The Hooch Life

The New Golden Rule in Distilling: Sustainability

Ordering Drinks at a Bar
Photo by Nick Stevens

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a revolution going on. Food and beverage artisans are growing, cooking and eating real food, real slow. They’re flocking to farmers’ markets and farm-to-table dinners like they were the latest smart phone release locations and as if the latest smart phone was being launched there.

Wouldn’t it be an abomination to pair such carefully crafted cuisine with a lousy drink? How about a perfectly crafted, well-balanced option? Not rushed. Not artificial. Truly authentic.

Brian Ellison, President and CEO of Death’s Door Spirits from an island in the Great Lakes region of Wisconsin’s Door County sums it up: “First and foremost, we look at spirits as food,” emphasizing the importance of knowing the farmers as well as the ground that nurtures the grain.

Death’s Door distills certified organic, Washington Island hard red winter wheat and local organic botanicals into a heavenly gin, alongside vodka and white whiskey. Plans include a new, 25,000 sq. ft., best-practices distillery set to launch May 1, 2012. As for quality, ask any connected barkeep. It is real. It is good. It is authentic. (Read more about Death’s Door Gin.)

Dry Fly Distilling out of Spokane, WA sips water from the Gallatin River to craft small batches of vodka, gin, whiskey and bourbon. Kent Fleischmann, half of the “80-proof Lewis and Clark duo” at the helm, notes that their products are not certified organic, but that local organic botanicals go into every batch. (Read more about Dry Fly Washington Wheat Whiskey.)

“We support our farmers. It makes us happy. I just think that’s our responsibility,” Fleischmann adds. “Our whiskey is made and aged. And we wait,” Fleischmann says definitively. “I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.”

Watch for Washington State Bourbon and a craft whiskey made from a grain never before used in the spirit, releasing by year’s end.

Vermont Spirits draws maple sap from 50-year-old trees to create outstanding Vermont Gold Vodka. Also known for their contented cows in the region, distiller Harry Gorman blends milk-sugar to craft their Vermont White Vodka. (Read more about Vermont Spirits Gold Vodka and Vermont Spirits White Vodka.)

“The maple is very straight,” according to Steve Johnson, President and CEO about the natural, complex sugar source. No doubt. Simple. Natural. Good. Keep an eye out for Vermont Spirits’ next venture: clear brandies made from apples and plums.

This wouldn’t be about American hooch if we didn’t include Tennessee, which cradles plenty of outstanding distilleries. One that shines above the rest is on the edge of availability. Christian Grantham, COO at Short Mountain Distillery, cites the historic thread of the business, the importance of The Golden Rule in their operations, and the need to be sustainable.

There is a “sense of place” stamped all over this brand. Set to be available across Tennessee in April, the 105 Proof Short Mountain Shine will soon be on a shelf near you.

Idaho’s Distilled Resources, Inc. is adamant about its mission: to deliver pure, high-quality spirits. DRInc makes ultra premium vodka and spirits perfection from Idaho potatoes, mashing nine pounds into every smooth, beautiful bottle. This liquor distiller provided the plain spirit canvas for some famous organic brands like Square One, Blue Ice, American Harvest and Vodka 14.

“It’s a lifestyle,” says DRInc founder Gray Ottley, “and it’s about supporting sustainable farming.”

The sustainable distilling movement is sweeping across the country, and you’ll find more spirits in your liquor store and bar from local distillers using local, organic ingredients.

Well, we really could go on and on here, but the clock is ticking. It’s cocktail hour somewhere. Why not get a jump on the evening by raising your glass to local farmers and organic ingredients?

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The Hooch Life Guide to American Whiskey