WILLIAMSBURG – A young startup in North Brooklyn released a sustainable spirit earlier this month, a vodka made out of “air, sun, and water.”
The brainchild of former marketing executive of Smirnoff Vodka’s campaign, Greg Constantine, and chemist and environmentalist Stafford Sheehan, Air Co., is the first brand in the vodka industry to distill alcohol using just two ingredients—carbon dioxide and water.
“The spirits industry, and namely vodka, has never been innovative,” Constantine told Bklyner. “Climate change and the surplus of carbon dioxide is the biggest problem facing humanity, and creating a product the benefits the planet should be at the core of any business.”
Constantine and Stafford met at a bar over two years ago, and quickly bonded over the industry’s lack of environmentalism. They took an idea from academia, put it into practice at the lab, and then commercialized a technology that has never existed before.
Constantine, originally from Australia, traveled in Russia for around a month sampling vodka and understanding its origin, culture, and process.
Traditional vodka is made through a process of fermentation– a chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms, typically resulting in effervescence, which is the alcohol content (like kefir and kombucha). By fermenting products that contain sugar or starch (potatoes or wheat), the yeast will feed on it and create alcohol. By distilling that product you increase its alcohol content.
Air Co.’s process is both complex and simple: when carbon dioxide and hydrogen have a catalyst reaction, it creates water and alcohol. Vodka is 40% alcohol and 60% water. Once they distill the alcohol, they add water. Stafford spent nine months trying different water for the product, all around the world, and landed on a local US source.
The marketing expert explains, that by skipping the fermentation process, the result brings a much “cleaner product,” in a more sustainable way, with a smooth taste. Constantine says the quality of the liquid in the vodka is tough to achieve because you’re not aging it in barrels like whiskey, it all relies on the product itself.
“Clean, crisp, pure. It’s very smooth: because you skip fermentation, there’s no sugars from potato, corn, and grain,” he said, comparing it to traditional vodka.
The San Francisco World Spirits Competition awarded Air Co. with a gold award for their vodka this year.
When asked how will Russian and Polish Brooklynites react to a vodka made out of air, Constantine laughed.
“When you’re going into any industry with something new, it takes some education,” he says. “The community in Brooklyn is pretty supportive, it hasn’t been too bad yet.”
Production with a new technology is also more expensive, especially as a small scale operation in a Bushwick factory on Johnson Avenue. Their recommended retail price is $65 per bottle, however, they hope to bring the price down as sales and production pick up.
It’s not in stores yet, but there is a plan to roll out in New York City by the new year at top bars and retailers.
Air Co. recommends drinking their vodka straight or on ice, “it’s such a high-quality product, it should be tasted that way.”