Sustainability has become a buzzy concept in the spirits business. The websites of major producers now tell of their carbon footprint: “A single measure of our vodka has a carbon footprint of 70g CO2—that’s less than a can of cola and about the same as a packet of crisps or watching television for 45 minutes,” says Diageo of Smirnoff. Absolut calls itself “planet earth’s favorite vodka.” And that’s just vodka—but the spirit is no small matter, as one of the best-selling globally. While it saw a bit of a rough patch in sales recently, the business of higher-end vodkas is still strong. Combine the buzziness of sustainability and the success of pricey bottles, and the time is right for Air Co., which calls itself carbon neutral. It removes carbon from the air and turns it into vodka out of their Bushwick headquarters.
They remove fermentation from the distillation process and run on solar power—thus, all they use is air (carbon dioxide) and water to make pure ethanol. It’s an efficient version of the photosynthesis performed by plants. The ethanol is then distilled with water, boasting a sugar and carbohydrate free final product.
To explain how Air Co. differs from other vodkas, co-founder Greg Constantine explains that the difference is in the source. “Traditionally, when you use corn or grain or potato whatever have you, you get a bunch of different types of alcohols: you get ethanol; you get methanol; you get all these other forms of alcohols that traditionally, when you distill, you’re trying to remove all these bad forms of alcohols that give you a hangover,” he says. “And you’re trying to just get to ethanol because vodka is essentially ethanol and water. Because we skip the fermentation process and we don’t break down the sugars, we don’t get any of those bad alcohols. It’s purely ethanol the end of that process. So when we talk about purity—we may be lacking impurities from other bad types of alcohols that you don’t want to drink.”
And to change minds about vodka, they’re focusing on being in bars at Michelin-starred restaurants and bars like Employees Only, but they hope to be available on liquor store shelves in 2020.