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What Does ‘Sustainable Spirits’ Mean? These Distillers Have an Answer

Eco-Spirits. / Photo by: Joel Goldberg /
Props by: Paige Hicks

Can your next cocktail help support the environment? Possibly. A growing number of spirits are made with sustainable efforts in mind.

However, “sustainability” remains a nebulous term. Spirits aren’t regulated the same way as food or agriculture, even though they’re made from the same crops, making it more important than ever to understand how distilleries are working to make a difference.

“Sustainability is a funny word that means different things to different people,” says Dragos Axinte, founder and CEO of Novo Fogo. “It’s a mentality, a philosophy, not a place you’re going to get.”

Since there’s no official “eco-friendly” designation, it’s up to consumers to take a thoughtful look at which bottles they choose. However, as Shana Farrell writes in A Good Drink: In Pursuit of Sustainable Spirits, “If you care about whether your eggs are free-range or your strawberries are organic, you should also care about where your drink came from.”

Here’s a look at four spirits aiming to help the environment.

Good Vodka. / Photo by: Joel Goldberg / Props by: Paige Hicks

Good Vodka

Distilled from surplus coffee fruit sourced in Colombia, this vodka is designed to reduce waste and support farms.

The idea was born after Tristan Willey, cofounder, and bartender, visited a coffee farm. Ripe coffee cherries were harvested and dried to extract the prized coffee bean. The fruit left behind, called cascara, was discarded as waste. He and Cofounder Mark Byrne realized the sugar-rich fruit could be distilled into alcohol.

The fruit pulp, discarded in rivers and lakes, had become an environmental issue. Farmers didn’t have funds to deal with the waste, nor to pay government fines related to the water pollution. Instead, Willey and Byrne worked with the Colombian Coffee Federation to create a process for purchasing the fruit from the farmers and distilling it into vodka.

“We’re diverting a waste product and making it something that becomes a source of income for farmers,” says Byrne.

But distilling it into vodka wasn’t enough; they also wanted the process to be carbon negative. By diverting the discarded fruit from rivers and lakes, where it would turn into methane, they save about 15.76 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions per bottle, according to Byrne, so the vodka is not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative.

Using a byproduct of the coffee-making process, the vodka also doesn’t involve additional farming or irrigation of fields.

It also makes a flavorful vodka: rich, rounded spirit with a distinctly fruity character.

“We want it to be something you can use, and feel good about using,” says Willey.