Sat, Dec 07, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Smells like green spirits

Whiskey makers are making a play for climate conscious drinkers

Bloomberg

A Scottish single malt whiskey.
Warning: Excessive consumption of alcohol can damage your health.

Photo: Reuters

As the climate crisis accelerates, fueling powerful storms, unprecedented droughts and wildfires, more consumers are focused on making purchases that are environmentally sensitive.

Companies hoping to capture their dollars are increasingly trying to do something — anything — to show they are part of the solution and not the problem.

Some of them are in the alcohol industry, which with its reliance on water, wood and energy to distill and ship its products, has quite the carbon footprint. There are a growing number of booze makers putting their own spin on making greener alcohol.

ENDANGERED OAK

Given the critical role wood plays in the production of spirits, protecting trees has become a common focal point. Westland Distillery’s Garryana whiskey, limited to about 3,000 bottles a year, is a hit with aficionados and collectors because of its unique, piquant flavors. It’s also a good example of how spirits makers are becoming more ecologically aware.

For the past four years, the Seattle-based company has made Garryana with a blend of its single malt whiskeys, some of which were aged in barrels made of Garry Oak — an almost extinct Pacific Northwest species. (The barrels are made from trees that fell naturally.)

“Our interest in Garry Oak was initially a purely whiskey-focused one,” said Westland co-founder and Master Distiller Matt Hofmann. “But as we learned more about our native species of oak, we saw firsthand how severely endangered it has become.”

Garry Oak now only grows in five percent of its former habitat, Hofmann said. The distillery’s Garry Oak Project with land conservationist organization Forterra involves planting new trees throughout Washington state while protecting existing stands. Commercial Director Chris Riesbeck said employees take part, working “the land twice per year to ensure that we are setting a good example for land stewardship.”

“By using this oak for whiskey production, we’re shining a bright spotlight on Garry Oak,” Hofmann said. “The broader ecosystems supported by Garry Oaks are good for the region — the environment, the wildlife and the people.”

WATER CYCLE

Roberto Serrales, a sixth-generation rum maker with a doctorate in chemical engineering, said there are many ways alcohol production can be harmful to the planet — including packaging, shipping and fuel consumption. The number one problem, however, is water waste that needs to be treated before being returned to the environment.

“A large distillery that is producing 50,000 [gallons] per day will generate around 400,000 gallons of wastewater per day,” said Serrales, who consults on environmental issues for Don Q rum and other distilleries. “A large distillery like that may typically operate on average around 300 days per year.”

Jason Nally is focused on water, too. As Maker’s Mark’s Environmental Champion (his real title), he conceded that the high climate cost of shipping spirits is something that — for now — can’t be avoided. Kentucky-based Maker’s Mark is instead focusing sustainability efforts on the “activity inside the distillery,” Nally said. And that means water.

“Production begins with water, which is why we created the protected watershed around our lakes,” Nally said. “By owning, managing and preserving our own water source, we’ve eliminated the need for piped-in, chemically treated and cleaned water from a municipal source, allowing us to rely instead on the natural limestone of our lakes to filter our water.”

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