Is your cocktail eco-unfriendly?

Alcohol is generally an unsustainable industry; a 750ml bottle of liquor produces, on average, nearly 3kgs of CO2. So which alcoholic drink is the greenest? It’s tough to say, since production methods, distillation techniques and ingredients vary from bottle to bottle of even the same kinds of spirits. Instead, let’s look at each drink individually and determine how sustainable they really are.


DRINK LESS OF THESE (THEY’RE LESS SUSTAINABLE)

Source: Flor De Cana

RUM

Rum is derived from sugarcane, a notoriously unsustainable crop, associated with biodiversity loss, water and soil pollution, erosion and harmful slash-and-burn harvesting methods. Thankfully, organic rum at least takes chemical pesticides and fertilisers out of the production process but it can be tricky to find.

We like: Flor de Caña rum. It’s fair-trade-certified, running on 100% renewable energy, also with a carbon-neutral certification. 

Source: Mijenta

TEQUILA

With tequila, firstly, you’re unlikely to find a local distiller living in Hong Kong; it must trace the origins of its agave (tequila’s base ingredient) to the Tequila region in Mexico to bear the name, making transportation emissions inevitable. Secondly, agave is slow-growing and vulnerable to pests, leading to increased pesticide use. Production also releases acidic waste called vinaza; for every litre of tequila produced, about 10 litres of vinaza is released, which seeps into waterways. 

We like: Mijenta Tequila Blanco which makes its labels out of agave waste and uses eco-certified packaging.

VODKA & GIN

Most vodkas are made from a mix of grains, such as corn, rice, rye and sorghum (and sometimes potatoes, too). The same goes for gin (with added juniper berries and other botanicals). During the distillation process, which usually accounts for the largest percentage of an alcoholic beverage’s effect on the environment, vodka is distilled to nearly pure ethanol before bottling, using more energy and water than other booze. Gins are often made the same way.

We like: Reyka vodka, whose distillation process is powered by geothermal energy. Cooper King herb gin is made by a distillery that runs on 100% green energy, and produces its gin using “vacuum distillation,” the process of distilling alcohol under reduced pressure compared to typical methods in order to save energy.


DRINK MORE OF THESE (THEY’RE MORE SUSTAINABLE)

WINE

While most vineyards are monocultures that typically rely on herbicides and pesticides, industry bodies and even governments are intervening to make wine production more eco-friendly.

In France, vineyards cover about 3% of agricultural land but represent about 20% of pesticide use. The government has subsequently introduced new environmental standards that require a 50% reduction in chemical spraying by 2025. Around the world, sustainability is becoming the new normal, with many regions requiring its wine producers to be certified sustainable. 

The wine industry produces less waste than other alcohols, but a general rule when it comes to wine is… location. The distance the booze has to travel significantly impacts its carbon footprint. 

We like: Cork Culture, an online wine store devoted to low-intervention and sustainable wines in Hong Kong. 

Source: HK Beer Co

BEER

Brewing beer is a water and energy intensive process that generates a significant amount of solid waste, but brewers are increasingly investing in environmentally sustainable equipment. Shipping cans rather than bottles results in 30% fewer emissions and cans are recycled at significantly higher rates than bottles. 

We like: Hong Kong Beer Co is continuously investing in sustainable initiatives, recycling its glass bottles to reduce CO2 usage. 


At the end of the day, whatever your tipple might be, there are some things you can do to reduce the carbon footprint; look for locally made drinks, buy in bulk and be mindful of the packaging. Now don’t worry, we’re not telling you to ditch booze completely, we know how rewarding an (8Shades cocktail from Penicillin) is after a long week, but small tweaks will give you peace of mind that you’re not placing unnecessary strain on the planet’s resources.

Cheers to that!

The Happiest Hour Of All

When it comes to hanging out at bars, no one is immune to trash talk; since the first cocktail was mixed, bar goers have been getting lippy. However, it’s 2021 and trash talk is taking a sharp turn towards Sustainability Town. It’s easy to forget how much waste can be created at our favourite watering holes, but as cocktails become more sophisticated and multifaceted, the more ingredients are used, which in turn create more waste.

New bars in Hong Kong are a dime a dozen, but there is something different about Penicillin – it’s officially Hong Kong’s first closed-loop bar. What this means is that they operate at 80% sustainability from the drinks they make to the furnishings themselves. How do they do this? One of the simple approaches they take is salvaging ingredient scraps and offcuts to be reused or upcycled, much like a nose-to-tail approach taken by some restaurants. This place is a trailblazer in the sustainable dining race, not only that, they even have a fermentation chamber and lab that allows guests to explore the different processes and techniques used by the team to create experimental cocktails… how cool is that for a talking point! 

At 8Shades we just couldn’t resist collaborating with such an innovative business that shares our green ethos and loves exploring new and challenging ways of “mixing” things up (see what I did there). If you were lucky enough to receive one of our gift boxes you’ll know just how delicious their cocktails are but we implore you to go and check them out for yourselves and enjoy this finite period of time where lunchtime drinking has become temporarily acceptable. 

So to mark the beginning of 8Shades’s green journey, we hosted our digital launch event there on January 26th 2020, of course during happy hour, to virtually celebrate the occasion with our closest friends, fellow eco-enthusiasts and founding 8Shaders. If you missed the Instagram live, watch it here

At the launch, we shared our ethos at 8Shades and had a chat (and a drink) with Penicillin’s co-founder Agung Prabowo about what inspired him to approach sustainability differently in the industry and how he created our very own green cocktail called “8Shades” (made with low carbon footprint local distilled NIP gin) to commemorate the occasion.  

Apart from some wicked cocktail making skills, what we learnt from Agung is that you can still have fun and drink while still maintaining your green ethics, it’s simply about being mindful and making better choices… pretty simple really. Most importantly though, it’s a practice we could and should also take into our own homes when creating a tipple or two, through simple steps like reusing or upcycling empty liqueur or wine bottles, ferment your own fruit and vegetable scraps for mixing (or dispose of in a compost bin), shop for herbs and spices at zero waste stores and just staying away from single use straws and cocktail picks. Simple steps make for a totally guilt-free happy hour… we just can’t take responsibility for your hangover the next day.