We’ve dined on organic food and toasted with organic beers and wines. But what about sustainable spirits? That’s the question Allison Evanow, founder and CEO of Square One Organic Spirits, asked herself in a San Francisco Bay Area bar back in 2002.
A longtime resident of the Bay Area, Evanow visited farmers markets and enjoyed knowing where her food came from and how it was made. A self-described “foodie” and a longstanding spirits fan, the former bartender became frustrated that she couldn’t find a natural, organic alternative to conventional cocktails.
“I remember going to restaurants and ordering a cocktail before dinner and just not feeling like what I was able to drink felt natural in any way, shape or form,” Evanow told Earth911. “I became, by default, a beer or a wine drinker, because I just really never felt that the opportunity existed to drink something that tasted a little more natural and fresh.”
After sticking to beer and wine for years, Evanow noticed that Bay Area bartenders were beginning to source cocktail ingredients from local farmers markets and assemble drink lists the same way chefs create seasonal menus.
“That was kind of what brought it together was watching what these guys were doing but realizing they didn’t have organic spirits to work with,” Evanow remembered. “So, I have to give credit to the bartenders, because they basically gave me the idea.”
All Square One vodkas are made from organic rye grown by a group of farmers in Montana. Oddly enough, sourcing organically-grown rye turned out to be the easy part for Evanow in the early days of Square One. The hard part was finding a distiller who was willing and able to turn the rye into vodka without synthetic chemicals.
Conventional vodkas are made with genetically-modified laboratory yeasts and a range of synthetic chemical agents that regulate fermentation of grain into a mash, which is then distilled into a spirit.
These synthetic agents have become standard in the industry because they ensure high yields and a uniform, speedy process. But companies can’t use synthetics and still label their products as Certified Organic, so Evanow had to track down another option.
To solve the dilemma, Square One worked with a master distiller for nearly two years to develop and refine a production process that is able to create rye vodka without chemical additives. By utilizing natural wild yeasts and a fermentation aid allowed under organic standards, Square One became the first rye vodka in America to attain organic certification for its distillation process.
“For us, it’s as much about what isn’t in our product as much as what is in it,” Evanow said.