Is drinking sustainable? A maker’s perspective


The human race loves a good drink. Not everyone of course but an average of 6 litres of pure alcohol is downed by each of us annually. It is a social lubricant that we use in rituals, to help celebrate the good times and drown the sorrows of the bad.  Our forefathers love of a drop probably led to them stopping their hunting-gathering ways to grow grains for fermenting and in doing so begin civilisation as we know it.  Ever since then, our love affair has been strong and we have been perfecting ever refined and tasty ways to imbibe. But in these doom laden times just how sustainable is our intoxication with the intoxicating? Can we have our dram and drink it?

It’s great to see the efforts the industry makes to be sustainable, but to my mind no amount of upcycling fruit peels or stopping the use of drinking straws will fix the imbalance.  My own analogy is that we are like yeasts in a fermenting vessel. Unable to stop ourselves from consuming the sugar we are surrounded by, we thrive, multiply and ultimately drown in our own bitter-sweet waste. And often when we try to do a good thing and put something back we are simply emptying one glass in order to fill another. Taken in its broadest meaning, I’m with the likes of Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn who believes that to be truly sustainable as a species we must cease with our addiction to consumption, drink water instead of wine and seek refuge from the harsh realities of our existence not in sprits but in spirituality.

These are wise words in theory and truthful ones too. In practice though, we at Buck and Birch love a drink as much as the next pop-up dining duo. We like it so much in fact that we recently launched our own addition to the collective outpouring of branded beverages. Our fuel for the fire so to speak. I’m willing to admit that our wild-inspired elderberry whisky is unlikely to save the planet, even if we do have plans to use some of the profits for the greater good. We talk less about sustainability and more instead about least impactful ways to produce it. It just seems more honest.

Until now we have used the ultra-low-impact method of foraging for our fruit and botanicals. The core ingredients are abundant in the wild and we can sensitively source our supplies there without destroying the fine interconnected web of life that we all rely on. Some would say we are robbing the birds and the bees but, done with care, foraging is really much more of a sharing thing. Man at one with his environment instead of in command.  Business-wise it has its limits though, and our love of the wild makes us hold back on what we allow ourselves to take from it. To stretch this supply we planted feral orchards on waste ground. These wild cuttings make it like foraging with loaded dice and for a while we thought it was the answer,  but again it can only take us so far.

As Aelder increases in popularity we want the business to thrive and realise its potential. In time this will mean trying to reach a global audience. Our ingredients will need security of supply and lots of boring paperwork. Ultimately, we will need to do as our ancestors did.  Become farmers, plant what we need and have total control of our crops. Alternatively, we could  think like a sort of global forager and use what is already in the marketplace. Its a decision that hasn’t been taken yet and will likely be weighted heavily in favour of the least impactful method of sourcing. We will certainly try to do the right thing anyway.

Aelder or no Aelder, if Thich Nhat Hahn has called it, we may just be hurtling toward a self-inflicted, drink-induced, human catastrophe. If we are still unwilling to do anything about it then the end of civilisation as we know it could be just around the corner. It’s a sobering thought. Well it would be, if it weren’t for the enormous selection of incredible drinks we have to hand to help us not deal with it…!

See more about the work the distillery and The Botanist are doing towards greater sustainability here > 

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