What does it take to build one of the world’s most sustainable distilleries? Ask Carbondale’s Connie Baker.
On a whim, the former contractor went to distilling school where she fell in love with making vodka, discovering that, “it can be made from almost anything.” She spent the next four years creating mashes and developing recipes that would become the cornerstone of Marble Distilling Co. & The Distillery Inn (MDC), a Carbondale, Colorado-based business, and world’s first net-zero distillery, that she co-founded with friends and family in 2015.
Along the way, she also unearthed a dirty secret about the industry: most distilleries flush unthinkable amounts of resources — hot water and compostable mash — down the drain. She knew there had to be a better way.
This curiosity of how things are made — and made better — has served her team well in developing their unique approach. The sustainability pioneer is the world’s only net-zero distillery recapturing 100% of the process water and harvesting the energy off of this process. Working with a team of twenty local engineers and energy gurus, MDC created an award-winning Water and Energy Thermal System (WETS) that reclaims and reuses the water from the distilling process to heat the building. This innovative closed-loop system saves four million gallons of water and 75 metric tons of carbon each year.
Leading-edge technology like this comes at a cost. Without external funding, the vision would have remained a cocktail napkin dream. Partnering with the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) — a trailblazing clean-energy nonprofit behind the nation’s first carbon mitigation fee and Colorado’s first wind power program — was a key to lift-off. CORE awarded the net-zero distillery $33,875 in grant funding, supported the team with technical and financial advising, and encouraged them to apply for a USDA Rural Energy grant that reimbursed 25% of the upfront costs of the WETS system. CORE and MDC hope their unique private-public partnership will be a model for others. Operating from an open-source mentality, MDC invites other distilleries, nonprofits and municipalities to glean from their experiences and program designs.
“Innovative thinking and community partnerships like this one will create the unexpected solutions and new technologies that are the key to our future,” said Mona Newton, executive director of CORE. “We are proud to step up to the challenge with Marble Distilling Co., a company that is an inspiration to us all.”
Catherine Lutz is a freelance writer based in Aspen. As a former newspaper reporter who has written about everything from entertainment to skiing to climate change for a wide variety of publications, nonprofits, and businesses, she understands the power of words to help connect us more closely with an idea, issue, or other people. An avid skier and biker raising two children to appreciate how lucky they are to grow up in the Roaring Fork Valley, she also hopes she and her family can make a positive impact on the community and the environment that sustains us.