How to… source sustainable wine, beer and spirits

26 April 2012
How to… source sustainable wine, beer and spirits

When restaurants and their customers think about sourcing, it's the food that springs to mind. Sustainable alcohol is often an afterthought, or for some it hasn't registered yet. It is becoming less niche and more mainstream, but presents huge opportunities to explore new and exciting products for diners to enjoy with a number of other accompanying benefits.

Sustainability when it comes to wine, beer and spirits covers a range of factors, from production to packaging. There are a number of eco-labels and it can be difficult to work out what each certification represents.

In simple terms, organic alcoholic beverages are produced from crops that have been grown without the use of pesticides or fertilisers. Biodynamic alcohol is produced from organically farmed grapes and brewing cereals with the additional mission to develop the interrelationships between soil, plants and animals to emphasise a self-sustaining agricultural system. Fairtrade alcoholic drinks are produced from ingredients that have been traded according to Fairtrade Foundation certification standards.

In the same way that close working relationships with local food suppliers can have knock-on benefits, so do better ties with local drinks suppliers. For example, Camden Brewery has developed a bespoke beer for Byron, the hamburger chain.

Many of the other sustainable plus points associated with local food sourcing also apply with beverages - like keeping profits in the community, encouraging regional diversity of grapes and fruit, and reducing packaging and the carbon footprint through shorter delivery routes.

Petrichor restaurant in London's Cavendish hotel carries a number of sustainable items in keeping with its overall ethos. Roy Sommer, the food and beverage manager, says: "The quality of the product comes first and foremost. All the sustainable products we serve pass that quality test. We care about the environment and making people aware of the positive impact of using these products."

Petrichor uses 14 organic, biodynamic and Fairtrade wines and Sommer says that in the next six-monthly review of the wine list he'll be looking to include more sustainable brands. The restaurant already carries three types of Chapel Down wine from Kent.

"Our British and American customers are very positive about the British wine, our continental ones less so," Sommer adds.

Local beer and spirits feature heavily at the Petrichor. Gin, vodka, vermouth and beer are all produced in London. Sommer and his staff have visited breweries and distilleries and developed a close working relationship with the suppliers.

He says: "The relationship with the supplier is really important to us. I expect my suppliers to keep us informed and I can give them recommendations. It means they sometimes come first to us with a new product. I would recommend British wine, beer and spirits to anyone. English wine and beer is the future."

Review your wine, beer and spirits lists and plan to include a wider offering of sustainable beverages
2 Introduce new sustainable items on a trial basis and market them to customers through special events and tasting sessions
3 Research local brewers with the help of CAMRA and check the Sustainable Restaurant Association Supplier Directory for names of sustainable alcohol producers and suppliers
4 Visit the vineyards, distilleries and breweries of British sustainable beverage producers
5 Talk to your current suppliers about sourcing more organic, biodynamic, Fairtrade and UK-produced wine, beer and spirits

The Sustainable Restaurant Association is a not-for-profit organisation helping restaurants become more sustainable

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