Bio-Boozing: Sustainable Alcohol Swaps that Make a Difference
Elliot Allison, general manager at urban cidery, Hawkes, shares his guide to simple sustainable swaps to ensure your Earth Day (and every day) drinks are better for the planet.
Each year, Earth Day (22 April) provides us with an opportunity to review our consumption habits and consider the small changes we can make to our lives that can make a big difference to the planet.
While awareness of more sustainable energy consumption, fashion choices and eating habits has grown in recent years, there hasn’t yet been much consideration of how what we choose to drink on a Friday night may impact the environment.
Elliot Allison, general manager of Hawkes, London’s first urban cidery, says: “Every business should strive to implement policies pertaining to sustainability and improving business practices in light of the climate crisis. The alcoholic beverages industry is not exempt from this.
“The ingredients are the first consideration. In my book, claiming to be a sustainable drinks brand without making sure that the actual liquid you’re offering is eco-friendly from a contents and process perspective would simply count as lip service.
“But whilst the ingredients and the making of the drink are key, there is more to consider when assessing the sustainability creds of a product or brand. Packaging choices and ESG-led initiatives can also showcase a brand’s commitment to bettering the planet, and purchasing from small, local producers leads to a reduction in fuel burn used in transit.
“There are hundreds of producers out there who put sustainability at the core of what they do. It’s just a case of going out and looking for them rather than simply reaching for the big-name brands during your weekly supermarket shop.”
From wines, beers and ciders to more obscure beverages such as sake and grappa, read on for Elliot’s guide to sustainable alcoholic drinks…
For the beer drinker
As much as it pains to admit it, beer is one of the least sustainable alcohols out there in terms of water usage and CO2 emissions.
In fact, the production of just one pint of beer requires ten pints of water, and out of those ten pints, only one of them gets drunk. Whilst the rest is not necessarily “wasted” – the water is used in the cleaning process, the growing of hops, and cooling – inefficiencies can occur.
Packaging beer can also be problematic, especially as it is often distributed in heavy glass bottles. Excess weight leads to increased fuel usage, and the small amount of product a glass bottle can contain doesn’t really justify its use. Whilst reusable, this method of packaging is not as eco-friendly as we might first think. So, overall, opting for beer in recycled and recyclable aluminium cans, which requires less packaging for the same amount of liquid, is a far better choice as far as CO2 emissions and water usage go.
Some brands are working hard, however, to produce more sustainable beer. Farr Brew in Hertfordshire, for example, redirects all its wastewater and waste grain to a local farmer, where they are used to fertilise the soil and feed livestock.
Likewise, London-based craft brewery, Toast Ale, uses surplus bread – that would otherwise be thrown away – to make its beer. The brewery also works with the local community, including a collaboration with Soil Heroes, an organisation that promotes regenerative farming practices. As part of their work together, Toast & Soil Heroes have helped promote the practice known as soil sequestration to improve the carbon retention of local soil at Weston Park Farms. What a way to combat the carbon emissions from the brewing process!
For the wine drinker
Sadly, as global warming skyrockets across the globe, causing all manner of climatic change, some European winemakers are finding that summer conditions can be too hot to grow good quality grapes for wine. Conditions in the UK, however, are constantly improving.
As Norfolk’s Chet Valley Vineyard found in 2022, the British summer heatwave begot a bountiful grape harvest that made, in owner John Hemmant’s words, “a phenomenal vintage”.
This vineyard holds a Sustainable Wines of Great Britain accreditation in light of its efforts to improve soil health, manage vineyard canopies, minimise pesticides, reduce its carbon footprint, reduce biodiversity, and conserve the vineyard and its surrounding environment.
You may also want to consider transitioning from bottled to boxed wine. A rise in the number of premium and luxury manufacturers of boxed wine means that the ‘cheap and nasty’ stereotype is simply not true anymore… Producing a bottle of wine emits 10 times as much carbon as producing a boxed wine, so look out for boxed wine producers like Laylo and St. JOHN Wines, which are key to combatting non-biodegradable glass waste and carbon emissions.
Spirits can be particularly harmful to the environment since almost all the water used to produce them is turned into wastewater, and also often contains harmful ingredients, such as molasses and cane juice in the case of rum, which disrupts microorganism balance.
What’s more, thousands of litres of water are required on an industrial scale to grow the ingredients for distilling, such as grains, grapes, potatoes, rice or botanicals, which can compromise long term water security and availability.
Scottish-based distiller, Discarded Spirits Co., is paving the way for the sustainable spirits movement. The brand creates drinks out of ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away. In its core range is Discarded Cascara Vermouth; a vermouth made from cascara berries – the fruit of the coffee berry that is normally thrown away in the coffee production process.
Discarded also produces a dark rum infused with banana peel and a vodka made from grape pomace leftover from the winemaking process.
From around the world
The Italian digestif, Grappa, is made from grape pomace, made up of the skins, seeds, and stems leftover from the winemaking process, which is distilled to create a sweet, dark, aromatic beverage.
Already created from byproducts, some grappa distilleries send their own byproducts from the grappa distillation process to be refined into industrial biofuel or seed oil for cooking, so this is a super sustainable after dinner drink!
The Nardini distillery in Bassano del Grappa in northern Italy, is a multi-century family business that operates under an impressive zero-waste strategy.
Similarly, Japanese sake, made primarily from rice grain and sometimes rice bran and rice husks, is one of the most sustainable tipples out there.
Sake kasu, a byproduct of the sake production process, can be reused in several processes, such as adding an umami flavour to soups and stews, or it can even be made into a further beverage, amazake – a low-alcohol drink served hot and sweetened with sugar, considered a panacea in Japan.
Peckham’s KANPAI Sake Brewery is spearheading the sustainable sake revolution in London, so is well worth a visit for rice wine lovers.
Cider is often considered one of the friendlier drinks as far as the environment is concerned. Apples used in the cidermaking process come from orchards, which are known for having a lower carbon footprint and promoting higher levels of biodiversity than vineyards or barley and hops fields.
Hawkes, London’s first urban cidery, turns surplus, ‘waste’, or unloved apples into sustainable, real-apple cider and as well as its annual Apple Donors campaign, that sees the nation’s surplus apple stock turned into cider, Hawkes works with fellow sustainable London makers to create limited edition, eco-friendly collaboration ciders.
Other cidermakers with sustainability at their core (pun intended), include Kent-based Charrington’s, who, like Hawkes, uses only supermarket-rejected fruit to make its cider in addition to pressed apple juices and even apple crisps.
Gloucestershire-based Bushel & Peck prides itself on using apples from unsprayed orchards, so no chemical pesticides, insecticides, herbicides or fungicides. Just as nature intended!
Regardless of what your favourite tipple may be, if you are looking to switch out your beverage choices to reduce your impact on the planet, there are a number of ways you can do so. It may just mean a little more research or shopping around. Food (or drink!) for thought…!
For more information on sustainable cider, or to buy some to try yourself, visit wearehawkes.com.
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Founded in 2013, Bermondsey-based Hawkes is London’s first urban cidery, turning unloved, ‘wonky’, or surplus apples, which are too big or small for the shelves but perfect for juicing, into delicious real-apple cider.
Using only natural ingredients and never apple concentrate, Hawkes currently produces three core real-apple ciders: The vibrant, fresh and bright, Urban Orchard (4.5% ABV); juicy, sharp and lush, Dead & Berried (4.0% ABV); and tropical, zingy and offbeat, Pineapple Punch (4.0% ABV).
Hawkes collaborates annually with The Orchard Project – the only national charity dedicated to the creation, restoration and celebration of community orchards – to collect surplus orchard apples, allowing the cidery to turn vast amounts of otherwise waste fruit into planet-friendly cider every autumn. In addition to stocks from The Orchard Project, Hawkes’ Apple Donors initiative brings in donations from all over the UK. In 2021 alone, the annual apple drive saw the cidery save over 130,000 – or 12 tonnes – of apples from going to waste.
Hawkes was acquired by craft beer giant, BrewDog, in 2018. It is available to enjoy by the pint or can in all BrewDog bars nationally, in a number of Independent London pubs and pub groups around the UK, and at Hawkes’ Bermondsey-based railway arch Cidery & Taproom. You can also enjoy Hawkes in your own home; Pineapple Punch and Dead & Berried are stocked in 150 Sainsbury’s stores across London and key UK cities, and packs of all Hawkes’ core ciders are available to buy via the Hawkes online shop wearehawkes.com