A guide to value-based boozing

Booze can be a wonderful thing.

It has given me courage when I would have been nervous and the illusion of rhythm when I thought I was dancing. Some of my most vivid memories seem like they would have been less memorable without the alcohol: passing around a bowl of fermented fruit sludge with new friends in Lesotho (got sick), sweet vermouth and soda while watching wildfires on the Ugandan plains, and hard liquor in war zones to let off steam. I might romanticize booze a little, but not without some justification.

 

As I’ve gotten older, my drinking tastes and habits have changed, perhaps one could say they’ve matured. I now shy away from drinks I think might give me a headache after only one round (bottom-shelf tequila margarita), anything lit on fire, or served in a giant, plastic boot. With alcohol having such a profound impact on many of my experiences, I now consider whom I’m support with my imbibing choices in order to try to align them more closely with some of my personal values.


Animal Welfare

One of my personal causes is animal welfare. Quite a few food and cosmetic companies are working to address animal welfare by creating alternatives to animals in product testing and creation,  and by making the lives of animals used by industry less traumatizing. In the alcoholic beverage arena, there really aren’t too many companies working on animal welfare. Most of them are local or regional breweries that support animal shelters and local animal welfare organizations, like Summit Brewing Company in Minnesota, Ballast Point Brewery in California, and Sanctuary Brewing Company in North Carolina.

For wine, Mutt Lynch is a winery supporting numerous animal welfare programs throughout the country. The wine is available in many states and seems to have a countrywide distribution network.  

Tito’s Vodka is probably the most widely available and recognizable of the animal welfare focused alcohol producers. Tito’s supports initiatives for pets without homes and is a corporate sponsor of the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Guinness has also recently become a more compassionate choice since it altered the production method of its flagship product to make it vegan. Guinness stopped using a gelatin made from fish bladders to filter the yeast in its Guinness Stout on draught. Guinness not served on tap, however, is still being made the traditional way and is not vegan.


Fairtrade/Non-exploitation

Fairtrade generally refers to products that are sourced in a non-exploitative and sustainable manner. Communities, workers, and farmers receive just compensation. Working conditions are respectable. Farming, harvesting, and production techniques are environmentally and socially sustainable.

As vast agricultural empires provide the majority of inputs for alcoholic beverages, it is likely that some farm workers, who produce these alcohol related inputs, are being exploited. For instance, the sugarcane industry is notorious in many countries for exploiting undocumented workers and child laborers. Sugarcane is a primary ingredient for many types of rum and other alcoholic beverages.

There are currently only a small number of producers and manufacturers of alcohol products that promote their products as Fairtrade.  

Peak Organic Brewing Company’s Espresso Brown Ale is the first Fairtrade Certified beer produced in the United States. The brewery uses organic Fairtrade espresso to produce its beer.

Rivulet Artisan Pecan Liqueur is a Fairtrade Certified liqueur made in Kentucky. It is comprised of US produced pecans, brandy, and spices.  

The Natural Star, Fair Valley, La Riojana wines are certified by Fairtrade International. Currently, there are only a few dozen of wineries worldwide producing certified Fairtrade wine, with the majority of them being from South Africa.

FAIR produces a wide variety of different alcohols that are Fairtrade Certified, including rum, vodka, and gin.


Carbon Emissions and Global Warming

Alcoholic beverage producers have been industry leaders in promoting green technology and manufacturing processes. Several microbreweries in the US are trying to only use renewable energy to power their operations and to minimize production waste and pollutants. The entire Scotch Whiskey Sector has implemented a strategy to address sustainability of wood for casks, clean water considerations, and CO2 emissions. Wineries are now packaging high quality wines in tetra-pack boxes, which can significantly decrease transportation weight and consequently their carbon footprints.

Wine

When trying to figure out which wine has the lowest carbon footprint, it will generally be the one that has been transported the shortest distance. For instance, if you are buying wine, a bottle of local wine will generally have a lower carbon footprint than one that traveled by freight truck cross-country or by ship from overseas. That said, if you’re on the East Coast, European wines probably have a lower carbon footprint than West Coast wines because of the carbon footprint of a wine transported by ship across the Atlantic Ocean will generally be lower than those traveling across country by rail or truck.  

  • Black Box Wine packaging is fully recyclable and has 50% of the carbon footprint of bottled wine.
  • Organic Wine generally has a much lower carbon footprint because chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides are not used.

Beer

  • Alaskan Brewing Company converts its spent grain into fuel rather than discarding it as waste and recovers the CO2 it produces for packaging and cleaning purposes.
  • New Belgium Brewing Company diverts over 99.8 percent of its waste from landfills, is a certified B-Corp, and is a signatory to the letter of commitment to continue working towards Paris Agreement goal of combatting climate change despite USA’s withdrawal from the agreement.

Vodka

  • 360 Vodka uses locally sourced grains, recycled glass for bottles, and recycled paper for labels. Spent grain is dried and sent to local farms for feed.
  • Square One Organic Vodka uses organic grains and low chemical production and packaging methods, and renewable energy for a large proportion of its energy needs (and it's one of Oprah's Favorite Things).

Gin

Rum

  • DonQ Rum uses waste reclamation processes to produce electricity for its operations and mulch and reclaimed water for its fields.
  • Green Bar Distillery Crusoe Silver Rum is certified USDA Organic and for every bottle sold, a tree is planted.

Whiskey

  • Maker’s Mark uses locally produced grains and recycles its waste into biofuel and animal feed.
  • Johnnie Walker and other Scotch whiskeys: Whiskey produced in Scotland is becoming a more eco-friendly choice for whiskey buyers. The Scotch industry as a whole is making great strides in improving their environmental footprints. Diegeo (makers of Johnnie Walker and numerous other Scotch whiskeys) is a leader within the industry regarding the environment and now operates a distillery that recycles most of its waste into biofuel.

So there you have it - it's possible to weave your values into your consumption in so many ways!

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How To'sEdgar Mason