At the most demanding get-togethers this summer, you may find yourself drinking wine or gin poured from a paper bottle, not a glass one.
Major beverage companies such as Bacardi, Johnnie Walker, Absolut and Carlsberg are experimenting with ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
But as they test different combinations of paper pulp and sustainable bioplastics, a few small independents have already started selling alcohol in lightweight, eco-friendly paper bottles.
Essex winemaker The English Vine was the first to embrace paper: the number 1 wine is now sold in a ‘Frugal’ bottle made by the British company Frugalpac. English Vine hopes to sell all of its wines in paper bottles by 2026.
The Frugal bottle looks like glass but is five times lighter and the carbon footprint is 84 percent lower.
Louise Atkinson speaks out on four alcoholic beverages sold in paper bottles as beverage makers experiment with ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Pictured: Green Man Woodland gin
Italian wine brand Cantina Goccia is also available in the UK to buy online in Frugal bottles, as are two brands of gin – Green Man Woodland and School Night.
Based in Ipswich, Suffolk, Frugalpac has adapted the well-known bag-in-a-box concept to create a bottle-shaped cardboard outer packaging made from 84 percent recycled content. This wraps around a thin plastic ‘bladder’ (weighing 15g, compared to 64g for a typical plastic bottle) that keeps the drink fresh inside.
It looks like a regular bottle of wine, but when empty, the paper case can be taken apart and thrown into the paper/cardboard recycling facility, while the plastic bag and neck go into the ‘other’ bin.
Glass is endlessly recyclable, so you can assume it ticked all the eco-friendly boxes. But it needs to be heated to over 1400c to melt it (compared to 260c to melt most plastic bottles). And the weight (a one-litre glass bottle weighs 16 times more than plastic) means that the CO2 emissions from transport are enormous.
Although glass in the UK is fully recyclable, 29 percent still ends up in landfill.
Pernod Ricard introduced a prototype paper bottle for a raspberry cocktail version of Absolut vodka early this year. The bottle, made from 57 percent paper and 43 percent recycled plastic (in the liner), is said to be fully recyclable “where facilities are available.” But in the UK that is considered specialist recycling.
Carlsberg was one of the first big names to unveil a prototype paper bottle in 2018. It has yet to hit supermarket shelves, though the group’s Simon Boas Hoffmeyer says it aims to “make a bottle that is completely bio-based and recyclable,” while protecting the beer inside.
The prototype will be trialled later this year in markets where recycling is advanced enough to create a ‘closed loop’. Unfortunately, the UK recycling system is unlikely to succeed.
Complications arise with all paper-based bottles because the layer covering the drink has to be of ‘food grade’ quality according to the law (so you can’t use recycled paper or plastic); and the paper has to contain quite a bit of plastic to make it resilient, which detracts from its ease of recycling.
So how do paper bottles compare? We put four to the test. . .
GREAT GREEN GIN
Green Man Woodland gin, £30, silentpool distillers.com
This is a London dry gin handcrafted with 25 botanicals including birch, mountain ash, hawthorn and rosemary by Silent Pool of Surrey.
Louise said Cantina Goccia (pictured) is very tasty and does not spoil in any way by coming out of a paper bottle
Managing director Ian McCulloch says the arrival of the Frugalpac bottle was the catalyst for creating a sustainable gin based on the hedge flavors of the Surrey forests.
PRONUNCIATION: The bottle looks beautiful and the gin is delicious – you can really discover the woodsy flavours. Bonus: When I accidentally knocked the bottle off a table onto a stone floor, it rolled away unharmed. 5/5
Cantina Goccia, £12.50, woodwinters.com
This is red, white and rosé wine from two vineyards in Umbria in the heart of Italy. Owner Ceri Parke says: ‘This is an exciting step in a very traditional industry. We are convinced that this is a real game changer for the wine industry.”
PRONUNCIATION: I tasted 3Q, an unforested Sangiovese red that claims to offer ‘red and black fruit and a hint of dark chocolate’. It is certainly very tasty and in no way spoiled by coming out of a paper bottle, although the paper box is not particularly pretty. 4/5
NO HANGOVER HIT
School Night gin, £25, nbdistillery.com
Louise said School Night gin (pictured) tastes just like classic gin and is delicious with tonic, ice and a slice of lemon.
This one contains 21 percent alcohol (compared to 42 percent for most gin) and is made by an independent distillery on the east coast of Scotland in a black paper bottle.
PRONUNCIATION: It tastes just like classic gin and is delicious with tonic, ice and a slice of lemon. The dull, cardboard-colored bottle is so light that it takes some getting used to: when you pick it up, you initially assume it’s empty and you have to adjust your pouring action slightly to avoid sloshing too much in your glass. 4/5
No 1, £12.59, theenglishvine.co.uk
Louise said No. 1 (pictured) looks attractive on the table and the wine quality was not affected by the method of bottling
This is an easily drinkable white wine with a distinct elderflower note, made from the Bacchus grape grown in the vineyards of Essex. It is vegan but not organic.
PRONUNCIATION: This bottle looks attractive on the table, without the downmarket connotations of a box of wine on the sideboard.
It cooled in our freezer within ten minutes without soaking the cardboard, but started to go very limp after being in an ice bucket.
The wine comes with the eco-benefit of ‘buying local’ as it’s shipped from Essex rather than sunnier climes. Although the quality of the wine is clearly unaffected by the method of bottling, it has a rather thin, slightly spicy taste, which would make it better suited to be consumed with a meal. 3/5