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Sustainable Liquor

The Serralles Rum Distillery in Ponce, Puerto Rico, which has been owned by the family for 147 years, produces DonQ, Palo Viejo, and Caliche rums.

They knew their challenges of disposing of millions of gallons of wastewater.

While its competitor in Puerto Rico, Bacardi, dumps in the sea, the Serralles distillery has long routed its by-product to nearby fields. This was fine, until the rainy season swept in.

During that May-to-November stretch, the fields would often get saturated, causing the waste to run off. Run off can cause dead zones in the ocean. Fearful of rousing the EPA, the distillery shut down when flooding began costing it $200,000 per day and jeopardizing its ability to fulfill orders.

Serralles, who has a PhD in environmental studies from the University of Oregon, has spent 10 years and $16 million on a new filtration system. In the process, he has turned his $75 million distillery into one of the cleanest in the world.

When making spirits, only about 8% to 10% of the base ingredient of Serralles rum is  molasses which winds up as alcohol. The rest is a soup of organic matter that gets treated. It’s common for dark-liquor distilleries to expose waste to anaerobic digestion, during which microorganisms break down the by-product. That cleans much of the filth and produces methane-rich biogas, so there’s payback in the form of fuel

What remains after digestion is a dark solution holding about 30% of the original matter. When discharged into the Caribbean Sea, the toxic muck can damage the underwater ecosystem possibly causing dead zones. They needed to eliminate the remaining organics.

They extended the purification chain with a solids separation process that removes heavier sludge from the waste, an aerobic digestion step that exposes the solution to oxygen to spur decomposition, and a microfiltration system that uses membranes to comb out remnants. Plus, beyond the biogas savings, the distillery has been selling the sludge as mulch to golf courses and resorts, and uses the micro filtrated water to irrigate local crops and nearby properties.

Hopefully the future of liquor production can be a little healthier for the oceans meanwhile we can still enjoy our spirits.


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