Liquid assets: A guide to sustainable alcohol

With the past month seeing a number of sustainable innovations from major UK brewers, edie has taken a closer look at the alcohol industry to round up four 'green' beverages for the discerning tippler.

Like many established sectors the alcohol industry is loath to take chances, and like it or not, sustainable measures are still seen as a risk.

In a recent feature American brewery Molson Coors’ head of corporate responsibility Debbie Read told edie: “No-one comes to a beer brand for education around sustainability. We will innovate enough that we have an environmental and cost benefit, but not enough to have a detrimental brand impact.”

So the success or failure of the products below could have a tangible effect on the sustainable future of the entire industry. So do your part, and drink up. It’s for the planet.


Sustainability has not traditionally been a priority when it comes to making beer. So when Heineken’s John Smiths brewery in Tadcaster powered up more than 4,000 solar panels on its huge corrugated iron roof, sustainability professionals and environmentally aware consumers took note. 

When laid out side by side, the panels would cover an area equivalent to five Olympic-sized swimming pools. They will generate more than 876MWh of electricity each year which will be used to power the brewery’s bottling and canning departments. In total 15% of the brewery’s energy comes from renewable sources.

Molson Coors is a Denver-based brewery, but its UK operations have shed American largesse. One success story has been the lightweighting of the Cobra beer 660ml glass bottle through supplier renegotiation. A 10g reduction per bottle was achieved, given an annualised weight saving of 173 tonnes. 


The Water Footprint Network estimates that 29 gallons of water are used to produce one glass of cabernet sauvignon. But in recent years, the growing paucity of water has helped spark a new trend in winemaking: dry farming.

Using only natural rainfall, non-irrigated vineyards produce around half the normal yield, and the grapes can produce a fuller more concentrated flavour. Frogs’ Leap winery in California claims its saves 10 million gallons of water a year by dry-farming. Another positive by-product of the dry farming method is that the winery was more prepared to deal with the droughts that ravaged the Sunshine State this past summer.


Luxury and sustainability are often mutually exclusive. After all, spraying champagne over a podium is hardly an efficient allocation of resources.

A ‘magnum’ of champagne is exactly as opulent as it sounds, thanks to the expense and emissions associated with making and transporting such a large bottle. The 1.5 litre receptacle was designed in the 1600’s when carbon emissions were somewhat less of a factor.

However, Veuve Clicquot is pioneering a new packaging process, including a smaller bottle, and more interestingly a case made from a potato. The starch from the spud forms a 100% bio-based packaging material which is completely biodegradable, and also isothermic, helping to reduce refrigeration costs.


While the hard stuff is certainly the most potent party juice, it has a similarly degenerative effect on the environment. According to research from the Carbon Footprint of Spirits Report, a 750ml bottle produces on average 3kg of CO2 – the same amount as powering a house for two hours. In addition, the distilling process itself is a profligate one, producing tons of spirit-specific waste-pulp

Bombay Sapphire’s Laverstoke Mill in Hampshire aims to solve these problems. The botanical waste from the distillation process is used to fuel a biomass generator, which supplies heat and hot water to the entire site. The factory also employs solar PV panels and a hydro-electric turbine in the nearby River Test to reduce its carbon footprint by 36% compared with a normal distillery. 

What’s more, it looks like a Willy Wonka factory for adults.

Warning: Please save the planet responsibly

Brad Allen

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