San Francisco Bar Turns Happy Hour 'Green' Elixir, located in the Mission District, is the first bar to be certified by the city as a green business. In addition to serving local beers and biodynamic wines, it specializes in eco-friendly cocktails.
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San Francisco Bar Turns Happy Hour 'Green'

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San Francisco Bar Turns Happy Hour 'Green'

San Francisco Bar Turns Happy Hour 'Green'

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This is Day To Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

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Unidentified Woman: Food contributes a third of the world's greenhouse gases.

Unidentified Man #1: What happens on your plate is how we change the landscape, the atmosphere...

Unidentified Man #2: These strawberries are grown thirty miles from here.

Unidentified Woman: What can I do with my food choices?

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BRAND: This week on Day to Day, we've been talking about the carbon footprint of our food. Well, it is not just what we eat that affects the environment. What we drink matters too.

CHADWICK: And more for some of us than others. In San Francisco, a bar owner is trying to shrink his carbon footprint one drink at a time. Day To Day's Alex Cohen has more.

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ALEX COHEN: The Elixir Bar in San Francisco's Mission District specializes in green cocktails.

Mr. H. JOSEPH EHRMANN (Owner, Elixir Bar): The drink I'm going to make now is, I call it Country Thyme, and that's thyme, because it is going to have some fresh organic thyme in the drink.

COHEN: Bar owner H. Joseph Ehrmann cuts up an organic lemon, tosses it in a glass and muddles it together with a handful of organic blueberries. He tops it off with organic vodka and a dash of organic agave nectar. Then he plucks a sprig of fresh thyme and places it on the palm of his hand.

Mr. EHRMANN: Then we slap this. Slapping it is going to get the oils to release from the herbs.

COHEN: When complete, this nine-dollar, electric purple cocktail looks fantastic. And as I can personally attest, it tastes great too. But best of all, Ehrmann says, this drink has a very small carbon footprint. The produce is local; the vodka is made from organic rye distilled at a plant that gets a fourth of its power from the wind. Byproducts from the distillation process are used to feed cows at an organic dairy farm. Even the vodka's packaging, Ehrmann says, is eco-friendly.

Mr. EHRMANN: Their labels are tree-free. They are made with bagasse, which is a byproduct of sugar cane production. The inks are soy. The whole company works from home. There's no commuting.

COHEN: When he first opened this bar five years ago, Ehrmann says, there weren't too many companies offering environmentally friendly booze. Now, there are a lot more options, including biodynamic wine.

Mr. EHRMANN: Biodynamic is more of a holistic approach to farming. It is about understanding how the Earth works and fitting what you are growing into that specific location, rather than forcing the Earth to accept what you want to grow there.

COHEN: For the most part, the production of wine, beer, and spirits doesn't take too much of a toll on the planet. It is often the transportation of these alcoholic beverages that tends to have the biggest impact. For example, here in California, importing wine from France creates more than 10 million pounds of global warming pollution every year. That is the same amount created by about 900 cars. Putting wine in something lighter than a glass bottle is a greener alternative, but many customers aren't quite ready to order their favorite Pinot out of a bag or a box. Bar owner H. Joseph Ehrmann says beer can be tricky too.

Mr. EHRMANN: We do have a number of import beers here. They do have quite a bit of a carbon footprint. But at the same time, people like them and they, they ask for them. And if I were to take them away and substitute a locally-made product that didn't really fit the bill on the palate, then I might lose those customers.

COHEN: Ehrmann tries to compensate by greening his bar in other ways like using sustainable cleaning products and relying on candles for nighttime lighting. But he says it's impossible to run a perfectly green bar.

Mr. EHRMANN: It's just like anything. You put in as much as you can and make the decisions you can, and if you make a mistake, oops, dust off your knees and make the correction and move on.

COHEN: But it seems like he must be doing some things right. Elixir is the first and to date, the only bar to be certified by the city of San Francisco as a green business. And Ehrmann is helping several other bars meet those same standards this month. Alex Cohen, NPR News.

CHADWICK: If you missed any of our stories this week on the carbon footprint of food and drink, go to our website,, because there you can also find recipes for green drinks and for dishes as well as a calculator that will help you tabulate the carbon emissions of your meals.

BRAND: This series was produced by Martina Castro and edited by Martha Little and Jason DeRose with help from Rob Wood, Ronni Radbill and Heather Murphy.

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