Grist: GMO-free bourbon a rare spirit


With the explosion of artisanal spirits in California and all over the U.S., as well documented by my colleagues here at the L.A. Times, one would think we’d be drowning in organic bourbon, GMO-free this and heritage that. But … no. Getting a snort of organic corn liquor is actually impossible, and drinking without supporting genetically modified maize (to be organic, it has to be GMO-free) proves to be a very, very limited affair.

An investigation by Grist, written by the delightfully named food editor Twilight Greenaway, finds that only the brands Wild Turkey and Four Roses are actually GMO-free. Well, at least there are two. Neither brand is certified organic, but you can be happy you’re not drinking organic corn off the face of the Earth.

About 85% of the corn grown in the U.S. is now genetically modified, and this has forced some distillers to cave. Jack Daniels (note: not a bourbon) had committed to using non-GMO corn until lately, when it became too hard to source their corn. Four Roses escapes this quandary because its former owner, Seagrams, grew its own grains and those sources are still available.


Wild Turkey? It’s GMO-free because it’s so cool. No, wait. Actually it’s because its distillers are prudent. Grist explains that they don’t want to put the bourbon on oak for 15 years and then find out there’s a problem with the GMO corn and have to dump it. Smart. These are people who are assuming what very few other food giants do: We don’t know what GMOs do to the body yet. They create their own insecticides and make plants impervious to massive doses of herbicides. Who knows what else that genetic structure does over time? The distillers figure it’s a risky business decision to use them.

And you know how you pour whiskey on stuff and it’s supposed to just kill everything, sterilizing it? Well, if your whiskey maker is saying he’s concerned about GMOs, what are we supposed to think about the other, decidedly less-robust stuff we eat all day?

Nah, it’s probably fine.


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