Where was it grown? Who distilled it? And what exactly was it mixed with before the cork went in? When it comes to alcohol, even the simplest questions can be as murky as an old bottle of red.
It's time for some answers.
For some producers, the process is clean and direct, using whole, natural ingredients.
Others take a path that’s not so straightforward, involving pesticides, industrial alcohol, and preservatives — kind of like processed food. All for the sake of efficiency and profit.
Transparency currently isn’t required in the American alcohol industry. While every other packaged food and beverage product discloses exactly what’s inside, alcohol gets a pass.
Most things you eat and drink are regulated by the FDA, but alcohol answers to a different agency: the TTB. A handful of conglomerates, represented by powerful lobbyists, play a big role in shaping their regulations, including what should go on labels.
These rules have enabled producers to add questionable ingredients, allergens, excessive sugar, and animal products to bottles, without the drinker having any idea.
Eggs, shellfish, and fish bladders are often used to clarify wine and beer, and disclosure is optional. Even nuts don’t need to be listed on labels.
Unfortunately, producers tend to take shortcuts with flavoring agents, skipping over fresh ingredients and using synthetic additives instead. Sometimes, they use flavors—and sugar—just to mask an otherwise harsh spirit that wouldn’t sell well on its own.
Citrus is one of the most commonly added flavors. More often than not, that means lab-generated compounds designed to approximate the tart citric bite of a lemon, or the sweetness of an orange. This is cheaper and easier for the producer, but doesn’t it seem like there should be a better way?
Peel the rinds off of 4-6 lemons, avoiding the white pith.
Add your lemon peels to a quart-sized mason jar, and pour your spirit of choice, like vodka, to the top. Twist on the lid and give it a good shake.
Let the jar sit for 48 hours to a full week, depending on how much flavor you’re looking for. Shake the jar for 30 seconds twice a day to maximize the extraction.
Strain out the peels, and enjoy.
Alcohol bottles are often designed to look like family-run independent brands, because that's what resonates with consumers.
But in reality, conglomerates produce 96 percent of the distilled spirits sold in the U.S. every year.
Click the circles to see who owns what
The movement towards transparency is already well underway in clothing, food, and skincare, where conscientious producers are leading the way on responsible sourcing and ethical production. Independent alcohol producers are driving for similar change in booze. It looks a little something like this:
Look for ingredient lists on your bottles, cans, or on the producers’ websites. Responsible producers have nothing to hide.
Just like food, the best alcohol is made from responsibly grown crops. When a healthy farm is the starting place, producers tend to be proud to tell you all about it.
Responsible producers tend to show the faces and farms behind their products. They bring you into their process, and are happy to tell you more about their products.
To find responsibly produced alcohol, look for ingredient lists, who owns the company, who makes the product, and if they make those processes transparent. Here’s how to find that info.
A good rule of thumb: if they’re proud of how their product is made, they’ll be happy to share the details with you.
There have always been alcohol producers that use quality ingredients, value transparency, and work hard to leave a minimal footprint on the ecosystem. They just don't get as much attention as corporate brands. Here are some producers who are committed to the movement for better alcohol. Know someone who should be on this list? Let us know.
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