Sustainable Sippers, part 3: Vodka and gin

Vodka and gin are two examples of small producers using organic ingredients to craft first-rate spirits. Some examples include vodkas from Square One,Highball Distillery, and Vodka14Juniper Green Organic London Dry Gin and TRU2 Gin are among the organic gins.

What makes it organic: Square One is crafted from 100% organic rye by DRinc., an Idaho-based distillery that has been certified organic since 2000. Highball Distillery’s certified-organic Elemental Vodka is produced in a wind-powered facility, also from organic grain. Vodka14 is crafted from organic grains and Rocky Mountain spring water. Made with 100% organic grain and botanical herbs in a distillery in Central London, Juniper Green is certified organic in the United States and United Kingdom, while Los Angeles-based TRU2 Gin is made with certified-organic grains and a complex blend of 14 botanicals.

Benefits: Organic vodka is flavorful, smooth, and subtly sweet. It’s nice to sip neat or in a simple cocktail. Organic grain byproducts from producing vodka may be recycled as animal feed. Organic gins are crafted with an intriguing mix of botanicals (TRU2’s blend includes lavendar, vanilla, and chamomile in addition to traditional juniper berries, for example), which makes for a complex, Old World-style spirit.

Drawbacks: Small-batch liquors, including organic vodka and gin, are expensive. Prices start at about $35 for a 750-ml bottle. Availability is limited, too. “You can go into a lot of states and not find any organic vodka,” says Gray Ottley, owner and chief marketing officer of DRinc.

Basil Gimlet

This cocktail, from Square One Vodka, is typical of what founder Allison Evanow calls “culinary cocktails,” which combine organic spirits with high-quality ingredients. Experiment with different varieties of basil–Evanow likes to use Thai or lemon basil, but any type will do. Square One’s Cucumber Vodka also works well in this recipe (so well, in fact, that this was my favorite evening cocktail last summer).

4-5 fresh basil leaves, torn

2 ounces organic vodka

1 ounce fresh lime juice

1/2 ounce light agave nectar

  1. Place basil in the cup of a cocktail shaker; muddle (crush) with a muddler or the back of wooden spoon. Add crushed ice, vodka, juice, and nectar; shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Yield: 1 serving.

Organic Tom Collins

A Tom Collins is a classic, simple cocktail, and an ideal way to showcase the complex botanical qualities that are the hallmark of many organic gins.

1 1/2 ounces organic gin

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon light agave nectar

Sparkling water

Lemon slice (optional)

  1. Combine gin, juice, and nectar in a highball glass. Add crushed ice, and top with sparkling water. Garnish with lemon slice, if desired. Yield: 1 serving.

Also in this series:

Part 1: Wine, beer, and spirits hop on the organic bandwagon

Part 2: Wine

Part 4: Mix with Care

Part 5: Sake

Part 6: Tequila

Sustainable sippers, part 1: Wine and spirits hop on the organic bandwagon

What's in your glass? If you want to know, read the label.

Like many, you may have resolved to eat more sustainably in 2010. You’ll pay a bit extra for organic produce, dairy products, meat, and packaged goods because it’s good for the planet and, most likely, good for you, too.

You can start by saying farewell to 2009 (and not a moment too soon, huh?) and welcoming 2010 with a planet-friendly cocktail. Organic wine and beer have been around for awhile, and more recently they’ve been joined by expertly crafted sustainable spirits, including vodka, tequila, and gin.

The benefits of organic alcohol are mostly environmental, though there is emerging evidence that organically cultivated crops, including those used to produce wine, beer, and spirits, may have more nutritional value than conventional. The industry generally doesn’t tout the health benefits of alcohol, but considers organic cocktails a lifestyle choice. Buying organic alcohol is “as much an environmental/moral decision as a quality one,” says Allison Evanow, founder of Square One Vodka. “You are supporting sustainable farming,” adds Gray Ottley, owner of the Idaho-based organic distillery DRInc., which produces Square One.

Anecdotally, fans point to the smooth, easy-drinking quality of organic tipplers that won’t leave you hung over the next day. Organic wines, for example, tend to be lower in alcohol and sugar, which makes them particularly food-friendly and “easy on the palate,” says Brett Chappell, director of sales and marketing for Calypso Organic Selections, which imports organic wines from Europe, Australia, and South America.

When choosing organic spirits, “you are supporting sustainable farming,” says one industry expert.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates the labeling of all organic products, including alcoholic beverages, and different labels signifying varying degrees of organic credibiity:

  • 100% Organic: a product must contain all organic ingredients and include “Certified organic by” with the certifying agent’s name on the label. Labels may include the USDA/Organic seal, as well as the term “100% organic.”
  • Organic: must contain at least 95% organic ingredients; cannot contain added sulfites, but may have up to 5% nonorganically produced agricultural ingredients that are not commercially available in organic form. Labels may carry the USDA Organic seal and/or the certifying agent’s seal.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients: must contain at least 70% organic ingredients; may contain up to 30% nonorganically produced agricultural products. Wine, for example, may contain added sulfur dioxide. The label may list specific organic ingredients (such as “made with organic grapes”) and/or the percentage of organic ingredients. What you won’t find on the label: the USDA Organic seal.

Imported organic alcohol may or may not be certified organic by the USDA. Instead, it’s likely to be certified in its country of origin. These designations are comparable to (and in some cases more rigorous than) the USDA Organic seal.

Also in this series:

Part 2: Wine

Part 3: Vodka & Gin

Part 4: Mix with Care

Part 5: Sake

Part 6: Tequila