A company that set out to become the most sustainable spirits brand in the world has created a drink that it says really benefits the planet.
When the report came in, Avallen co-founder Tim Etherington-Judge needed a strong drink. “I just said, ‘What the fuck?'” He says.
The results were better than expected. The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) report, which assessed the environmental impact of calvados de Avallen throughout its life cycle, had shown that each 700 ml bottle removed 2.73 kg of CO2 from the atmosphere, considerably better than the next best positive alcohol for the weather.
“It was incredible,” says Etherington-Judge. It was also the plan. Launched in May 2019, Avallen’s sole purpose was to become the most sustainable spirits brand in the world.
The alcohol industry has a huge environmental footprint: Heineken’s energy consumption is 65.6 kg of CO2 for every 100 liters of beverage produced; Diageo needs 4.62 liters of water to produce 1 liter of product; and Bacardi emitted 62,944 tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.
The alcohol industry has a huge environmental footprint to deal with. Image: Eaters Collective
Etherington-Judge and Avallen co-founder Stephanie Jordan wanted to tackle the challenge with her own brand. “We decided that it had to be really true to who we are as people, what is really important to us and our values,” Etherington-Judge says.
They were both passionate about the environment. Etherington-Judge, a former Greenpeace activist, has been vegan for more than two decades. Jordan, meanwhile, grew up in rural Burgundy, where his father was a winemaker. Nature and the countryside had always been important to her.
With no ambitions to create a particular type of alcohol, the couple made each decision wondering, “Is this the most sustainable choice we can make for the business?”
They soon discovered that apples are the greenest ingredient to distill. They outperform cereals, grapes, cereals and sugar cane in terms of biodiversity, carbon emissions, use of pesticides and fertilizers, and use of water.
Stephanie Jordan and Tim Etherington-Judge, co-founders of Avallen calvados
With that in mind, the couple decided to produce calvados, a Normandy brandy that is made only with apples, water, and time.
“Everything we discovered about calvados made it even better,” says Etherington-Judge. The spirit had a Denomination of Controlled Origin (AOC) – A certification that protects regional products in France by ensuring that they are manufactured to a strict set of standards. It so happened that the traditional way of making calvados was relatively sustainable.
Their CO2 emissions were low as apple trees sequester carbon, and AOC rules prohibited mowing between the trees, which naturally promoted biodiversity. The orchards could not be artificially irrigated either, so the producers relied solely on rainwater.
Therefore, Calvados requires very little water to produce, about 1 liter of water per 700ml bottle, which, given that the UN predicts that demand for water will exceed supply in a decade, was particularly important for the couple.
Apple orchards sequester carbon and can be hotbeds of biodiversity. Image: Skylar Jean
“We are very proud to produce calvados, because it forces us to meet this standard,” says Jordan, referring to the AOC. “It was never established as a sustainability standard, but because of the rules they have set, it has become one.”
Avallen won the Sustainable Product of the Year award at the PEA Awards 2020, celebrating businesses that benefit people and the planet. But the couple wants to go further. Avallen is now looking to go organic, and the founders are looking to operate the distillery on 100% renewable energy. They are even exploring plans to fire the stills using biogas created from leftover apple pulp.
In an attempt to improve its LCA, Avallen will soon carry out a physical biodiversity assessment and seek to reduce the impact of its bottles, each of which currently creates around 0.5kg of CO2 to produce.
Without wild bees there are no apples and without apples there is no Avallen
It is not only on the production side that Avallen is making a difference. The company has applied to become B Corp and recently joined the 1% for the planet scheme, whose members contribute at least 1 percent of their annual sales to environmental causes.
Some of Avallen’s proceeds now go to charities that protect bees. “Without wild bees, there are no apples and without apples there is no Avallen,” says Etherington-Judge, who believes that all companies should take LCA.
“I think there will be a day in the not too distant future when brands will have to declare their carbon footprint,” he says. “I would tell others [alcohol brands]: move fast, because all companies and all industries on the planet have to contribute to mitigating the worst impacts of the climate crisis ”.
Two other positive beverage brands for the planet
Based in New York Air Line has invented a conversion system that captures carbon dioxide from the air and turns it into vodka. It emits around 0.1 kg of CO2 per 1 kg of CO2 that it converts. “The spirits industry is very damaging and wasteful of our planet,” says CEO Gregory Constantine, reflecting on why he wants to be part of the solution.
Scotland Arbikie Distillery has created the world’s first climate-positive gin. Made from peas, Nàdar Gin has a carbon footprint of -1.54 kg of CO2 per bottle. “Peas are part of a unique set of plants known as legumes that can obtain nitrogen, which is critical for plant growth, from the air,” explains Master Distiller Kirsty Black. This eliminates the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which can damage waterways, air, and soil.