Will Fair Trade Spirits Go Mainstream?

Can a cocktail be Fair Trade–certified? Jean-François Daniel, founder of FAIR Spirits, says yes and he's fighting to make spirits a major Fair Trade player like counterparts in the coffee and tea industries. As the Manhattan Cocktail Classic came to a close yesterday, Daniel hosted a panel about sustainability in spirits. He and his fellow panelists including Pamela Alimurung, chairperson at the New York Fair Trade Coalition; Jeremy Adona, beverage manager at The National; Pascaline Lepeltier, wine director at Rouge Tomate; Sasha Petraske, proprietor at Milk & Honey and Chris Hiatt, spirits buyer at Slope Cellars debated whether or not Fair Trade spirits could become mainstream in bars and restaurants.

As the founder of FAIR Spirits, Daniel produces the first-ever Fair Trade–certified vodka, which is made from quinoa, not potatoes, since quinoa is a Fair Trade–certified grain. The brand's catch phrase — "Think human. Drink FAIR." — appeals to a customer's sense of responsibility, but Daniel says that's not enough. "Fair Trade only works if the product is good. Some people are attracted to the brand because it's socially responsible, but others like it because it's the highest quality," he says.

Petraske, proprietor of Milk & Honey, commented that it would be difficult to give a customer a menu and point to only one or two cocktails that were made with a Fair Trade spirit without having them feel guilty about ordering any other cocktail. Moreover, he felt that taking the time to explain what a Fair Trade spirit is and why it's worth the extra cost would prove challenging to the growth of this nascent industry. "It's going to be a steep hill. You'll need help from every side you can get it from," he warned Daniel.

But Daniel is not discouraged. Already his spirit is in 36 countries worldwide and can be found in dozens of establishments in Manhattan, including Blue Hill, The Ace Hotel and ABC Kitchen.

So what's next for FAIR? "We need time to have the customers adjust to the concept," says Daniel. "I mean Fair Trade, quinoa, French...it's a lot."