In the Spirit: McCormick Distilling's Eco-Friendly 360 Vodka 5

Weston distillery operates as green company from bottled spirits to buildings.

While exploring land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, explorers Lewis and Clark discovered a natural limestone spring in 1804 near what would become the town of Weston. The town, established in 1837 and incorporated in 1842, attracted residents, businessmen, and travelers as the westernmost town of its day in the U.S. Sometime in the 1850s, Kentucky businessman Ben Holladay was drawn to the area and took interest in the limestone spring discovered decades earlier. Holladay knew that the spring’s mineral-laden waters were ideal to produce high-quality whiskey similar to the spirits in his home state. Holladay and his brother, Major David Holladay, opened Holladay Distilling in 1856 near the spring amongst the hilly landscape in the years preceding the Civil War. The distillery changed names and ownership several times over subsequent decades until it became known as McCormick Distilling Company. Today, McCormick remains the country’s oldest distillery west of the Mississippi still operating in its original location. Now, McCormick is known for more than its whiskey and namesake vodka. In 2006, the distillery introduced 360 Vodka, a line of ecologically-friendly vodka unlike any other in the marketplace.

“Vodka is a crowded category with lots of offerings,” says Mick Harris, president and managing director of McCormick Distilling Co.

The company, which produces many other lines of spirits including Tequila Rose and Triple Crown Whiskey, searched for an edge to make its premium vodka stand out among competitors. McCormick also sought a compelling hook to entice consumers to pick up a bottle of its vodka. Harris explained that former Vice-President Al Gore brought significant attention to the environment and eco-friendly issues in the 2000s with his documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth.” That emphasis sparked thought within the distillery about how they operated the business.

“No one was promoting eco-friendly aspects of their product,” Harris says. “We looked at our vodka production and our facility that was already operating in an energy-efficient manner. That piece of the puzzle fell into place.”

The distillery upgraded its operations to make its manufacturing facility and its brand, 360 Vodka, as environmentally-friendly as possible. The vodka is produced using corn sourced from farms 95 miles or less away from the distillery The bottle is made of 50-percent recycled glass. Leftover grains from the distilling process are dried and sent out as feed to local farms. With its unique swing-top closure, the bottle is designed for infinite reuse for water, cooking, or other household purposes. The closures may be returned to McCormick Distilling for reuse. The company donates $1 to an eco-friendly organization for each swing top returned.

“Initially, we included a postage-paid envelope with each bottle so customers could send an individual closure back,” Harris says. “We found that we were wasting material with the mailings. Now when customers collect a few closures, they can contact us and we’ll mail them an envelope. Hundreds of thousands of closures each year are returned.”

Further, 360 Vodka labels are printed on recycled paper using eco-friendly inks and are produced in a facility that uses wind power. The eco-friendly efforts don’t stop at the bottle but extend to the company. The premium vodka is distilled six times for optimal purity in an efficient distillery. McCormick’s company-wide green initiatives include its Forest 360 Project.

McCormick worked the Missouri Department of Conservation and launched Forest 360, an effort to plant indigenous trees on 40 acres of the land around the distillery. To date, 226 trees have been planted to absorb carbon dioxide emissions and aid with erosion control. The company also purchases renewable energy credits to offset electricity and natural gas consumption for three years at the Weston facility. In addition, biodiesel fuel is purchased for on-site maintenance equipment and shuttle truck operations.

The distillery also established an on-site employee recycling center that includes Ripple glass recycling. McCormick purchases eco-friendly cleaning products, paper supplies, shipping supplies, and biodegradable tasting cups. Exterior motion sensor lights were installed on buildings to reduce electricity use. The company even provides on-site air compressors for employees to check the air pressure in their tires to improve fuel efficiency. Annually, the company recycles an average of 170 tons of material.

The eco-friendly aspect of 360 Vodka has appealed to consumers. According to Harris, the company sells approximately 200,000 bottles of the brand annually.

“It’s high-quality vodka produced in Missouri by a privately-owned American company,” Harris says of McCormick. “There’s long-standing equity in the name.”

With production of 360 Vodka and its green initiatives, McCormick Distilling has actively delivered eco-friendly results that will benefit future generations while honoring its roots.

McCormick has revived the proud name of the Holladay Distillery and is distilling bourbon on site for the first time in 30 years. Tour visitors will be able to visit the Ancient Cave, a building with a cool climate year-round used by Holladay for aging spirits before shipment by wagon train or stagecoach. The tour includes sights such as the limestone building used in 1839 as a meat-packing facility before conversion to a stillhouse, the original limestone spring, barrel room, and one-column, 17-plate copper still used to produce bourbon.

Visit McCormickdistilling.com or call 816.640.3056 to learn more about 360 Vodka, McCormick Distilling Company, and upcoming tours. The company also operates McCormick Country Store on Main St. in Weston, Missouri. Store hours are Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m.-5 p.m.. Closed on Mondays.