Crafting Artisan Vodka – Part 2
The previous article discussed the trend towards scaling down food production, this article explores the scaling up of vodka production within the global ethanol industry. The world is drinking more alcohol and much of it is vodka. Increasingly, vodka and other drinking spirits are being produced for a global market in ethanol plants, replacing traditional production in local small-batch distilleries. At Chopin Vodka, we take a distinctive approach to the way that vodka is made. We believe that vodka should be carefully crafted, not mass produced. We believe that the soil and the quality of the ingredients that we use in our distillation process matter. So, what is the ethanol industry and why is their spirit different from the vodka that we craft?
The ethanol industry began to take shape in the 1970s as a way to produce an alternative source of fuel – a hopeful starting-place for the problems of fossil fuel dependency and carbon monoxide emissions. Despite what might have been good intentions, the reality of producing ethanol as a ‘renewable fuel’ has produced some less-than-idyllic consequences. Although the percentage of industrial ethanol plants producing ‘drinking spirit’ is relatively small when compared to those for fuel, ethanol plants have begun to adapt their facilities in order to produce beverage-grade ethanol in addition to fuel. ‘Food-grade ethanol’ products range from vodka, gin, whisky, and bourbon to mouthwash and aftershave – creating a dependable fiscal buffer from the boisterous and unruly energy commodities market.
A steady flow of corn, sugar, grains and biomass is required in order to provide fodder for ethanol production. In the United States, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires that 36 billion US gallons of renewable fuel is to be used annually by 2022. In November 2015, the daily production in the United States, over the period of a week, broke records at a herculean one million barrels of ethanol.
“‘Food-grade ethanol’ ranges from Vodka, Gin, Whisky, and Bourbon to mouthwash and aftershave…”
A serious concern with industrial ethanol production is that arable farmland is being significantly degraded by the cost-efficient monocropping techniques being used to produce ethanol crops. Monocropping is dependent upon chemical inputs to maintain its yields, and has an overall negative impact on the delicate ecology of soil and water ecosystems.
In addition to soil degradation, agriculture is now traded as an energy commodity on global stock markets – driving food prices up throughout the world. In 2007-08 there was a ‘world food price crisis’, attributed in significant part to the use of agriculture as a source of energy. People rioted across the world as the prices of daily staples slipped beyond their reach. The issue of using arable land for food vs fuel, in the context of global food insecurity, is a very complex and heated debate.
At the Chopin distillery vodka is not a commodity, it is an ‘art’. Making vodka is our passion and our way of life, and the way that Chopin crafts its vodkas celebrates soil health and responsible farming practices. In cultures across the world, alcohol plays an important role in social customs and traditions; for us, it seems like a travesty to have the rich cultural tradition of crafting vodka give way to the soulless mechanisation of large-scale production. We believe that it is important to toast the special moments in life with a drink worthy of the occasion.