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A sustainable spirit: how Hiram Walker is greening their distillery processes

A sustainable spirit: how Hiram Walker is greening their distillery processes

Thursday June 17, 2021

Hiram Walker & Sons Limited, one of Bullfrog’s newest commercial customers, is the largest “grain to glass” operation in Ontario, and serves as a centre for innovation, distilling and new product development. With 37 fermenters that produce vodka, rum, Canadian whisky, and more, they have the largest distillery capacity in North America! But how does the distilling process actually work? And what kind of environmental impact does it have? 

How the distilling process works

The bottling process at Hiram Walker’s Windsor facility
The bottling process at Hiram Walker’s Windsor facility

Distilling is the process of physically separating alcohol from water using evaporation and condensation. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so distillers can evaporate the alcohol by itself, collect the vapors into a tube, and use cold temperatures to force the alcohol to condense back into liquid. Each time alcohol is heated, condensed, and collected is called a distillation.

What are the environmental impacts of distilling?

The distilling process uses a significant amount of energy and water. Refrigeration is often part of the process too, which draws even more electricity use. There are also the shipping-related emissions that need to be taken into account when distributing the final product.

And environmental impact isn’t just about what you put in—what comes out of the process is equally important. When it comes to distilling, the byproducts are often waste that can’t be recycled.

Overall, to distill spirits requires a lot of energy and creates waste byproducts—that’s why Hiram Walker invests in green energy, works to improve the facility’s energy efficiency, and has launched the Wet Distillers Grain Project.  

What’s Hiram Walker doing for sustainability?

Hiram Walker’s parent company, Pernod Ricard, has created a robust 2030 sustainability and responsibility strategy: “Good Times from a Good Place”. This strategy addresses all aspects of the business from grain to glass, and is based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Some examples of their clear sustainability targets include:

  • Committing to reach net zero carbon emissions for scopes 1 and 2 of its production by 2030
  • Committing to have all production sites and offices powered by renewable electricity by 2025
  • Fully eliminating single-use plastic promotional items by 2021—a target they’ve already reached!
  • All packaging to be fully recyclable, compostable, reusable, or bio based by 2025

How Hiram Walker is reducing waste from distillation

In addition to these initiatives, the Hiram Walker Windsor facility recently launched their Wet Distillers Grain initiative. The Windsor facility uses 120,000 tonnes of grain for the distilling process every year. After the distilling process each week, they’re left with 2,600 tonnes of waste that resembles a thin soup with bits and particles of grain flour.

Before the Wet Distillers Grain initiative, the waste was dried and shipped to markets around the world—using a lot of energy and creating shipping-related emissions. Now, the byproduct is sold to local farmers for livestock feed to reduce the distance it’s shipped.

By implementing the Wet Distillers Grain initiative, Hiram Walker:

  • Reduces carbon emissions by eliminating the drying process and shipping of waste
  • Ensures that 70% of each tonne of waste will become wet distillers grain—meaning that this grain is diverted from being waste and is sold as livestock feed
  • Reduces CO2 emissions by 20% in the program’s first year

Hiram Walker is also bullfrogpowering their Windsor facility with green natural gas. In 2021 alone, their purchase will reduce their emissions by 4,000 tonnes of CO2e. That’s equivalent to taking 868 cars off the road for one year, or growing 66,000 tree seedlings for 10 years!

Interested in more corporate sustainability stories? Click here to see why Freightzy wants their competitors to join them in offsetting corporate shipping.