As a motorcycle enthusiast you’ve likely changed or upgraded the mufflers on that stock Harley-Davidson.
Maybe even gone so far as to push it up a notch with a full exhaust upgrade, race tuner, cam and dyno tuning to live’n up the motor and eek out a few more ponies. And wink, wink, nod, nod, I’m sure that EPA certified “cat” remained on the bike to reduce tailpipe emissions, right?
We all know that exhaust mods are a fine line in the environmental sand, yet most motorcycle enthusiasts if ask would state that they un-equivalently have a great appreciation for nature and their experiences with it on the open road. Maybe even consider themselves “Green.” I’m not talking about a raging tree-hugger environmentalist or “Hybrid Head” here, but someone who indeed cares about the environment and wants to do their stewardship part. And by riding a fuel efficient motorcycle it qualifies to a degree to speak with some green conviction vs. the guzzler tax crowd.
Could we do more? Sure. So, let’s talk about the environmental footprint of your favorite refreshment after a long day of riding the Harley-Davidson.
Whether it’s a beverage served on the rocks in a comfy biker bar or at home in a frosted mug or sipped from a flask with riding buddies around a campfire. The production of whiskey and other spirits requires much more energy than wine or beer. In addition, the distilling process also makes a lot of waste.
If you recall in college 101 we learned that “liquor is quicker” than wine or beer. But producing it uses more energy, ounce for ounce, and nearly all the water that goes into the still emerges as waste. So, if you’re fully committed to making a difference on this planet or maybe you’re just feeling guilty about that exhaust modification and want to know how the various spirits stack up so that you can do something about it. Here is the invaluable information:
Whiskey: Single malt Scotch is made from only one grain source, while most American whiskeys are made from mixtures of rye, corn, wheat, or barley. So what’s the greenest? Most single malts are produced by boutique outfits using old-fashioned energy-hogging pot stills, as opposed to the more efficient column-style stills employed by major distillers. And while American bourbons are aged in virgin-oak barrels that are used only once, most of those barrels end up being reused by other liquor makers. Green Suggestion: Maker’s Mark. The bourbon maker buys local grain and turns its waste into energy. Most of the company’s land is a nature preserve.
Vodka and Gin: Although some vodkas are still made from potatoes, most now come from a mix of grains. Ditto for gin. In terms of distillation, vodka requires more energy and water than most spirits. That’s because it’s distilled down to 95 percent ethanol—some ethanol plants even make vodka on the side—then diluted back to 40 percent. Gins are often made the same way. Green Suggestion: Square One vodka, which is organic and purchases one-quarter of its electricity from a local wind farm through renewable energy credits. TRU2 gin uses lightweight bottles and recyclable corks, and plants a tree for each bottle it sells.
Rum: The mojito enabler is made from molasses or cane juice, and its fibrous leftovers can throw off the microorganism balance in waterways. In 2001, the EPA sued Bacardi for illegally dumping 3,000 gallons of this goop into a river near its Puerto Rico plant. (Many major distillers now treat their water.) Sugarcane is also a notoriously destructive crop, producing massive amounts of wastewater and greenhouse gases. Green Suggestion: Don Qrum. The Puerto Rico-based distiller turns its waste into compost and irrigation water, and uses excess steam from its treatment plant to help power the still.
Tequila: Tequila’s waste problem is as bad as rum’s. For every liter of tequila, you get about 11 pounds of pulp and 10 liters of vinazas, or acidic waste—which ends up befouling soil and water in Mexico’s Jalisco state, where most tequila comes from. Blue agave farmers, meanwhile, have used more and more pesticides since their crops were chewed up by insects during the 1990’s. Green Suggestion: Casa Noble or 4 Copas, the first tequilas to be certified organic.
Beer: In 2008, New Belgium Brewing Company commissioned an environmental analysis (PDF) of its Fat Tire Amber Ale and found that refrigeration accounted for almost one-third of its overall greenhouse-gas emissions. Glass production was second, contributing 22 percent. Though aluminum production is an environmental disaster, cans beat bottles handily on the carbon front: Pablo Päster, a blogger and sustainability consultant, calculates that shipping cans rather than bottles results in 30 percent fewer emissions. And cans are recycled at significantly higher rates. Good news for your inner frat boy: Kegs are the most efficient vessels of all. Green Suggestion: New Belgium. The Colorado-based company brews in superefficient kettles and is entirely powered by renewables.
Of course none of this is relevant unless taking into account greenhouse gas emissions and the water footprint to manufacture the product. So, to be fair it takes about 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer and as much as 132 gallons of water to make a 2-liter bottle of soda.
There you have it. A green guide to refreshments for your next motorcycle road trip.
Photo courtesy of eBay, H-D and Jack Daniels (’80’s vintage t-shirt). Full Disclosure: Author has no affiliation with any of the above listed spirits manufactures. Don’t drink and ride.