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Here's how drinking mezcal helps build houses

The Sombra Mezcal distillery in Oaxaca, Mexico, figured out how to make mezcal more sustainably and how to use the by-product in construction.

Posted: May 8, 2018 5:33 AM
Updated: May 8, 2018 5:33 AM

While much attention is paid to eating sustainable, organic and local foods, you may not also be thinking about the carbon footprint of the cocktail you pair with your meal.

For example, take the trendy spirit mezcal. In typical production, the amount of liquid waste for every bottle that's produced measures up to approximately 10 additional bottles.

Typically this by-product is discarded into rivers near the distillery (in Spanish, a palenque -- not to be confused with the historical Palenque), and these bodies of water are also often sources of drinking water as well as home to an underwater ecosystem.

Richard Betts, founder of Oaxaca's Sombra Mezcal, has found a solution to this problem.

His distillery in Mexico has reimagined the traditional practice of mezcal production: rather than disposing of the production waste, the by-products are composted into adobe bricks that can be used to build homes.

Not only did Betts improve the production chain by reusing the waste, Sombra has rethought almost every step of mezcal production to make the process more environmentally friendly.

For starters, the agave plants are organically farmed and then roasted atop sustainable wood. Traditionally, agave is crushed by a mule-powered mill. But in order to avoid the use of animal labor, Betts constructed a solar-powered mill.

Additionally, the water supply is sourced via a rain collection system, and the agave juice is fermented using local yeast (while most distilleries opt for a commercial yeast).

The changes Betts has made to the mezcal production process are a major breakthrough in both sustainability and spirit production.

Sombra hopes to lead by example in the food and beverage industry's lean toward environmentally sustainable products and practices -- all without sacrificing taste.

Oaxaca's warm and dry climate provides the perfect environment for the creation of adobe bricks using the mezcal production by-product.

Since Oaxaca is located in southern Mexico, the region sits among some of the world's most active tectonic plates. Many families living in these rural areas lose their homes in earthquakes, which caused Betts to think about how he could truly make a difference in the community.

Since many who lose their homes lack the resources to rebuild, Betts decided to donate the Sombra adobe bricks to this cause.

The first home built entirely of adobe bricks from the Sombra distillery has been completed, and a Oaxacan family happily calls it home.

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