Producing the Mexican agave spirit mezcal produces a lot of waste, which is why drinks brand Sombra Mezcal has developed a process for making green building material, adobe bricks, used in the construction of houses in Mexico.
For every bottle of mezcal made there are 10 bottles of liquid waste and 12 kilograms of the solid waste (bagazo) created. In Matatlán, the heartland of mescal-making in Oaxaca, Mexico, much of the liquid waste called vinaza is pumped into the river, which causes the water to become acidic, killing the fish and plant life within it.
That’s why Sombra Mezcal has teamed up with architects Consultorio de Asesoría Arquitectónica to develop a technique which combines the two forms of waste to create adobe bricks, with the addition of dirt from around Sombra Mezcal’s Oaxaca-based distillery. The mixture is then transported to a machine, a few hours drive from the distillery, where it is then compressed into a strong brick in 60 seconds.
Last year on Earth Day, Sombra Mezcal and Consultorio de Asesoría Arquitectónica completed the construction of the first house made with their mezcal waste. This home replaces a dwelling that was destroyed during the 2017 earthquakes that shook Oaxaca.
Founded by environmental lawyer turned sommelier Richard Betts in 2006, Sombra Mezcal has always had sustainability in mind. With his vision for creating a sustainable mezcal, Richard Betts opened a new distillery in Oaxaca.
The distillery features solar panels that take advantage of Oaxaca’s 300 days of sun a year, using the sunlight to power the stone wheel mill (which crush the agave) rather than use animals such as donkeys.
At Sombra Mezcal’s Oaxaca headquarters, the agave plants are organically farmed and then roasted atop sustainable wood.
Created as a model of sustainable production, the distillery also features underground tanks that capture rainwater that’s used in the distilling and cooling processes. The mezcal is poured in to bottles made from recycled glass, and the physical byproducts from the production are upcycled into adobe bricks.
Richard Betts says: “Our industry, the spirits industry, is full of amazing, smart, capable and creative people. It is also an industry of fun, and sometimes in the midst of this fun we forget to get to the heart of the matter and ask the important questions. For us at Sombra, rather than taking the notion of tradition at face value, we have opted to dissect it further.
“We’ve evaluated ‘tradition’ for its environmental impact, its sustainability, and its ethical considerations. In doing so, we have arrived at a vision for a brand new, 21st century palenque(distillery). We believe it is the future of thoughtful, environmentally friendly production (that also happens to makes great mezcal).”
Sombra Mezcal donates at least 1% of sales to certified environmental charities and local educational initiatives in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea