Food waste has been a headline – and a real concern – for several years now. Ways to reduce this waste and utilize as much of the food grown as possible have included efforts to promote “ugly” produce, to reduce portions served in restaurants, to recycle food scraps into feedstock for bioenergy and to glean unsold produce from fields and direct it to hunger relief programs.

Or you could take unmarketable products and produce and turn them into alcoholic beverages!

Day-old breads remain ideal as far as sugar extraction is concerned, so making whiskey, gin or vodka with these as the primary ingredient is one way of eliminating food waste. Overripe fruits have an excess of sugar, which happens to be perfect for the distillation process.

Can farmers help grow the craft beverage supply chain without having to actually grow another crop? If the portion of the crop that simply isn’t up to par for fresh sales could be diverted to local distilleries, farmers could cut their losses and profit from this otherwise wasted produce while distillers could have a supply of local fruit for their spirits. As an added benefit, food waste is reduced.

As local beverage production is revived, and local supply chains rebuilt, hope for hyper-local sourcing of ingredients grows. While many farmers are interested in growing malting grains or hops for the brewing market, others already grow ingredients that can be used in producing craft beverages.

Producing alcohol from fruit is a time-honored tradition. Beer brewed with fruit has been trending for a while, but it dates back centuries. Wineries abound, and fruit wines are often included in their repertoire. Farm cideries and distilleries are growing in number, and craft distillers are seeking unique ingredients for local-centric tastes. Brandy, gin and vodka can be distilled using fruit. Fruit can be made into decadent cocktail mixers too.

By utilizing surplus crops already being grown locally, opening new marketing channels and capitalizing on the skillset farmers already have, craft beverage producers can readily tap into local sourcing. While a lot of research is focused on the re-establishment of local grains, hops and now hemp (for fiber, food and beverage and biofuel use), using crops already cultivated in the region provides a more immediate opportunity and can establish supply chains and farmer/brewer relationships that can pave the path for newer endeavors.

Here are a few examples of how more growers – not only malting grain farmer or hops growers – can be an important part of the craft beverage movement, and how keeping true to local roots can foster an identity based on place. The possibilities seem endless.

Ventura Spirits, a California distillery, has a mission to use California’s ingredients in unique ways. They use surplus potatoes and apples and turn them into vodka. They also use prickly pear, “seconds” strawberries and wild-harvested botanicals to craft their fruit spirits, brandy and gin.

In Durham, NC, Fullsteam Brewery aims to “express our love for community and the land through the Southern Beer Economy. Through the act of commerce – including our commitment to a living wage for our employees – our purchases (and yours) foster community and agricultural pride, create wealth and encourage entrepreneurship within the post-tobacco South.” Fullsteam Brewery uses foraged native persimmons each autumn and has brewed with native paw paws too. They brew a sweet potato beer as well as a wheat and basil beer using North Carolina produce. Local chestnuts are used in their winter brew.

At Neshimy Creek Brewing Company in New Jersey, the state’s renowned blueberry heritage has found its way into their Blueberry Gose. Using blueberries and blueberry honey from two local farms, this kettle sour beer is bursting with local flavor.

Let’s not forget dairy. Cornell professor Sam Alcaine recently announced a path forward using waste whey from Greek yogurt production to produce a low-alcohol beer, similar to kettle sour beer, which often includes fruit. Others are using whey to brew a milk beer as an intermediary product. This beer is then used to distill vodka, at least in Europe, where Black Cow Vodka was born.

Shrubs made from local products have also been having their moment. Shrubs, which preserve fruit in vinegar and sugar, are very old-fashioned, with roots back to Colonial times. Shrubs are used to mix cocktails but can also be used to flavor non-alcoholic beverages, desserts and more. The Hudson Standard is sourcing shrub ingredients, as well as those for their bitters from Hudson Valley growers.

In Vermont, Symptuous Syrups has made cocktail and dessert syrups for about a decade using locally sourced fruits and herbs. Part of their mission is to create “economic ripples which support people while respecting the earth.”

If all of this synergy can be harnessed to keep production truly local – from field to flask – then rural economies could be rebuilt. If agritourism and craft beverage tourism continue to flourish, more industries could revive themselves and provide employment right at home across the country. If farmers, maltsters, brewers, distillers and mixologists can unite to ensure that as much locally-grown ingredients as possible are utilized in spirits across the country, tourism based on “tasting the place” might just keep the rest of the local economy thriving. Overripe, cosmetically-challenged or by-product food waste can be reduced too. Cheers to a fruitful 2019!