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Drink Responsible: Eco-friendly Alcohol

by Alexandra Gilliland

You can feel it all over D.C., the crisp breeze that signifies the start of fall and the onslaught of holidays.  Soon calendars will be filled with Halloween parties, Thanksgiving Dinners and plenty of politically correct December holiday get-togethers.  It stands to reason that at least a portion of these events will offer your favorite adult beverages. So whether you’re attending or hosting, here’s a quick rundown on how to make your next drink a sustainable one.

In terms of a pecking order for sustainable alcoholic beverages, wine tends to be the most environmental choice. The United States is steadily becoming the world’s largest consumer of wine, trailing only France. Although, wine production is organic in nature, most vineyards add preservatives to extend the shelf life of their vino.  Do not be fooled by labels, such as, “Made with Organic Grapes.” Those types of labels merely indicate that no synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fungicides were used to grow the grapes fermented for this wine, but that alone does not make the wine organic. The United States Department of Agriculture states that for a wine to be classified as organic it must not only be made with organic grapes, but also free of sulfite and sulfur dioxide, which are typically used as preservatives.

Even if a wine is organic, it may not be the most sustainable type of wine. How wine is made matters less than where it comes from, in terms of its carbon footprint. When possible, drink locally. This goes for beer and liquor, as well. The less the beverage travels, the better it is for the planet. Living in the District, local libations should be easy to come by, given Virginia’s vineyards to the south and Pennsylvania’s breweries to the north.

When reaching for a brew, pick cans over bottles.  The lighter the packaging, the smaller the beer’s carbon footprint during distribution. Another benefit, cans are more easily shipped and recycled. Of course, a reusable growler filled with your favorite local beer or a draft beer at the latest happy hour location is always preferable to cans and bottles.  The lighter the packaging, the better the beverage is for the planet.

Similarly, when selecting a wine or liquor look for bottles packaged in lightweight glass, and of course never underestimate boxed wine. Although it may not be the classiest choice, materially it is the most eco-friendly selection. Though not an ideal selection for wine that needs to be aged, it is the perfect choice for table wine; and as a bonus for the lightweights among us, box containers preserve wine for up to four weeks after opened, versus the one to two days bottled wine keeps.

Corks are another oft-overlooked aspect of wine selection.  The World Wildlife Fund has recently promoted the use of natural corks in wine bottles. The natural cork industry promotes the preservation of the trees.  The trees remain unharmed when the natural cork is harvested because it is pulled from the outside bark.  Although not easily recycled like synthetic corks and metal tops, there are natural cork recyclable programs and of course, hundreds of DIY cork crafts on Pinterest to reuse your growing cork collection.

When selecting liquor, steer clear of frosted bottles.  Companies use chemicals to give bottles the frosted look. Of course, local is always better, but research a liquor company’s distillation process, as well. Single distillation processes reduce the amount of energy and liquid used to produce the liquor. Additionally, looking at the wastewater treatments and energy programs at a distillery are ways to make a more ecofriendly choice.

So, when taking a sip, gulp, or swig, remember: organic, local and light packaging.

Eco-friendly alcohol, I’ll drink to that.

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