How to Go Green: Cocktails

cocktails vodka square one martini photo

Photo: Kelly Rossiter

There is something about sipping on a cocktail surrounded by friends that makes a party feel special. It doesn't matter what the time of year, whether you are getting into the holiday spirit, or sitting on a dock by a lake. Anybody can uncork some wine or crack open a beer, but serving a cocktail takes some thought and imagination. Choosing the perfect cocktail to serve is a great way to set the mood of the party.

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Cocktails: Going green
It also takes a bit of ingenuity and legwork to make those cocktails green. There are a growing number of distilleries making organic spirits around the world, but crafting organic vodka, gin, whiskey and such is still the exception, and not the norm. They are often made in small batches and many are imported, both of which can make for an elevated price that not everyone can afford.

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Making green cocktails
Still, if you can find organic alcohol in your local liquor store, that's great, and you're well on your way to a greener cocktail. But the alcohol base isn't the only thing about cocktails that can be green. We'll help you with lots of other ways to green your drinks, from booze to shaker and everything in between. Read on to learn how to make your cocktails tasty and green.

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Top Green Cocktails Tips

  • Use organic liquors when you can
    More and more organic spirits are coming on the market, but actually finding them in your local store is not always easy. Vodka seems to be the most commonly available of spirits, which is great for you because so many terrific cocktails have a vodka base. Producers of organic spirits often make smaller batches and some retailers are reluctant to carry a product that they cannot guarantee will always be in stock. Ask your local purveyor or spirits about stocking organic products. They won't know you want it if you don't tell them.

  • Think local
    If you are lucky enough to have distillers in your state or even region, it may make more sense to buy their products. Some producers may not be "organic," per se, but some distillers are making ecologically sound efforts in their business practices. For example, Maker's Mark has just installed a new waste treatment system which allows them to recycle their waste stream and creates renewable energy. 360 Vodka has a paper reduction policy in place, uses compact fluorescent light bulbs and green cleaning supplies and has a significant recycling program in effect. And, even if your local distiller doesn't actively engage in green practices, having it shipped across a state or two sure beats the entire country and whole globe, for that matter.

  • Think seasonal
    Try to choose cocktails to fit in with your locale, and local, seasonal offerings. Take advantage of local fresh fruit juices and herbs in your summer drinks. Rather than make a traditional Screwdriver with orange juice, try a recipe that highlights a fruit that grows in your area such as grape or raspberry. In the winter time use fresh cranberries or mull some apple cider. If you are making a coffee-based drink, use organic dairy products and Fair Trade, organic coffee for those warming treats.

  • Use green garnishes
    Try using a pickled green bean, pickled onions or even a hot pepper in your martini instead of an olive or lemon peel. Fresh fruit such as raspberries and blueberries in the summer and cranberries in the fall and winter look beautiful floating in a cocktail glass. If you want to sprinkle a little chocolate over top over your Irish Coffee, be sure make it Fair Trade and organic.

  • Make your own cocktail mixes
    If you see a margarita mix in your grocery store, resist. There are lots of mixes and pre-mixed cocktails out there on the market, but that doesn't mean you have to buy them. Making your own cocktails from scratch ensures that you know that the freshest, healthiest ingredients have gone into them, without preservatives or chemicals. Using fresh juice leaves you with pulp and skin to compost. Using mixes leaves you with unnecessary packaging to dispose of. Not only that, if you are using organic alcohol, you have a premium product. Messing it up with overly sweet mixes just seems wrong, doesn't it?

  • Make your own spirits and liqueurs
    If you're up for a bit of a kitchen adventure, or you just can't find it, make your own booze. I had a bit of a conundrum because I am a gin drinker and I could only get organic vodka. So I did the next best thing and made my own. The key, or course, to making gin is procuring the juniper berries. Then you can play around with the other ingredients until you have a recipe that appeals to you. Add the juniper berries to a bottle of vodka and let it sit overnight. In the morning add the rest of the ingredients. At the end of the day, strain the botanicals from the alcohol and voila! You have a bottle of really delicious gin. And the best part is, your guests will be astonished that you made it. Check out the green cocktail recipes section of this guide for the full recipe, and you don't have to stop there. These recipes for Irish cream and Kahlua-style coffee liqueur will help you stock your bar DIY-style.

  • Try making your own non-alcoholic drinks (or additional mixers)
    Making exciting, tasty, non-alcoholic beverages is fun, and even making a carbonated replacement to sugary soda isn't as hard as you think. In addition to the selection of sparkling mixers (like soda or tonic) and fruit juices I recommend you have on hand for cocktails, why not try something like ginger ale? I have tried the gin recipe, but I haven't tried this recipe for ginger ale, so I can't personally vouch for it. My suggestion would be to give this recipe a trial run before you try it out on guests. And be fairly warned: if you aren't careful, it could make for exciting explosions in your kitchen, too.

  • Reuse or recycle empty liquor bottles
    Square One Vodka comes in a beautiful bottle that can be reused as a vase, or filled with shells as a decoration, or used as the age old candlestick holder. Other bottles that don't do as well doubling as vases should definitely be recycled according to your local recycling guidelines. In general, try to buy glass rather than plastic; it can be recycled infinitely, while plastic has a more limited lifespan. Stay away from bottles that have been etched, as a handful of nasty chemicals are required for that process. Companies like 360 Vodka use recycled paper and vegetable inks for their labels.

  • Be a responsible guest
    Cocktails are significantly higher in alcohol than wine or beer, so be careful how much you drink. When you have a martini you know you are having a h2 drink, but other cocktails often have lots of fun tasting ingredients that mask the strength of the alcohol. Intersperse glasses of tap water or fruit juice between alcoholic drinks and be sure to partake of any nibbles that your host is offering. Barfing isn't green, so, please, enjoy your favorite cocktails responsibly.

  • Be a responsible host
    As mentioned above, cocktails are h2! Set a time limit for cocktails and then stop serving them. Always have non-alcoholic drinks available for those who are driving or biking, or who just want to slow down a bit. It is essential to offer food to guests who are drinking alcohol. Simple crudite and dips or chips and salsa are great at a cocktail party. If your party is going longer into the evening, more substantial fare may be appropriate.

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Interesting Facts about Green Cocktails

  • 65-74: Calories per ounce of spirits.

  • 2000: Years since Mexicans discovered that the fermented juice of the agave plant was pretty tasty.

  • 2: Teaspoons of alcohol your liver can process per hour.

  • 142,327: Views of Spike Jones and the City Slickers perform Cocktails for Two on YouTube.

  • .08: Percentage of alcohol in your bloodstream that will get you arrested if you are driving.

  • 2: Number of days it takes to make your own gin.

  • 1000: Bottles of organic Da Mhile single malt Scotch laid down to celebrate the Millennium. It seems they are sold out now, but Prince Charles has a bottle, so if you happen to visit Highgrove to see his organic farm, maybe he'll offer you a wee dram.

  • 5-6: Hours, on average, it takes to metabolize 4 ounces of whiskey.

  • 1942: The year Rick cried into his drink, saying, "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine" in Casablanca.

  • 4: Number of times some premium organic spirits are distilled.

  • 167: Tons of material recycled by Vodka 360 in 2007.

Sources:, Grist, YouTube, Bruichladdich, Vodka 360
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Green Cocktail Recipes

Here are a few favorite recipes for green gin, ginger ale, and a selection of cocktails for all seasons and occasions.
Easy Homemade Gin
1 bottle (750 mL) inexpensive vodka
2 Tbsp juniper berries
3/4 tsp coriander seed

1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp fennel seed
3 green cardamom pods
2 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf, torn into pieces
1 (3-inch) sprig fresh rosemary
1 (2-inch-long) fresh lemon or lime peel
1 (1-inch) sprig fresh lavender

  1. Directions:
  2. Before going to bed, infuse the juniper in the vodka and let it sit overnight.
  3. In the morning, add the remaining spices and herbs, and let it infuse all day.
  4. At the end of the day, strain out the botanicals, grab your cocktail shaker or favorite glass, mix your favorite gin cocktails, and enjoy!
Homemade Ginger Ale Ingredients: 1 1/2 Tbsp grated ginger 1 lemon 1 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon yeast cool water clean 2-liter bottle or growler jug

  1. Directions:
  2. Juice the lemon and set it aside.
  3. Pour the sugar into the bottle.
  4. Pour the yeast into the bottle. Shake the bottle so that the yeast and sugar are mixed well.
  5. Pour the ginger and the lemon juice into the bottle.
  6. Fill the bottle about one-quarter full of cold water and shake well again, so that everything is mixed well and the sugar and yeast are dissolved.
  7. Fill up the bottle with water until nearly but not quite full, leaving an inch or two of space from the lid.
  8. Leave out the bottle in a warm spot for 2-3 days, or until it's carbonated to the degree you want. Chill the ginger ale in the fridge and enjoy. (You'll probably want to filter the ginger ale as you pour it into the glass. Otherwise you'll get little bits of grated ginger stuck on your lips.)
Black Pearl Cocktail

3/4 oz organic gin
1/2 oz blue curacao
3 oz cranberry juice

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Stir until well chilled and strain into a Martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Lemon Drop Cocktail

1 1/2 oz organic vodka

juice of 1/4 fresh lemon
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar

Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice, and shake until sugar is dissolved. Rim a Martini glass with fresh lemon and sugar, and add drink mixture. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Maple Leaf Cocktail

Juice of 1/4 fresh lemon
1/8 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tsp superfine sugar
1 1/2 oz vodka

1 to 2 tsp maple syrup (to taste)
Garnish: frozen cranberry

In a cocktail shaker, add fresh lemon juice, sugar and fresh or frozen cranberries. Muddle or mash thoroughly. Fill the shaker with ice and add vodka and maple syrup (to taste). Shake sharply and strain into a Martini glass. Garnish with a frozen cranberry.

Fireside Martini

3/4 oz organic vodka
3/4 oz Irish cream
1/2 oz white crème de cacao

Shake until frothy and strain into a Martini glass rimmed with crushed chocolate.

Cajun Martini

1 1/2 oz pepper-flavored vodka
Dash Tabasco or favorite hot sauce
1 pickled green bean

Pour the vodka chilled from the freezer into a chilled Martini glass. Add Tabasco (or favorite hot sauce) and garnish with the green bean.

Rusty Nail

1 1/2 oz organic Scotch whisky
1/2 Drambuie

Pour Scotch over ice in an old-fashioned glass. Float the Drambuie on top; do not stir. Garnish with lemon twist.

Sources: Epicurious,

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Where to Get Green Cocktail Supplies

Square One Vodka is made in the U.S. and has a pretty wide availability. This is the one I have tried, and it's very good.

360 Vodka is also widely available. Their website gives you information on what stores and bars carry the vodka in your neighbourhood.

Yet another good, green option is Prairie Organic Vodka.

The website for 4 Copas also gives you information on buying their organic tequila in your area

Other green spirits
Maison Jomere, "the organic spirits company," is based in the U.K., so they're easiest to find there, but they've begun exporting some of their organic spirits, including their UK5 organic vodka, Juniper Green Organic London Dry Gin, Highland Harvest Organic Scotch Whisky, Papagayo organic spiced rum, and Papagayo organic, Fair Trade white rum. Contact a broker near you for more info on buying their organic spirits and liquors.

You can buy Benromach Organic Scotch from Four Seasons Wine in the U.S. and directly from the source in the U.K.

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Green Cocktails: From the Archives

Dig deeper into green cocktails with these previous articles from the Planet Green and TreeHugger archives.

Check out our guide to Buy Green: Vodka to get some ideas for which green vodka to add to your bar next.

Our guides for How to Go Green: Beers and How to Go Green: Wine will help you go green while you tip back your favorite beverage.

If you are looking for summer cocktails to beat the heat check out Green Summer Gourmet: Cocktails.

Here are recipes for a summertime Watermelon Green-tini, and autumnal Pumpkin Spice Margarita, to help seasonal cocktails tickle your taste buds.

Here are some twists on classic cocktails and a bit of tropical flavor.

If you want to have that green cocktail outside of your house, why not visit an organic bar? Or a bar where they serve an organic dirty martini?

Revisit an earlier round up of great organic vodkas from TreeHugger.

More proof that vodka dominates the organic spirit market.

Sadly, Kentucky bourbon is yet another casualty of global climate change.

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Further Reading on Green Cocktails

Check out these other worthwhile sources for further reading on green cocktails.

HowStuffWorks has the goods for how alcohol works and the history of Prohibition.

For a huge number of cocktail recipes check out the LCBO website. They have a pretty comprehensive list organized by alcohol type. They also have an extensive list of non-alcoholic drinks.

For information on distilling scotch go to the website for Benromach Organic Whisky. They've got a pretty detailed section on how they get that delicious sipper.

Read about the fashion of healthy cocktails in the New York Times and in Marie Claire.

If you need information on what to wear to that cocktail party try watching this little video at LifeVideopedia.

Read a book on cocktails, Classic Cocktails: a Modern Shake, by a philosophy professor, and maybe he will deconstruct it for you.

Anyone who enjoys a good martini must see The Thin Man from 1934. No one makes drinking a cocktail look as sophisticated as Myrna Loy and William Powell. All About of Eve from 1950 is another great film involving cocktails. Then, of course, for any Tom Cruise fans out there, there is always Cocktail.

How to Go Green: Cocktails
There is something about sipping on a cocktail surrounded by friends that makes a party feel special. It doesn't matter what the time of year, whether you are getting into the holiday spirit, or sitting on a dock by a lake.

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