Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
Printer-friendly version Share:  Share this page on FacebookShare this page on TwitterShare this page by emailShare this page with other services

ENJOY | The Green Life

By Avital Binshtock

Worth a Shot | Trendsetter | Natural Beauty


Forget the menudo. Next time you plan to celebrate hard, mitigate the morning-after misery by limiting your intake to these sustainable spirits. The planet, if not your liver, will thank you. (The liquor experts below were asked to abstain from recommending any firewater with which they have a professional affiliation.)


DEAN PHILLIPS is the fifth-generation president of Minneapolis's Phillips Distilling Company. He oversees the production of more than 70 brands, including Phillips Union Whiskey, Trader Vic's, and the award-winning Prairie Organic Vodka, a co-op brand in which more than 900 Minnesota farmers hold a stake.

"My favorite new ecofriendly spirit is Death's Door White Whisky from Madison, Wisconsin. Founder Brian Ellison sources organic wheat from Washington Island farmers, reuses hot water from the still to heat mash, and supplies his spent mash to feed local dairy cows. He's also a founding member of the environmental nonprofit 1% for the Great Lakes. The outstanding whiskey rests in uncharred oak barrels before bottling and offers tequila and sake notes on the bouquet. Drink it neat, on the rocks, or as the base for unique cocktails." $35 for 750 milliliters


H. JOSEPH EHRMANN, known as "H," has been a bartender for almost two decades. In 2003, he restored one of San Francisco's oldest saloons and reopened it as Elixir. The bar has since become America's first to achieve a Green Business certification and has been listed among Food and Wine's top 100 U.S. bars. In 2010, Nightclub and Bar magazine named him bartender of the year.

"Del Maguey is a family of mezcals made in remote villages in Oaxaca, Mexico, by a collection of distiller-farmers. They offer enticing smoky and floral aromas, a rich and creamy mouthfeel, and sip-after-sip palate satisfaction. My favorite is San Luis del Rio. I spent a week visiting these villages as the company was going through organic certification, and I observed the painstaking attention to detail by eighth- and ninth-generation distillers who do everything by hand. Truly some of the finest distillates in the world." $69 for 750 milliliters


PAUL ABERCROMBIE is the author of Organic, Shaken and Stirred: Hip Highballs, Modern Martinis and Other Totally Green Cocktails (Harvard Common Press, 2009). He lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about cocktails, wine, and travel for the Washington Post, Wine Enthusiast, and other publications.

"Gin has come a long way from Prohibition bathtubs. Among the better organic brands is Juniper Green Organic Gin, distilled in central London. Despite its distinct flavor—a riot of organic juniper berries, coriander, angelica root, and savory—it won't overpower a cocktail's other ingredients." About $25 for 750 milliliters


Chicago-based writer EDWARD HAMILTON has been visiting distilleries throughout the Caribbean for 20 years. He runs the Web site Ministry of Rum and wrote The Complete Guide to Rum: An Authoritative Guide to Rums of the World (Triumph, 1997).

"Nicaragua's Flor de Cana is the most environmentally friendly distillery I've ever visited. They recycle and reuse 100 percent of their byproducts. Spent yeast from the distillation process is converted into ethanol that powers the distillery and into fertilizer and animal feed. The sugar mill that makes the molasses generates up to 30 percent of Nicaragua's electricity, reducing the country's dependence on foreign oil. The Grand Reserve 7 Year has notes of raw cocoa, cinnamon, and nutmeg and some vanilla and pecan flavors in the finish." About $25 for 750 milliliters


COURTNEY REUM is the founder of VeeV Acai Spirit, the world's first certified carbon-neutral spirits company and the best-selling new U.S. liquor brand in 2010. The Chicago native donates $1 per bottle sold to rainforest-preservation groups.

"I enjoy Square One Organic Vodka. The rich, bread-like taste is born out of organically grown rye—not mass-produced corn or potatoes—and a certified-organic fermentation process developed especially for Square One. It is this attention to quality at the production level—rather than resorting to chemical flavoring or high-tech tinkering—that makes Square One stand out from the rest." About $35 for 750 milliliters

ON THE WEB To read more expert recommendations for eco-booze, go to


"What fascinates me about land management is that the canvas we have to perform that art on is our own backyard."
—Chuck Leavell

Chuck Leavell, keyboardist, tree farmer, and author | Photo by Fernando Decillis

Chuck Leavell has been a melodic force behind some of rock 'n' roll's biggest acts. He played with George Harrison and Eric Clapton and has been touring with the Rolling Stones for nearly 30 years. (The rollicking piano solo on the Allman Brothers Band's hit instrumental "Jessica" is his.) Leavell is also a committed conservationist and tree farmer. He and his wife, Rose Lane, grow oak, elm, and pine trees on their 2,500-acre forest in Bullard, Georgia. A cofounder of the popular eco-site Mother Nature Network, he just finished his fourth book about conservation, Growing a Better America: Smart, Strong and Sustainable.

Q: What got you into tree farming?

A: It's all my wife's fault. She comes from a family that's dedicated to the land and has been for generations. In 1981 we inherited property from her grandmother. We considered all manner of possibilities for it—pecans, peaches, different options. But the more I studied forestry, the more I got a long-term view of what managing a forest has to offer.

Q: What's good about planting trees?

A: Oh my goodness. What's not good about planting trees? First, they give us incredible natural, organic, renewable building materials. Second, they give us a tremendous list of products. They also clean our air, clean our water, and provide home and shelter to all manner of wildlife. Trees are the best sequesterer of carbon there is. To me, they're really the most important natural resource we have.

Q: Do musicians tend to be more in tune with the earth?

A: One of the first "aha" moments I had was realizing that my instrument comes from the resource of wood. It's the same with just about any other musical instrument—even saxophones have a reed. So there's already, for me, a very strong connection to the earth with music. I think musicians in general are sensitive to that. —interview by A.B.

ON THE WEB Read a longer interview with Chuck Leavell at


Plenty of eco-minded women flip their silky manes at the stereotype of the frumpy, bare-faced tree hugger. These cosmetic products, none of which were tested on animals, are for them. —A.B.

The mineral makeup from MYCHELLE is both down-to-earth and luxurious. The Cream Foundation ($26) goes on smoothly, thanks to an organic safflower-seed-oil moisturizer and to micas and silica, which lend a luminous yet matte look. MyChelle's skin care line is also excellent, and all of the company's products are free of parabens, preservatives, and phthalates.

Mark Constantine, founder and co-owner of LUSH, concocted the nonsynthetic Flower Market perfume ($40), with notes of carnation, ylang ylang, and violet, in homage to Audrey Hepburn. The earthy spiciness comes on strong at first, but as it settles in, a sophistication emerges, lasting all day. Lush campaigns against Indonesian palm oil production and Canadian tar sands mining. Also, 70 percent of its soapy inventory has no packaging.

The vegan Volume Mascara ($20), by Germany's LAVERA, is made with organic jojoba and rose oils—and lengthens and stays put just as well as nonorganic brands. Lavera eschews parabens, GMOs, and petroleum-based ingredients, and its products are approved by BDIH, the world's toughest certifying board for organic cosmetics.

Providing multifunctionality for the makeup minimalist, 3wayColor ($9), from KISS MY FACE, works for lips, cheeks, and eyes; comes in four shades; and contains olive and mango butter. The company is housed in a solar-powered converted barn and feed store.

Conceived by Kim D'Amato, who was pregnant and looking for nontoxic polish, PRITI produces more than 130 hues of nail color ($12.50 each) made from organic compounds and devoid of petroleum byproducts and formaldehyde. Priti also offers a recycled-glass nail file ($15) and a biodegradable nail polish remover ($11.25) infused with lemongrass and coconut oil.

After losing his mother and several friends to cancer, PETER LAMAS developed his Naturals Haircare line to help protect people and the planet from the unregulated chemicals in beauty products. His shampoos ($18 each) are made with certified-organic flower, root, and seed extracts, and they do just what they say: hydrate, volumize, and untangle.

Liquor and makeup photos by Lori Eanes



Sierra Club® and "Explore, enjoy and protect the planet"® are registered trademarks of the Sierra Club. © 2024 Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club Seal is a registered copyright, service mark, and trademark of the Sierra Club.