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Eco booze


Want to save the environment? Try throwing back a few.

Heide Brandes April 20th, 2011

Drinking vodka may not save the rain forest, but choosing the most environmentally friendly spirits can ease the carbon footprint hangover.

As “going green” becomes more and more popular in America, organic tequila, wine, vodkas and other drinks are finding a fan base with Oklahomans looking for a more planet-friendly martini.

“Right now, sales of organic spirits are so-so, but people do buy it if they know about it,” said Kyle Lange, manager at Byron’s Liquor Warehouse, which boasts several ecobooze brands and an entire row of organic wines.

“More customers ask about the organic wines, but it’s mainly because they are curious about it. Still, when an ad comes out in a trade magazine about an organic wine, people pour in and start asking about it.”

above Mary Mize, a customer at Byron’s Liquor Warehouse, looks over the organic wine section.

At Byron’s, 2322 N. Broadway, you can find Rain Organics vodka, which is distilled from USDA certified organic white corn. The vodka comes in an attractive, reusable bottle in flavors like lavender lemonade and cucumber lime.

Republic Tequila, in its distinctive Texas-shaped bottle, is USDA- and BioAgriCert-certified organic and made with 100 percent blue agave.

“Basically, tequila is being made the same way it’s been made for 400 years,” said Ken MacKenzie of Republic Tequila.

“We partnered with an organic distillery in Mexico with the idea of not only offering purely organic agave tequila, but to help the environment, too,” he said.

For instance, MacKenzie said the process of extracting 98 percent of the juice from agave results in a dry, fibrous material that in the past was “basically dumped off a cliff.”

“We started a program where it’s made into an ancient form of paper that the Aztecs used called ‘amate.’ We also take the used agave fibers and turn it into bio-fertilizer for the agave fields,” he said.

Distilling alcohol like tequila also produces toxic methanol gases, which was just dumped into fields.

“By doing that, the fields would become unusable,” MacKenzie said. “We found a way through reverse osmosis to take that toxic methanol and turn it into distilled water within three months, which we use to water the fields. You may wonder why the 1,203 other brands of tequila don’t do this. It’s because it’s extremely expensive to do.”

Lange said you can taste the difference.

“The Texas Republic Tequila is one of the first (organic products) that was brought in when I started here,” he said. “I can tell you, of all the tequila, this has a different flavor. Maybe it tastes the way it tasted 100 years ago, before the pesticides and fertilizers. It’s different, but good.”

While some spirits focus on being purely natural, other companies aim to reduce their impact on the environment.

360 Vodka claims to be the first “eco-friendly” premium vodka and has earned respect for not only its taste, but for its environmentally responsible packaging.

The bottle is made from 85 percent recycled glass and its swing-top cap makes it handy long after the vodka has vanished. Alternatively, drinkers can return the cap in the provided postagepaid envelope (also made from 100 percent recycled paper).

To date, 360 Vodka has had nearly 50,000 swing-top caps sent back for recycling. For each cap, the company donates $1 to Global Green USA.

“Ironically, their shipping case is the best I’ve ever seen,” Lange said. “The case is from recycled material, but man, it’s a good case. But, yes, 360 Vodka is all eco-friendly.”

Other tree-hugger spirits include Eco-Balance and Natura wines and Samuel Smith organic cider.

If the liquor is organic, will it taste different than regular spirits? According to Clayton Bahr, wine rep for Putnam Wines, organic wine is a lot like organic foods — it just tastes better.

“It’s just like cooking,” he said. “You get more flavor out of organic produce, and you get more flavor from organic grapes. Organic grapes are better, but look for the small growers who tend to have a higher quality wine.”

When a wine is labeled “organic,” many factors are in play. Some are sulfur-free, which Bahr said could mean a shorter shelf life. Others use biodynamics, a growing trend that relies on the “Farmer’s Almanac” for harvest and planting dates, among other aspects.

“Organic wines and their popularity keep growing every year,” Bahr said.

Lange said brands like 360 Vodka are popular with customers, but whether the reason is the taste or the ideals is unknown.

“The chocolate vodka they make is a big seller,” he said. “Organic wines also sell decently well.”

MacKenzie said Republic Tequila also has a cleaner flavor, due mainly to the fact that all the agave used comes from a single estate near the distillery.

“We don’t buy on the commodities market from the various agave farms,” he said. “It all comes from one place, which makes it taste consistent and cleaner, we believe.”

And while drinking eco booze may not keep you from drunkdialing an ex or suffering the ill effects the next day, it can perhaps make you feel a little better about doing it.

 
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