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Why Sustainable Distilling Matters and the Craft Distilleries Leading the Charge

When it comes to sustainability, distilleries have not traditionally been model citizens. In fact, according the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER) 2018 Benchmarking Study, distilleries are the most water-intensive facilities in the alcohol industry due to the distilling and cooling processes. Cooling water is the largest component of a distillery’s water use profile. And the worst part is, most of this water emerges as waste after it’s used. The study states that the average distillery uses 411,198,000 liters of water a year while producing only 12,583,000 liters of spirits from that water. That’s nearly 35,000 liters of water wasted every day by a single distillery.


However, while distilleries as a whole don’t have a great track record when it comes to environmental friendliness, many independent craft distilleries do. At BigFish, we are honored to work with a number of such distilleries. From recapturing process water to sending stillage to local ranchers for cattle feed to using only locally-sourced grains, several of our partners are practicing sustainable distillation and, in celebration of Earth Day, we are excited to share with you the steps they are taking.


Marble Distilling Co.


Our motto “Drink Sustainably” is the core of our business. We recapture 100% of our process water & reuse energy harvested from the distillation process to heat our facility. Through this process we save more than 4 million gallons of water annually and capture for reuse enough energy to heat 20 homes.”


Why is it important to you that your distillery is eco-friendly / sustainable?

We LOVE spirits but do not want to destroy the planet to make them.  We employ sustainable distilling techniques to show that it CAN be done and does make a difference.


What are your distillery's eco-friendly practices?

We reclaim ALL the water from the condensing process and harvest ALL the energy off that hot water to heat our building, domestic hot water and process water.  We extract more than 1.8 Billion BTUs off the hot water through multiple heat exchangers, which leaves us with cold water that we then reuse in the condensers again.  It is a closed loop system that we filled once and do need to use tap water in the distillation process. This saves us more than 4 million gallons of water a year. We recycle all our stillage to the local ranchers who grow our grain.  We compost all waste and recycle cardboard. We use no plastics in the tasting room. We are zero waste. We have 37kW solar on our roof and three bee hives.


How does being eco-friendly affect your distillery?

In addition to making us feel good :), we promote our practices to all our customers, which we believe helps market our product to those that care.


Is being green/sustainable/eco-friendly difficult?

Not at all.  We made an initial investment in our "WETS" system (Water Energy Thermal System) that recycles our water, but we save money on water, gas, electric showing a less than 10 year return on investment.  The recycling and composting are simple.


Does your distillery have any sustainability certifications or sustainability awards you have won?

We have an Inn at our distillery, which won the Green Hotelier award, naming it the #2 greenest hotel in the Americas.  The Sierra Club named our distillery as one of five distilleries in the world "Toasting the Planet's Health". Our building scored a 6.98 on the ZEPI (Zero Energy Performance Indicator) scale - Average is 50+


Montanya Distillers


We are the first certified B corp distillery in Colorado and the third in the world. We are the only B corp certified Rum Distillery in the world.


Why is it important to you that your distillery is eco-friendly / sustainable?

Karen Hoskin has been operating environmentally sustainable businesses—a craft distillery, bar, and restaurant, and a lifestyle product line for zero-waste living—for more than a decade. Karen’s connection to stewardship has been a lifelong passion, but it becomes most meaningful to her when she goes beyond talk and into action as a business owner with 25 employees. It takes a daily commitment to live the ideals of the triple bottom line (people, environment, and profits), but this commitment helps Karen sleep at night as a business owner. She knows she is taking care of impacts up and downstream of her companies, all day every day.  Her philosophy of stewardship guides every decision she makes in business. Are we taking care of the people involved? Are we taking care of the environment and the greater community around our company? Are we leaving a mess for someone else to clean up later?


What are your distillery's eco-friendly practices?

At Montanya Distillers, people and the planet are just as important as profit (sometimes even more so). There is no planet B after all. Our sustainability practices involve every aspect of the business, and they’re evolving all the time. Our distillery, barrel room, warehouse, and tasting room are 100% wind powered. We practice composting. While we’ve recently lost our commercial composting relationship we are working with new partners to identify alternatives. We print on recycled stocks using soy inks from a sustainable printing company, and our labels and case boxes are printed on FSC Certified paper. We heat our Distillery and Tasting Room using recycled heat produced by our stills. Our bottle supplier is the first beverage packaging company to be certified Cradle to Cradle for its production methods.


How does being eco-friendly affect your distillery?

It is simply a huge part of our identity.  Rum has a long history of pollution (oceans and islands) monoculture (sugarcane) and taking advantage of labor populations.  We are working to change this paradigm to something way more positive.


Is being green/sustainable/eco-friendly difficult?

It can be but mostly it is the best choice in all situations.  A recent example is that our commercial composting company went out of business and we lost that service.  Now I am in the process of buying a biodigester so we can handle our own compost on site. It is expensive but means I can eliminate any leftover biomass from ever reaching the landfill (where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas).


Does your distillery have any sustainability certifications or sustainability awards you have won?

These are also listed on this page: YES! https://www.montanyarum.com/our-green-philosophy


Catoctin Creek Distilling Co.


“We also follow certified organic production, which ensures we are good stewards of the agricultural land we use as well.”


Why is it important to you that your distillery is eco-friendly / sustainable?

One of our founding principles was to run a sustainable distillery--we only have one planet, and we'd like to leave it to our children in better shape than we found it.


What are your distillery's eco-friendly practices?

In  2013, Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. installed a 41kWh solar array from Prospect Solar. As a child in the 1970’s, their owner, Scott, enjoyed reading Popular Science and dreamed of a day when he could have solar power in his life. Today, that dream is a reality. Our solar plant offsets about 85% of electrical usage in the distillery. This means we are burning less coal and natural gas. On very sunny days, the solar plant generates the equivalent of five households of electricity and actually returns energy to the public grid for others to use. Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. is also a zero waste facility!


How does being eco-friendly affect your distillery?

Minimal energy costs, nearly zero carbon footprint.


Is being green/sustainable/eco-friendly difficult?

Yes, but if you work it in from the beginning (rather than trying to add it on later), it is very do-able.


Does your distillery have any sustainability certifications or sustainability awards you have won?

Platinum - Green Business Challenge, Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce


Fremont Mischief Distillery


“We collect and recycle our bottles - not because it's cost effective, rather because it's the best use of energy resources. We use only organic or sustainably-grown raw materials. 100% traceable from farm to bottle.”


Why is it important to you that your distillery is eco-friendly / sustainable?

It is one of our 4 core values:

  1. Distill beautifully crafted spirits with an eye to every detail.
  2. Use fresh locally sourced grains & fruit, organic or grown  sustainably
  3. Procure grain & produce at fair-trade prices so farms are "economically sustainable". This in turn helps preserve valuable farmland. (Topsoil in our growing area is 30 feet deep - in the top 1% in the world.)
  4. Cultivate community through neighbor helping neighbor and fund-raising for non-profits.

What are your distillery's eco-friendly practices?

We collect and recycle our bottles - not because it's cost effective, rather because it's the best use of energy resources. We use only organic or sustainably-grown raw materials. 100% traceable from farm to bottle. We don't see grain as a "commodity" but rather as a tool to preserve farmland. We join with many others - farmers, brewers & scientists - in this mission.  While we pay more for sustainably grown grain; this in turn raises farmer incomes, making farms "economically sustainable" so that valuable farm land is much less likely to sell for development. Its working! Loss of farmland has significantly slowed. We're happy to play a small role in this important mission.


How does being eco-friendly affect your distillery?

People like being a part of something greater than themselves...owners, employees & our customers all play a role. Our customers play a role by choosing "Fremont Mischief", increasing demand for sustainably-grown grain and in the end...helping to preserve this valuable local land.


Is being green/sustainable/eco-friendly difficult?

Not really


Does your distillery have any sustainability certifications or sustainability awards you have won?

Not at this time. Mischief was "certified organic" for several years, but had difficulty finding enough rye grain to meet demand for our whiskey. Now, we purchase organic grains whenever we can and always purchase grains sustainably grown.


Rumson’s Rum


“We also source all natural flavorings and work toward making sure they are from sustainable sources.  We have improved our sourcing to minimize inbound shipping footprint (product packaging is now consolidated into one shipment vs one for glass, one for cardboard etc).”


Why is it important to you that your distillery is eco-friendly / sustainable?

We believe that there is a finite supply of many of Earth's resources.  Being conscious about our resources, we try to conserve energy and minimize our pollution impact helping to preserve present and future resources.


What are your distillery's eco-friendly practices?

We try to minimize our impact as much as we can. When possible we source from vendors who offer recycled products and/or have eco-friendly policies in house (e.g. this could be their water or energy consumption).  We also source all natural flavorings and work toward making sure they are from sustainable sources. We have improved our sourcing to minimize inbound shipping footprint (product packaging is now consolidated into one shipment vs one for glass, one for cardboard etc).  On the outbound side, we try to arrange shipments that consolidate or leverage when trucks are coming in. We utilize energy friendly products and policies to reduce our gas and electric consumption. We are working toward improving our water consumption, but have not identified best practices yet.


How does being eco-friendly affect your distillery?

I grew up in an eco-friendly environment (before eco-friendly was the norm) where recycling was expected and the town instituted policies to reduce energy consumption at peak times.  As a result I am not sure that being eco-friendly is significantly affecting our rum house. To me it is good business practice and our policies in general either improve our product or costs.


Is being green/sustainable/eco-friendly difficult?

There are levels to being green. Our level of involvement is relatively easy as we focus on being green in our energy impact and packing footprint. Our most challenging aspect to being green is our water consumption. Improving our water impact will be more challenging.  (wasted water, filtration, etc)


Does your distillery have any sustainability certifications or sustainability awards you have won?

We have not pursued any awards. Our focus has been on product quality and product awards. Our environment conscious product sourcing, packaging sourcing, etc have helped us to provide better products.


Iron Fish Distillery


“Thank you BigFish for bringing earth friendly distillery practices to the attention of consumers.  Cheers!”


Why is it important to you that your distillery is eco-friendly / sustainable?

At Iron Fish Distillery, we believe the greener your liquor, the better it tastes!


What are your distillery's eco-friendly practices?

  1. Third party environmentally verified farming practices under the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program's (MAEAP)
  2. Solar powered spirits:  We produce over 10,000 KWH annually from solar panels at the distillery.
  3. Our farm and 47 acres of woodland property provides a carbon sync to offset carbon emissions from fermentation.   (For every molecule of ethanol created by a distillery, a molecule of carbon is created!)
  4. Upcycling of spent mash.   Our spent mash is fed to a Bison Farm nearby, with meat returning to our kitchen, and served on our farm pizzas!
  5. A focus on soil health and grain flavor.  We cover crop (Green Manure) and use Sudan Grass to imrove organics of our grain fields.  
  6. Non GMO grain. We avoid chemical inputs to manipulate nitrogen levels.
  7.  We aggressively compost waste from our kitchen.
  8. We recycle all carboard and bottles used on site.
  9. Heat created in the fermenting and distilling process is recycled to heat space.

How does being eco-friendly affect your distillery?

We save resources for the planet and protect and improve soil conditions to improve grain flavor and spirit quality.


Is being green/sustainable/eco-friendly difficult?

No. It's second nature to Iron Fish Distillery.  But we have much more we can and should do!


Does your distillery have any sustainability certifications or sustainability awards you have won?

Third party environmentally verified farming practices under the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program’s (MAEAP)


Hendricks Family Distillery


“Decorated Glass screen printed with UV Ink does not have a Carbon Footprint - enabling the package to be 100% recyclable!”


Why is it important to you that your distillery is eco-friendly / sustainable?

We feel that being eco-friendly is very important.  The intent is to prevent as much harm occurring to the environment.  We feel it is our responsibility to help keep the earth safe and to protect it as much as we can.  We love our planet and we try to do as much as we can to help preserve our world, a healthy lifestyle and quality of life.


What are your distillery's eco-friendly practices?

We are very proud of our bottle. Our closure is the Vino-Lok which is based on the idea of providing the bottle with a closure that from a technical and oenological point of view, is 100 percent neutral, food-safe and attractive for the consumer. The closure is also fully recyclable and reusable!


Loggerhead Deco decorates our bottles. The focus of their small batch decorating processes is eco-friendly and lead-free allowing for 100% Proposition 65 Compliance in all aspects of our custom bottle screen printing business. For example: Decorated Glass screen printed with UV Ink does NOT have a Carbon Footprint - enabling the package to be 100% RECYCLABLE!


In the distillery, our water is recycled through our in floor heating system, thus reducing the amount of excess water and our waste is land spread on our agricultural fields.


We are also looking at using some of our waste alcohol to be used in a generator to help with our electrical cost.   


How does being eco-friendly affect your distillery?

We practice eco-aware activities in our distilling, bottling, packaging & ingredients.  Energy use, water use, efficiency in our distillation equipment & packaging items are all area's concentrated on to help sustainability and to be eco-friendly.


Is being green/sustainable/eco-friendly difficult?

Being green, sustainable and/or eco-friendly is not difficult.  It is a choice and a lifestyle.


RE:FIND Distillery


“As of the 2018 harvest, we were able to reclaim the equivalent of 60 acres of premium red wine grapes and make exceptional spirits from them. That's a lot of water, fuel, and man-power going to a good use.”


Why is it important to you that your distillery is eco-friendly / sustainable?

We are farmers who both make a living off our land and live off our land, so it is important to us that we live and work as sustainably as possible.


What are your distillery's eco-friendly practices?

We have been vintners in Paso Robles, CA for 26 years. In the early 2000s we noticed that many vintners were using a winemaking technique where they extracted a percentage of their free run juice before they started fermentations. In winemaking, we use the juice to pull the color and flavor out of the skins. By having more skins and less juice we are able to extract more color and flavor for the wines. We farm the vineyard we make our wines from so we knew the juice was of the highest quality. So, we 'found a reuse' for this juice. That is where our name comes from FINDing a REuse for the unused juice. People loved the flavor and texture of our spirits so much that we started buying juice from neighboring wineries. As of the 2018 harvest, we were able to reclaim the equivalent of 60 acres of premium red wine grapes and make exceptional spirits from them. That's a lot of water, fuel, and man-power going to a good use.


We only use fresh, locally grown produce and botanicals in the flavoring of our spirits. For example, with our cucumber flavored vodka, we receive 1 tons of ripe organic cucumbers each week and juice them that very day. We then distill the cucumber juice with our vodka. We don't add anything else. Once cucumbers are out of season, we stop making the cucumber flavored vodka. We also don't carbon filter our spirits so the vibrancy of the flavors remain in tact.


How does being eco-friendly affect your distillery?

It is more sustainable for our land, and financially for our business. It is just what we do!


Is being green/sustainable/eco-friendly difficult?

Yes. We had to buy a still, and lots of other equipment, and start a new business. But, it is definitely worth it!!!


Marian Farmhouse Spirits


“We are one of the first farmhouse craft distilleries in the country. The carbon footprint of raw materials is considerably less than other operations.”


Why is it important to you that your distillery is eco-friendly / sustainable?

It matches our values.


What are your distillery's eco-friendly practices?

We are certified Biodynamic and Organic. We are one of the first farmhouse craft distilleries in the country. The carbon footprint of raw materials is considerably less than other operations.  The distillery is part of a vertically integrated farm, thus everything is used or recycled on farm.


How does being eco-friendly affect your distillery?

It’s a way of life. The only effect is an example of how things can be done.


Does your distillery have any sustainability certifications or sustainability awards you have won?

The word sustainable can be misleading. As the first Biodynamically certified distillery in the Americas, that says it all.


Solar Spirits Distillery


”We are planning a distillery expansion for 2021 with a large array of solar electric panels.”


Why is it important to you that your distillery is eco-friendly / sustainable?

The company was founded on the concept of producing best in class, authentically craft spirits, distilled and produced using innovative, sustainable, and environmentally conscious technologies.  We believe in a future where all manufacturing is driven by an eco-friendly approach.


What are your distillery's eco-friendly practices?

We are a sustainable distillery using innovative technology to heat our stills and water for mashing or cleaning. We started by installing Solar Thermal Panels behind our distillery to provide hot water. In 2018 we began purchasing renewable energy credits from the Bonneville Energy Foundation so that 100% of our energy is renewable.


The solar thermal panels were originally used to heat water for cleaning and mashing our beer.  The panels have glass tubes with a central copper pipe that collects the solar energy. These pipes transfer the energy to a header which then transfers the energy to a circulating fluid. In 2016, the circulating hot water was switched to a food grade thermal fluid and integrated with our distillation heating system.


We also review the companies we work with and the items we purchase.  We ship our spirits in boxes manufactured from renewable pulp by Heritage Paper that uses 90% solar power. We purchase our bottles from suppliers that reduce energy use and cut carbon emissions by using an increased amount of recycled glass.  Our CEO and Master Distiller has solar electric panels on his home and commutes to the distillery in a 100% electric Chevy Bolt. Our web page host is through GreenGeeks, they replace three times the amount of energy our website uses with renewable energy.  We are planning a distillery expansion for 2021 with a large array of solar electric panels.


How does being eco-friendly affect your distillery?

Being eco-friendly requires extra research and review of every item used in the distillery. We continually review our practices and look for eco-friendly items such as cups, boxes, bags, cleaning products.  We strive to work with companies that share our values.


Is being green/sustainable/eco-friendly difficult?

Getting certified as a green or eco-friendly company is difficult.  The certification organizations and processes are still evolving. The determination of best practices is location and application specific and often difficult to determine.  The Netherlands just released a 144-page report reviewing the best grocery bag - there was not a clear winner - but cotton was the worst!


Does your distillery have any sustainability certifications or sustainability awards you have won?

Our Bonneville Energy Certification credits are posted in our tasting room.  We are members of the Green Business Network and are applying for a formal certification.


Appalachian Gap Distillery


“We use fairly massive amounts of energy directly to heat and chill our mashes and distillations and deal with our waste, and indirectly in the production and delivery of our raw materials and packaging.”


Why is it important to you that your distillery is eco-friendly / sustainable?

Distilleries are resource hogs. We use fairly massive amounts of energy directly to heat and chill our mashes and distillations and deal with our waste, and indirectly in the production and delivery of our raw materials and packaging. Everything that we can due to mitigate out environmental impact is not just important, but essential.


What are your distillery's eco-friendly practices?

Electricity for our entire operation is 100% solar-powered from our tracking solar collectors and has been since we opened. All of our waste (as of April 2019) is being sent to a biodigester to turn into clean energy. All of the heating gas we use (as of April 2019) is natural gas; we are phasing in renewable natural gas in 2020, at which point ALL energy used will be from renewable sources. We are also certified organic for the production of some of our spirits.


How does being eco-friendly affect your distillery?

Simplistically, it costs a bit more, which has an effect. It is a conversation topic with customers and marketing message, but we have no evidence it is much of a market differentiator. We  are eco-friendly because we think it's the right thing to do.


Is being green/sustainable/eco-friendly difficult?

A little bit of extra planning, and a commitment to spend a bit more money, is all it takes.


Does your distillery have any sustainability certifications or sustainability awards you have won?

We have never sought recognition. That's not why we do it.


Myer Farm Distillers


“To lead others toward appreciating and participating in a more sustainable environment usually has some degree of difficulty to it, but the rewards ultimately will be reaped by all.”


Why is it important to you that your distillery is eco-friendly / sustainable?

We believe that we are stewards of the earth—caretakers of our environment. We live as a part of and are dependent upon our relationship to nature—to the soil, the air, the water. We also want to share that perspective with our customers and community and together fortify our environment—which is simply our mutual home.


What are your distillery's eco-friendly practices?

Primarily, we use our own Myer Farm International Certification Services Certified Organic grain (Myer Farm being one of the oldest and largest organic farms in the Northeast United States). Besides sourcing our own grain (which minimizes transportation and maximizes use of local ingredients), the fact that our grain is certified organic reflects that the land from which the grain is grown and harvested is managed sustainably. Only natural and green composts are applied to or plowed under the fields and there is no use of pesticides or herbicides; the soils are rich, naturally regenerative, living ecosystems. We also use local ingredients, where possible, for our infused products: blueberries are from our adjacent neighbors, Luce Farm; organic ginger root is sourced from Good Life Farm (home of Finger Lakes Cider House), located five miles down the road, Lavender is from Rue Claire Lavender Farm located at the south end of our county in Lodi, NY, and fresh roasted coffee beans are from Gimme! Coffee, located 15 miles away, which uses practices that are sustainable throughout--from the farm source to the customer.


For cooling the still’s condenser, we utilize geothermal cooling via an underground 900’ water pipe loop, we use natural cleaning and sanitizing agents, and we use LED lighting throughout the facility.


We repeatedly reuse case boxes when bottling (sometimes up to five times reused) and have transitioned to using only paper and re-fillable cloth bags at the register.


How does being eco-friendly affect your distillery?

It contributes to the integrity and positive role of the spirits that our customers enjoy.


Is being green/sustainable/eco-friendly difficult?

I would say that it isn’t difficult if it is a part of one’s mission and ethic to be so. In that sense, it may come naturally and seem easy. That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges to the project of improving the strength and impact of one’s sustainability. For example, transitioning to exclusively wind or solar energy requires a certain amount of capital and long-term investment that may preclude one from acting more quickly on this front than one may wish. On the other hand, it may be more manageable to transition from plastic to paper straws or even no use of straws for tasting room cocktails except that a large portion of the public may not be as amenable to such a practice. To lead others toward appreciating and participating in a more sustainable environment usually has some degree of difficulty to it, but the rewards ultimately will be reaped by all.


Does your distillery have any sustainability certifications or sustainability awards you have won?

2012 Sign of Sustainability Award from Sustainable Tompkins (Tompkins County, NYS) Member, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY)


Here are some of the other ways Distillery Partners are saving the environment and making strides towards a more green distilling industry.


“We use as many locally-sourced products as possible. We utilize a water cooling tower to "recycle" the cooling water for the still. Some aspects (of being sustainable) are easy - like deciding to use the water cooling tower. Some aspects are harder - like the necessity to ship materials and finished products.”
“We recycle or repurpose as much as possible. We typically generate less than one bag of trash per week (and a large percentage of that is actually trash brought into our tasting room by customers). Our spent grains go to local farmers, we repurpose our Heads (undesirable/unuseable alcohol) - we limit heating and cooling in our production space, etc.”
“We recirculate our cooling water, reuse our barrels many, many times, and use eco-friendly, biodegradable cleaners that are animal safe.”
“We at Falls Church recycle our by-products because we only have one planet and we know saving it is the morally-right action!”
“We are working on a closed loop system for all of our waste byproducts. For our size, the technology is not available, or affordable. We are having to develop our own systems. This requires time, effort, and capital.”
“We buy as much as we can locally from farmers/produces that promote eco friendly practices. We are also a member of 1% for the planet, donating 1% of our sales to eco friendly not for profits.”
“By composting and recycling we have reduced our bar's trash output to less than an under the sink kitchen trash can each day. This is a significant reduction.”
“We have one Earth and believe we should take care of it so we reuse our distillation water and our spent mash feeds livestock!”
“We recycle heavily, minimize our use of plastics, and strive for ever-improving energy efficiency.”
“We never use water just to cool; we have modified our system so that the water used for cooling can be used in other practices.”
“Our building was built in 1929 and restored by us rather than using a new building. We also grow all of our own grains within 50 miles of the distillery and reuse waste heat to heat the distillery in the winter.”
“Our raw materials are all sourced from local and regional farms. Being conscious of our impact on our natural environment is both good business sense and our human responsibility.”
“We want to make excellent products with minimum impact on the environment. To accomplish this, we operate Off the Grid using Photovoltaic, Hydroelectric, and Geothermal energy. All of our process and product dilution water is captured rainwater. Our Mashing vessel is fueled by waste wood from our Oak Woodland restoration project.”