Distilleries Can Excel in Sustainability

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Like any industry, distilleries face challenges in making facilities as environmentally responsible as possible. At Aristotle Spirits, we believe sustainability is attainable, and we’ll keep doing everything we can to get there.

Sustainability Challenges Facing Distilleries

The Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BEIR) identified the major contributors to the overall carbon footprint of a 750 ml bottle of spirits as mainly distillation (36%) and bottling (20%).

With distillation representing the largest environmental impact, it’s no surprise that water and energy land on our list of top challenges for distilleries because the process uses a lot of both.

Here’s the list:

  • Water – Where distilleries source it, how well they use it, and how they dispose of the wastewater are important to consider.
  • Energy – Distilleries consume energy with their lighting and the systems they have in place – including the distilling equipment.
  • Cooling refrigerants – When distilleries use glycol chillers, disposal of the refrigerants becomes an issue.
  • Packaging – Sourcing bottles and labels from vendors that aren’t environmentally conscious puts a heavier burden on the environment. Distiller Magazine points out a significant challenge: “The cheapest glass comes from countries not required to mitigate their emissions and pollution in the ways we expect in Europe and the USA.”
  • Supplies in the tasting room – This gathering place for a distillery’s guests presents a host of sustainability challenges — from the need for lots of small drinking glasses to customers’ desires to use straws when tasting and more.

Sustainable Solutions

The above challenges are not without solutions, and distilleries large and small are taking steps toward more sustainable processes and products.

Solving the Water Challenge

Repurposing water used in the distilling process is one of the best ways to conserve it. Water that cools the still and condenser, for example, can become the water that cleans all the systems.

Water left at the end of a distilling run has grain biomass and yeast byproducts and is, in effect, grainy sugary water. Distilleries are finding creative uses for the biomass, from reusing it as a pH buffer to contributing to healthy aquaculture projects.

Addressing Energy

By nature of their processes, distilleries can consume large amounts of energy. Renewable energy sources, LED lighting and other creative avenues can make the facilities more efficient. 

Remedying Refrigerants

A glycol chiller cools with chemical refrigerants known to harm the environment. Recirculating the refrigerants is one option for keeping them out of ecosystems; cooling without a glycol chiller also works.

Planning for Packaging

Distiller Magazine pointed out the trouble with cheaper glass bottles being available from countries that don’t have to abide by the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. The solution is buying from local sources as much as possible and using recyclable, sustainably sourced labels.

“Sustainable distilleries source U.S. or European glass from environmentally vetted companies. They buy from the geographically closest vendors and offset the carbon in shipping.”

Distiller Magazine

Troubleshooting Tasting Rooms

Reusable glassware is a simple solution for a sustainably built tasting room. Limiting the use of plastic straws, plastic utensils or other similar items is also helpful.

Aristotle Spirits Champions Sustainability

We’ve seen what distilleries of all sizes can do to pursue sustainability in their operations. Now, let’s look at what we’re doing at Aristotle Spirits.

Reusing and Repurposing Water

We use water both in our products and in our processes. Owner Jake Howland says, “We’re using water as cooling in our still and the condenser and then reuse it for cleaning. Cleaning is probably the most amount of water used in a distillery because of needing to clean all the systems constantly. Reusing the water from cooling for cleaning is one way we’re repurposing it.”

We also reuse some of the grainy, sugary wastewater left over from the distilling process. Howland says, “Because it supplies a good buffer for the pH of the wash we use for the next batch, we’ll be reusing a little bit for that purpose.”

Of course, we source water locally, and some of the waste will go back into the local wastewater for treatment and reuse in that way.

Running Energy Efficient Lighting

Aristotle Spirits has all LED lighting for the highest efficiency possible, and we rely on a boiler rather than electricity to heat the still and all of our systems. While electricity was an option for heating, the boiler runs on natural gas.

“Energy wise and cost wise, going the natural gas route is significantly more efficient,” says Howland. Future plans also potentially include building on the efficiency already in place and adding solar energy as well. 

Cooling Without Refrigerants

Aristotle Spirits hasn’t purchased a chiller that runs with refrigerants at this stage, so there’s no issue with disposal.

Howland says, “At some point, we might purchase a glycol chiller, but right now we don’t have one. We’re using city water as our coolant, and we reuse that water. If we were cooling with a chiller, it would still be a recirculating cooling system and wouldn’t be a lot of waste because it evaporates.” 

Packaging Glass Bottles from US-Based Vendors

We buy glass from US-based vendors that are held to the standards of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. “We’re using all glass,” says Howland, “and anything used within our facility is going to get recycled.”

Prioritizing Reusables in Our Tasting Room

In the tasting room, the same applies.

“We’re going to recycle all the glassware. We are using glassware, so it’s all reusable glass. We’re not using any plastic currently in the facility. We’ll likely use some sort of straws or stirrers, but they’ll be recyclable or biodegradable,” says Howland. 

Sourcing Locally

From the beginning, our goal was to source everything we could within 500 miles. We’re currently using malt houses in Durham and Asheville. Both source their grains in the Carolinas. There’s also potential to source from farmers within 50 miles of the distillery.

“The labels and packaging are coming from local North Carolina manufacturers, and our grains are from Carolina farmers. The water’s local, of course… and that’s really the key ingredient.”

At Aristotle Spirits, we look forward to showing off our sustainable solutions once our doors open!

Keep checking here and on our Facebook page for updates. We’ll keep you posted on our progress and our upcoming opening date!