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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Cocktails for a Cause:
Mission-Driven Distilleries Champion Conservation

Alma del Jaguar Tequila and Mutiny Island Vodka are using their small but growing footprint to protect jaguars in a volatile borderland and expand the potential of an underused superfood, respectively.

More and more liquor brands are raising the bar for sustainable spirits: Companies including Bombay Sapphire and Maker’s Mark are leading major players by example; while smaller distillers are setting new standards for sustainable rum, gin and whiskey and turning waste from tequila production into everything from flour to bricks.

Now, two younger spirits brands are making a mark through business models built around nature conservation.

Mutiny Island Vodka

Image credit: Mutiny Island Vodka

For Mutiny Island Vodka, based on the US Virgin Island of St. Croix, it’s about its primary ingredient and giving it more exposure to ultimately protect it.

“Our basic premise was that breadfruit is a criminally underused resource, and we wanted to incentivize it by planting it,” founder Todd Manley told Sustainable Brands® (SB).

Manley, an award-winning chef and restaurateur, started Mutiny Island in 2017 with a laser-focus on using every part of the breadfruit — a tree-bound, versatile superfood with a spiky exterior and starchy interior. It is thought that breadfruit came to the Caribbean from the South Pacific sometime in the late 1700s and flourished in the similar growing climate.

Manley created what the company calls “a perfect distillation” of breadfruit and Caribbean rainwater in a process that’s essentially zero waste — using all parts of the breadfruit and sending spent portions post-distilling to local farms to use as livestock feed. The byproduct is what Manley calls a “nutrient-dense” water from which the feed can be separated before returning the water back into the ground.

Breadfruit has been having a small resurgence, mainly for its carbon-capture potential and resilience in the face of climate change. Not only does breadfruit thrive in warmer climates — it also enriches biodiversity with a quick growing cycle of 1-2 years in places that often need suitable, investable agriculture such as those in tropical areas.

Manley says that the company could produce as many as two million bottles a year at the St. Croix facility, but as of now are only at about 10 percent of that. He expects production to grow as awareness around the fruit’s benefits continues to grow.

“We are a premium product; but we don’t price it like that, because we want everyone to taste it,” he says.

Alma del Jaguar Tequila

Image credit: Alma del Jaguar

Meanwhile, in 2022, in another warm region of North America, spirits entrepreneur McCauley Williams — then-CEO of B.R. Distilling Company, maker of Blue Note Bourbon and Riverset Rye — shifted his focus from whiskey to tequila, inspired by his uncle’s mission to save endangered jaguars along the US/Mexico border.

“I wanted to do something with a bigger brand mission, and a light bulb went on,” he told SB.

That year, he founded Morningside Brands to build a mission-based portfolio of spirits that are handcrafted, sustainably produced, and developed to raise awareness and impact for selected causes; then, in May 2023, he launched its first brand, Alma del Jaguar Tequila — whose mission is to protect Jaguars through donations to and awareness of his uncle’s Northern Jaguar Project. Much of the area’s jaguar habitat overlaps with areas that foster agave; and although the company has already donated $30,000 in proceeds to the non-profit, Williams quickly discovered that his spirits project opened up a much larger conversation — about the complexities of an American entrepreneur working with local Mexican purveyors against the backdrop of the border debate.

“Tequila allows people to talk about the border in a more casual setting. It’s changed my perspective of Mexico completely,” he says.

He says he’s been fortunate to have only positive experiences working with his Mexican counterparts, and that bringing Alma to life has given him new appreciation that the border crisis is as much an environmental issue as it is a social issue.

“There’s just a whole other dynamic of politics and a sense of national pride that’s different from how we perceive it here,” he adds.

Another way Alma deviates from other tequila brands is a firm commitment to produce everything close to the source, including its packaging. Even with a 16-18 percent material premium, Williams found it made more sense to source a bottle, cap, box and label all produced within 85 miles of the distillery — primarily because of the area’s reputation as a manufacturing hub. It reduces his logistics costs and builds a direct connection with local Mexican manufacturers.

“If you do things the right way, you find all these ergonomic efficiencies that also do good for the bottom line,” he says.

He also made a commitment to stick to a pure, unfiltered product free from any additives that he says are in “95 percent” of tequilas and leads to many cases of “mislabeling.”

Above all, Williams says that he’s learning that you don’t have to sacrifice to become a mission-driven, environmentally focused spirits brand; and it’s something he wants to challenge others to realize, as well.

“The mission here isn’t to be the only one,” he says. “We want everyone else to do it, too.”