In the 12 months to October last year, us Brits spent £2.2 billion on gin. It’s officially our favourite spirit, with around 6,000 types of the stuff currently in production. In 2013, some 152 UK distilleries were making the beverage, now its at least 441.
However, this growth has an environmental impact. For example, traditionally, gin is made from wheat. This requires nitrogen fertiliser, which can result in air and water pollution. But, recent research states that making gin from peas is a great idea. Yes, peas. Spirit produced from peas has a smaller environmental footprint in 12 different areas including global warming, resource depletion and acidification.
On top of this, the peas provide more protein than wheat with the byproduct applicable for use as animal feed, which “more than offsets the carbon footprint of pea gin”, including bottling it.
Does this mean…? Yes it does. You can save the planet by drinking gin. Arbikie Nàdar gin (£43), to be precise. Distilled on the east coast of Scotland, Nàdar (‘nature’ in Gaelic) pea gin has a carbon footprint of -1.54 kg CO2e per 700ml bottle.
Drinking pea gin won’t alone fix things, though. A 2020 report commissioned by C&C Group found that the drinks industry is lagging when it comes to sustainability.
Glass recycling rates remain less than 50 per cent, and moves to reduce the use of plastic have been a result of pressure from consumers, rather than forward thinking on the part of manufacturers. But fortunately there are brands propping up the average with their innovative products and futuristic manufacturing methods.
Leading the charge is San Francisco-based startup Endless West. They’ve created an entire range of lab-made molecular whisky (including, Glyph Royal,$30) , without the need for time or barrel storage. They claim to have identified the molecules in traditional spirits responsible for flavour, aroma, mouthfeel and colour, and then looked to nature for alternatives from plants, fruits and yeasts. All these molecules are then blended with neutral grain alcohol and bottled. Traditionalists will no doubt scoff, but it uses significantly less carbon, land and water – and still comes in at 46 per cent proof.
If you’re not quite ready to embrace molecular approximations, Nc’nean’s Organic Single Malt Whisky (£50) is made in a distillery powered by 100 per cent renewable energy – the copper pots are heated using a biomass boiler – and is the first UK spirit to use 100 per cent recycled clear glass, which reduces the bottle’s carbon footprint by 40 per cent.
Islay-based Bruichladdich (The Classic Laddie (£39) has become the first whisky and gin distillery in Europe to become a certified B Corporation. This sought-after private certification requires businesses to be accountable across customers, community, workers, suppliers and the environment and is a solid indicator they’re doing more than just greenwashing.
Bruichladdich sources 100 per cent of its barley requirement from Scotland, with 42 per cent from Islay itself, and it has removed single-use plastic from all its sites, while its glass bottles, tins and packaging are all recyclable. The excess heat from the stills is used to warm the offices and visitor centre, and innovations ahead include plans to use wave power to achieve net zero carbon by 2025.
Elsewhere, while waste from Nc’nean’s distillation process is fed to the local cattle, The Discarded Spirit Co. is using banana skins – usually dumped by the fruit industry – to make its Caribbean rum (£25). (The rum is also a rescued byproduct, typically used to flavour whisky casks before maturation.) It has also developed a fruity Vermouth infused with Cascara, a coffee bean leftover that’s usually destined for landfill.
Finally, if beer is more your tipple, and you embrace the rise of no-alcohol drinks (one in four young adults are now teetotal, after all), another recent B Corp inductee, Freestar has developed a zero-alcohol beer that emits 90 per cent less CO2, uses 80 per cent less water, 80 per cent less energy and creates 70 per cent less waste than traditional brewing. And before you ask, yes, we’ve tried it, and no, it isn’t just brown fizzy water.
And for those rightly looking to rid the planet of the plastic rings that bind your brews together, the E6PR (Eco Six Pack Ring, shown above) is made from wholly compostable materials with no pesticides or volatile compounds, so your can-carrier will help grow the hops for your next beer.
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