka takes an innovative approach by using leftover baked goods from local bakeries. According to the company, uneaten food fills more than 20 percent of the country’s landfills and wastes about as much freshwater. This approach not only reuses goods that would otherwise go to waste, but it also significantly cuts down on carbon emissions by eliminating the need to source and ship grain.
The company describes its philosophy as “hedonistic sustainability,” or in other words, “you don’t have to punish yourself to do good.” Turns out you can have your cake and drink it at the same time.
Dispensing with the Distillery
Stafford Sheehan, a Yale Ph.D., and Gregory Constantine, former Diageo executive, recently co-founded Air Co. vodka, perhaps the most innovative craft vodka in existence today.
Using a scientific process, Air Co. is produced using only air (carbon dioxide) and water. “The process uses the same principles as photosynthesis in plants, but does so more efficiently,” explains Sheehan.
Since the only two ingredients are air and water, there are no crops to harvest for distillation, and no food waste produced at the end of the distillation process. In fact, Air Co. has eliminated the need for a traditional distillery altogether.
“We have one machine that can fit in any given bedroom that does the same role as traditional distilling, only faster and more efficient, with no impact to our environment, and all run on solar power,” says Sheehan.
The company has already won several accolades for its cutting edge technology. NASA recognized Air Co. at last year’s CO2 Conversion Challenge and the brand won the top prize at the 2017 United Nations Ideas4Change awards.
Air Co. eventually hopes to expand beyond the craft vodka space and apply its unique technology to other lifestyle products. Until then, eco-conscious consumers can enjoy endless vodka martinis, virtually guilt-free.