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Published on December 17th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans


Reviving Organic Spirits with Green Liquor

Healthy and sustainable choices are needed in every corner of the market, and a rapidly expanding variety of organic alternatives to conventionally distilled spirits is rising to the occasion.

Those who want to be healthy and enjoy brewed delights can now strike a balance between their own enjoyment and the sustainability of the planet, by supporting organic purveyors of distilled and micro-distilled liquors.

Spirits are produced by distillation from fermented substances such as fruits, vegetables, and grains.  Before the U.S.Distillery Prohibition, or Dry Law, distilled spirits were routinely produced by small distilleries across the nation, but Prohibition’s extended period forced most of these distilleries out of business.  When Prohibition was lifted, the corporate mega-distillery took the small distillery’s place.  It wasn’t until the 1970’s–riding on the coattails of the U.S. micro-brewing wave–that the nation experienced a return to the production of distilled spirits in smaller batches by artisan distillers.

Organic Micro-distilling

The nation’s micro-distilling movement is broadening in proportion to growing consumer awareness about the global impact of conventional farming practices.  Consumer demand for organic alternatives is creating an entirely new generation of organic "eco-elixirs" for the market.  Made from traditionally harvested local grain and other ingredients grown without the use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, organic liquors differ from mega-distilled products by virtue of both quantity and quality.

Gone are the days of artificially flavored and colored syrups that once made hard liquor more palatable─health-centric are the latest rage.  A new generation of organic liquor brands has arrived, built around herbal extracts and antioxidant-rich ingredients so smooth and flavorful that they require no mixers at all.

For quality, let’s start with ingredients.  Organic micro-distillers boast superior ingredients that get processed and refined in small batches, often incorporating unique blends of botanicals that yield pure flavors.  Many of these organic spirits possess characteristics that would be impossible to achieve with mass production efforts.  For instance, in the process of making organic whiskey, organic producers use natural yeast instead of cultivated yeast, and the result is a sweeter and less harsh drink.  Using superior ingredients in organic production also reduces the need for carbon filtering or the addition of glycerol to create an artificially smooth flavor.  In general, organic liquor aficionados report that flavors are milder and more genuine than commercially produced options.

Availability Issues

Domestically, organic vodka is the most widely produced and most easily obtainable spirit, either through online sources or at select liquor stores.  Organic rums, tequilas, gin, grappa, and brandy are made throughout the world, and must be imported into the U.S.  Importation means that these liquors can be more difficult to get a hold of and also more costly–prices can run up to 30% higher than conventionally produced brands.

Organic LiquorSome even argue that the concept of organic spirits itself is meaningless because the distilling process burns off impurities.  During the distillation process, alcohol is siphoned off from fermented liquid by evaporation.  Alcohol evaporates at lower temperatures than the pesticides or herbs that might be contained in non-organic liquid, so these residues get left behind in the process.  By this argument, the higher cost of organic liquor is not justifiable.

Before balking at what may seem to be the inflated cost of an organic liquor, consumers should be aware of the long-term costs accrued by conventional processing, in terms of the agricultural destruction associated with conventional grain farming.  By choosing to buy an organic distilled spirit, such as organic tequila or fair trade rum, you support sustainable agriculture and fair trade practices.  The extra money you invest in the purchase:

  • Ensures that you will receive a higher quality product
  • Benefits farm workers who are paid a fairer price for their efforts
  • Allows you to make a positive environmental contribution by supporting organic farming methods

The Organic Happy Hour

The social appeal of organic spirits has inspired many restaurants and bars to incorporate healthier ingredients into their cocktails.  Gone are the days of artificially flavored and colored syrups that once made hard liquor more palatable─health-centric drinks are the latest rage.  A new generation of organic liquor brands has arrived, built around herbal extracts and antioxidant-rich ingredients so smooth and flavorful that they require no mixers at all.

Eating establishments everywhere are mixing organic fruits, vegetables, herbal extracts, and organic alcohol in every new way possible to tantalize the adult palate.  Cocktails now regularly come vitamin-rich with muddled cucumbers or pomegranate juice, and research seems to support this trend as a healthy one.  Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported that adding alcohol to strawberries and blackberries increases their antioxidant qualities.

Everything in Moderation

Although some evidence suggests that drinking organic spirits decreases hangover symptoms, the only way to prevent a hangover is to limit the amount of alcohol you consume to an amount that your body can metabolize.  Methanol is a chemical compound produced naturally in the distillation process that has been shown to be a primary cause of hangover symptoms.  It is believed the body metabolizes methanol into formic acid, which acts as a poison in the body.

Some liquors, organic or not, show lower levels of methanol.  Darker, sweeter liquors such as brandies and whiskies contain more methanol than vodka or gin.  But as the consumption of inexpensive, poorly refined liquors has also been linked to more severe hangovers, there seems to be truth in promoting organic spirits as a preventative measure, since they are always made of high-quality ingredients.  And while the benefits of organic spirits trump those of their conventionally processed counterparts, indulgence in moderation is still key.

Article Contributors: Julie Reid

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