Misadventure & Co.’s Up-Cycled Vodka
One San Diego-area company has decided to tackle food waste in the best way possible: by drinking it.
Misadventure & Co., based in San Marcos, is the 2015 brainchild of three North County friends. Founders Sam Chereskin, an agricultural economist; Blake Carver, who has a background in sales; and Whit Regali, an artist and bartender, head weekly to the San Diego Food Bank and retrieve around 1,500 pounds of excess bread, bialys, Twinkies, cupcakes, sheet cakes and more, solving a variety of problems.
The food bank easily disposes of food it can no longer use and Misadventure has a free source of starch it can distill into vodka.
Every year, American consumers, companies, and farmers throw away almost half of the food grown in the United States. This means that $218 billion—an amount equal to 1.3 % of the country’s gross domestic product—is wasted by growing, transporting, and disposing of 50–60 million tons of food that never gets eaten. Another particularly nasty side effect is that food waste rotting in landfills results in greenhouse gas emissions that, if counted as the size of its own country, would rank third in the world behind the United States and China.
“Forty percent of the food in this country goes into landfills,” Carver says. “That’s the problem we’re trying to solve. The San Diego Food Bank receives perfectly good bread products from all over the county. We thought, we can take this and look at it not as bread that's going into a landfill, but as sugars that we can turn into vodka.”
After distillation, Misadventure donates the solid matter to farmers that feed it, along with other spent grains, to their livestock, and the liquid is used to wet compost as a nutrient source, whenever possible.
Of the name, Carver says, “It's a bit of a double entendre. On one hand, the bread is going on sort of this misadventure. It's lonely on the shelf but then is given a second life through vodka.” Recalling that he met Chereskin over drinks, he adds, “It’s also an ode to the stories that you tell when you create those memories and those bonds.”
Apart from tackling the food system, creating a quality product has always been a priority. Using a proprietary technique, all three men have a hand in the distilling process, which is geared towards maximizing the number of distillations that can be achieved in a single pass to create the cleanest vodka possible. “Mathematically,” Chereskin says, “it’s like our product has been distilled 13 times by the time it’s done.”
“If we didn’t make a great product from what some people perceive as trash, it’s a talking point—a novelty. You buy it once and you’ll never buy it again,” Chereskin estimates.
It was also important to rebrand the concept of waste since the products they receive from the food bank are, in most cases, still completely edible. While that isn’t necessary for distillation success, it does highlight a need to rethink what qualifies as waste. Chereskin and Carver suggest thinking of the bread products they use as surplus baked goods, rather than trash.
Another idea they wanted to tackle is the notion that specific liquors need only be made with specific raw materials. In the case of vodka, all that’s needed is sugar in any form. This flies in the face of decades of alcohol marketing, which supports a multi-billion dollar industry profiting off the idea that only certain things can create high-quality liquor. In this way, Chereskin hopes that Misadventure will also challenge the concept that conspicuous consumption can be environmentally bad.
“Imagine if, someday, a P. Diddy vodka advertisement features a product made with excess food.” he suggests. It also requires people to think about other products, apart from liquor, and how they might be reimagined and created from other kinds of excess.
Currently, Misadventure is distilling in an incubator with several other distillers and hope to have their own facility sometime in 2018. The vodka, which is available for purchase online, is stocked on at least 40 different North County bar shelves, with a recent push into the market in San Diego proper.
They are also exploring different liquors made from other food products, though they declined to expand on details, noting the long process of trial and error they likely have ahead of them before they can claim a solid, new product.
When thinking back to the company’s genesis, Chereskin recalls a few key ideas they wondered about.
“There were some outstanding questions. Not only how do you make other people's lives easier, but how do you use resources as efficiently as possible? And what kind of world can we build out of the things we already know?”
It’s not every day that society can learn poignant lessons from a bottle of vodka, but with Misadventure & Co., the phrase “message in a bottle” takes on a whole new meaning.
Cheers to that.
Find your bottle of Misadventure & Co. vodka, or where to get a sustainable cocktail, at misadventure.co.