Feb 16, 2023 - News

Saving the Colorado River, one vodka bottle at a time

Connie Baker at the Marble Distilling bar in Carbondale. Photo: John Frank/Axios

Connie Baker at the Marble Distilling bar in Carbondale. Photo: John Frank/Axios

Connie Baker is looking to save the Colorado River — and the planet — one bottle of vodka at a time.

What's happening: Baker is co-founder and head distiller at Marble Distilling. She's so committed she painted that slogan on the wall above the mash tuns and kettles at her operation in Carbondale, Colo.

  • The distillery bills itself as "the most sustainable" in the world and uses a first-of-its-kind water and energy conservation system that reportedly saves more than 4 million gallons of water a year and uses 20% less energy than other distillers.
  • Where a typical distiller will use 100 liters of water to produce 1 liter of vodka, Marble's ratio is 1-to-1 with its closed-loop system.

Why it matters: Marble is one of the innovative micro-solutions that Western water watchers hope will help inspire broader action and save the Colorado River — the most endangered in the nation.

How it works: The distillery — whose spirits range from vodka and whisky to coffee and gingercello liqueurs — draws its water from the Crystal River, a tributary to the Colorado River.

  • The water is run through an above-ground geothermal loop before going through a series of condensers and exchangers from which energy is created, stored and reused.
  • The system also heats and cools the attached five-room hotel and the operation is 65% renewable energy.
  • In addition, the grains used to make the spirits are all grown in Colorado, and once finished, go to a farmer to feed cattle on a ranch 1 mile away.
  • The liquid is filtered through Yule marble — the same stone used in the Lincoln Memorial.

The big picture: Dozens of like-minded conservation efforts are in the works in the fields of agriculture but may extend to other distilleries and breweries.

What they're saying: "If we take seriously what's happening at the local level in our own backyards, and if everyone does that across the basin, you can make a difference where you live … and cumulative they do add up," says Hannah Holm at the advocacy organization American Rivers, who also is the co-founder of the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.

Between the lines: Marble makes about 250 barrels, or 500 cases, a year, and the sustainability element extends to the consumer pitch. In particular, younger consumers are willing to spend money on a product with a story or one that speaks to their values.

  • "We are the Patagonia of spirits," Baker says.

Yes, but: The product isn't cheap — and it's not easy to build a sustainable distillery. The front-end investment for equipment is much higher than traditional methods.

  • The company projects its return on investment for the higher-end system is at least five years, not counting the marketing benefits.

The bottom line: Baker, who started as a hobbyist brewing her mother's recipe before attending distilling school, wouldn't have it any other way.

  • "I love vodka; I love whisky too. But I'm not going to destroy the planet to make a great bottle of vodka," she tells us. "That doesn't make any sense."
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