Success Beyond Spirits
Planet, people and profit prosper at Minnesota’s Vikre Distillery
The U.S. craft distillery industry continues to expand. In 2018 alone, the industry saw a 15.5 percent growth of new distilleries. While that’s great for imbibers increasingly interested in local spirits, distilleries haven’t always been so great on Mother Nature, especially regarding water usage. Vikre Distillery is looking to change that narrative.
Emily and Joel Vikre opened Vikre Distillery in 2013 with a strong social and environmental focus. Having Lake Superior literally in their backyard, the Vikres have always been passionate about running their business in a way that would respect the lake and their home of Duluth, Minn.
“We really carry that sense of being stewards and good neighbors of the lake,” says Emily Vikre. “It’s so critical to the life here, and we know from so many historical examples that things that seem vast—if you don’t pay attention—are gone in a flash, so we have a strong sense of protecting it.”
Working with local engineers to reduce their wastewater produced during the heating and cooling process, they fabricated a closed-loop system that would reuse the same water over and over. After the water heats up as it cools off the spirits being distilled, they cool that water down by running the loop outside of the building, where temperatures almost never pass 70 degrees on the lakeshore.
Though occasionally they have to refresh the system, the distillery has reduced process water usage by an astounding 80 percent. In doing so, not only does this triple bottom line company reduce water usage, it simultaneously reduces the water bill, resulting in lasting savings moving forward.
“Look at those things where planet and profit overlap,” continues Emily Vikre. “You can save money by making environmental changes.”
Changes they have made: Grains are sourced locally. Botanicals are foraged on local, organic-certified land. Bottles are reusable and returned by the public to be sanitized and reused. Their labels are printed with biodegradable ink.
Perhaps the biggest endeavor the distillery has taken on is the goal of becoming a zero-waste facility. The staff ultimately made the final decision to go all-in, and they’ve succeeded in diverting about 90 percent of the distillery’s waste away from the landfill.
“We make less trash between our whole distilling operation and cocktail room than the average American individual,” she says. How do they know? Trash audits.
Currently, the distillery produces around 25 pounds of trash a week, while composting more than 140 pounds. “Our staff is more detail oriented about implementing and monitoring it than we are sometimes,” Vikre beams. “They’re just such rock stars!”
What’s next? The team is researching alternative energy sources to implement, like solar or tidal, while continuing to persuade others to see where they can make positive changes. Vikre says to not be ashamed to go for the low-hanging fruit first.
“It’s a lot better to have everybody doing some good things imperfectly than two people doing things perfectly,” she says. “If you have a creative solution, pursue it and see where it goes.”