Canned beer always reminds me of my dad, coming in from mowing the lawn on a hot day and popping open a can of Old Style. A couple of years ago, when we joined a local pool that had a strict “no glass” rule, I started buying cases of cans as well. While my original intent was just to be able to enjoy adult beverages poolside without threat of breaking a bottle, I was happy to learn that I was unwittingly making the generally environmentally-preferred choice: Many experts believe that canned beer is more eco-friendly than bottled beer. Aluminum is a more easily recycled material than glass, and it is lighter and more compact than glass, so requires less energy to ship.
I’m happy to see that more and more craft breweries are choosing to offer canned versions, and it made me wonder what other eco-friendly choices I can make with the beers, wines and cocktails I drink. Here a few to consider:
1. Choose packaging wisely. The canned vs. bottled debate for beer is one that, as with many environmental issues, has no clear-cut answer. As I said, cans are lighter and more easily recycled. But others argue that glass is less damaging to the earth to produce in the first place. Slate takes another look at the beer or glass conundrum — you be the judge. And watch for other types of alcohol producers to make their packaging more eco-friendly. Fair Quinoa Vodka, for instance, recently redesigned its bottle to weigh 25% less and uses plain paper for the label rather than foil. Another option: Buy refillable growlers from a local brewery or wine or beer shop, which can then be reused again and again.
2. Sidle up to the bar. You can solve the packaging debate a whole other way — try draft beers at a bar; the kegs reduce the number of cans or bottles used for individually-bottled beers.
3. Seek out local brews and wines. As with eating locally, drinking local beers (and wines, if available) is better for the environment than drinking imported brews that have traveled thousands of miles to get to your pint glass. Since beer is so heavy, transporting it can be a major expenditure of fuel.
4. Find purveyors that are environmentally responsible. A number of wine, beer and spirits companies are changing their production and business methods (beyond packaging) to be more responsible. One great example of an environmentally responsible brewery is Oskar Blues, which has a completely circular operation: Its 50-acre farm utilizes brewery waste and water runoff, the pigs and cattle eat the spent grains while the manure fertilizes the vegetables and hop fields, and the food scraps from the restaurants within its operation are turned into compost to enrich the soil on the farm. Frog’s Leap Winery is one of the most eco-friendly wineries in the country; the winery goes beyond its organic certification and employs a number of eco-friendly techniques, such as the planting of cover crops to avoid erosion, encouraging the presence of wildlife such as birds, and dry farming (i.e. using no water irrigation). You can even see the live data of the solar power it generates on its website.
5. Look for organic or biodynamic wineries. Organic wines are growing in popularity, and it’s easier than ever to find options at all price points, whether you’re looking for an affordable everyday wine or one that’s complex and high-end. More specialized are biodynamic wines: Some say that biodynamics, which is based on lectures given in the 1920s by a philosopher named Rudolf Steiner, is the predecessor to the organic movement. It follows some of the same philosophies, but its premise is that the farm or vineyard is a complete entity, from the plants to the earth they’re grown in, and that certain spiritual practices can help improve crop yield. Whether or not you believe in the more mystical practices of biodynamics, the care that growers take with the earth can only translate to good things for the environment (and a pretty good bottle of wine, too).
6. Make your own mixers. If you like cocktails with fruit juice or fizzy sodas, why not make your own? Using fresh fruits cuts down on the production energy used to bottle fruit juices, and most likely contains fewer artificial ingredients as well. And if you invest in a soda maker, such as a SodaStream, you’re using reusable bottles and cutting down on transportation pollution and energy waste from individually-bottled soda waters.
How do you green your adult beverages? Share your tips in the comments below!
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When I'm not making lists, I'm taking care of my two daughters, volunteering in my community, and writing articles about food and cooking — I'm the author of three cookbooks: Ramen to the Rescue, Tortillas to the Rescue, and Quinoa Cuisine (co-written with Kelley Sparwasser), and my fourth, Homemade Condiments, will be available in Fall 2013.