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The Complete Guide To Sustainable Cocktails

March 22, 2019 by Tom Bronock

There is a lot of change sweeping the drinks industry at present with unprecedented changes in drinking habits and the rise of adult soft drinks trends and NoLo Cocktails (you know… No and Low alcohol cocktails)

The current fever sweeping through London bars is the sustainability concept… cocktails that use top to tail of ingredients and re-purpose garnishes for better things.

Are sustainable cocktails a fad? Possibly… although sustainability across many industries is a hot topic.

Our first port of call was Google, and what we found was eye opening!

For instance, a bar using one bunch of bananas per day contributes 125kg to CO2 emissions per year.

Or, the average distance a Brazilian lime has to travel to reach the UK is 5,464 miles. The UK consumed 65,000 tonnes of lime in 2018. That’s a lot of air freight and emissions.

But then we read reports of intensively farmed fruit from the UK producing more greenhouse gases than imported fruits?

With Google you can’t win really…

One thing that’s for sure, is that the UK bar and restaurant industry is wasteful – we use and waste too much water, food, plastic and energy. The average bar is an ecological nightmare.

We examine whether sustainable cocktails are another fad, or are they here to stay?

So, What are Sustainable Cocktails?

First and foremost lets define what sustainability is. We feel it was defined perfectly by the Brundtland Report:

‘’Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’’

Sustainability is big news in the UK and although the focus has been upon things such as single use plastics and the automotive industry, sustainability does need to be present in every part of the modern world.

As we mentioned, the restaurant industry has long been associated with sustainability and using all parts of food to reduce waste and costs. If anything, it’s a surprise that the drinks industry has taken this long to catch up.

Perhaps one of the most well-known exemplars of sustainability and one of the culinary pioneers of the farm-to-table concept is Dan Barber. His sustainable approach to cooking is deeply entrenched in his and his restaurants’ identities.

The curators of the sustainable cocktail revolution in turn are looking closely at the catering and restaurant industry for inspiration and using it to see how far cocktails can be stripped back to a total eco-focus.

But how can you make cocktails sustainable?

There are lots of elements to look at – how much ice are you using, are garnishes edible or inedible, can excess fruit be reused in shrubs or syrups, where has the product come from, is the fruit and veg seasonal and grown in the UK, does it have reduced food miles? You get the picture.

Sustainable cocktails are the green, eco-friendly future of imbibing, and focus on ensuring a reduction of raw materials and carbon impact of products. Bars all over London are beginning to deliver sustainable cocktail programmes and drinking experiences which are environmentally responsible.

Top Five Sustainable Cocktail Bars

Nine Lives: Proudly sustainable, and why not? The current menu contains a section called Loops, which is made up of ingredients that have been reused, such as lemon pith, and turned into liqueurs, hand soap or compost for the bar’s own horticultural efforts. A commendable social conscience for a very cool bar. Check Out Nine Lives.

Trash Tiki: ‘Root to Fruit’, Trash Tiki came into being off the back of the nose-to-tail movement of the culinary world. Reusing traditionally overlooked elements… for example tomato top and tails are used for a clarified Bloody Mary, and watermelon rinds are used to create oleo-saccharum; the citrusy, stock-like syrup that is resident in punch the world over. Check Out Trash Tiki and our guide on How To Make Oleo Saccharum – The Cocktail Service.

Mr Lyan: Cocktail personality Ryan Chetiyawardana got into the sustainability business early on, when his London bar White Lyan became the first in the world to use no perishables, no fruit and even no ice in 2013. Check Out Mr Lyan.

Midnight Apothecary: A rooftop garden-come-pop-up bar, the venue grows its own produce, as well as foraging for it in the local area. The Cocktail Gardener, Lottie Muir has created a highly rated venue that is something completely different with strong sustainable credentials. Check Out Midnight Apothecary.

Scout: At Matt Whiley’s Scout it is all about seasonal ingredients… there is not a lemon to be seen in the whole building. Using a concept called closed loop bartending, Scout uses every element of ingredients; if an egg white is used in a sour, the yolk makes a flip and so on. All the ingredients come either from British producers or are grown onsite.

An honorary mention is due for…

Lauren Corriveau, who heads up Nitecap in New York’s Sustainability Programme. Her drink Mantra-Rock, featured in Punch, champions a grapefruit cordial made from each of the different parts of the grapefruit:

“The flesh from the grapefruit adds a fresh burst of brightness, while the zest and pith contribute to a pleasantly bitter element” explains Corriveau.

Combined with a pink peppercorn Blanco Tequila infusion, we can’t wait to try one next time we’re in The Big Apple.


How To Make Your Cocktails Sustainable

Here are our tips to make an instant sustainable impression.

#1 Reuse & Repurpose: find clever ways to reuse cocktail garnishes, use elements traditionally thrown away for syrups and be more open minded. It will amaze you the flavour that can be extracted from all elements of a fruit or vegetable. For example peeling citrus fruit prior to juicing and using the reclaimed peel as a garnish or to make oleo-saccharum. It’s all about a mindset change here. Mint stalks and citrus rinds for infusing and flat prosecco for syrups are a few examples of what’s possible.

#2 Go Local. Go Seasonal: Does what it says on the tin. Don’t look for exotic fruits and vegetables in your drinks when you have a wealth of incredible produce on your doorstep. If you do need to source from more exotic climates, ensure you use root to fruit.

#3 Dehydrate: The typical garnish’s shelf life is increased enormously with dehydrating and will reduce food waste. Beware of using non-energy efficient equipment to dehydrate though.

#4 Remove Perishables: don’t use fruits, garnishes or herbs…. instead shrubs, cordials and syrups to reduce any waste. Check out our guide on how to make cocktail shrubs.

#5 Ice: reduce ice use…. shake less and stir instead. Create pre-batch cocktails that are chilled in fridges.

#6 Water: use less of it. It has been claimed that the waste water from the World’s 50 Best Bars could fill an Olympic swimming pool in under a year. Turn off taps between equipment cleaning and use equipment that more efficiently dispenses this precious resource. Foot operated taps and jet washers help save water.

#7 No Martinis: Don’t use martini glasses as they use more space in glasswashers, thus using more energy and water than highballs, rocks, or Nick & Nora glasses.

#8 No Plastic: get rid of it all! Coasters, cocktail sticks/straws and bev naps…lose it all…its certainly surplus to requirements and is a quick and easy win.

#9 Packaging: work with farmers and grocers to eliminate packaging. Definitely no plastic and to go the whole 9 yards supply a sustainable option for deliveries such as jute bags/brown paper bags or tupperwares.

#10 Bag In Box: The Sustainable Spirits Co create spirits in eco pouches to refill your empty vodka or gin bottle with. The eco pouch is then refilled for other users.

#11 Reuse Flat Champagne: It should be re-purposed before it oxidises rather than being discarded. When a consumer reads ‘’Champagne cordial’’ or ‘’Champagne foam’’ on a cocktail menu they don’t think that the Champagne has been salvaged because it was flat. Far from it, they read ‘Champagne’ and think luxury. Win Win.

#12 Serve Draught Beer/Mixers: More sustainable than packaged beer/mixers; saves on packaging and transport. And when it comes to draught beer, cask ales are more sustainable than keg lagers!

When Do Sustainable Cocktails Become Unsustainable? Can The Concept Go A Tad Too Far?

There is an argument that efforts to create sustainable cocktails, in some cases, can have the opposite effect. Ensuring your efforts towards sustainability aren’t counter productive is key.

It’s important that sustainability is the motivation and not a blind ambition to use every element of every ingredient for the sake of it.

Think carefully and outside of the box when creating sustainable cocktails. Don’t use large amounts of other precious resources to achieve your goals.

Some things are simply best consigned to the compost heap. If an animal would discard that part of a plant rather than eat it, then chances are, humans are best advised to also discard it.

A lemon for instance yields very tasty juice and has a bounty of flavoursome oils captured in its skin, but the husk that separates these has little value to contribute to a sustainable cocktail.

Only use ingredients that actually enhance and contribute to the sustainability of your cocktails.

Fresh citrus fruit is vital to a number of classic cocktails and sadly powdered citric acid is no alternative to fresh fruit. Also, its production has its own environmental consequences.

Using lemons root to fruit still might not be enough: If you want to avoid using imported citrus fruit, then make another cocktail and get creative with the different types of acidity.

For example, a spritz cocktail utilises the acidity of white wine rather than citrus fruit. Think outside the box and reach for shrubs, lemon thyme or apple cider vinegar for your next citrus balance.

Don’t spend hours or time and resources trying to turn all elements into something tasty, sometimes it’s not meant to be. Beware of using too many resources to make that fruit peel or husk into something edible or reusable. Can the electricity used to boil up/dry that ingredient be justified at all? We are not making a call either way but are highlighting the need for mindful drinking.

What Are We Drinking?

A cocktail we created recently at The Cocktail Service that uses a sustainable approach to its creation:

La Papillon

25ml Grey Goose Vodka

15ml St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

10ml Xante Cognac & Pear

10ml Fresh Lemon Juice

10ml Homemade Pear Syrup

35ml Still Water

3 Drops Ms Betters Foamer Bitters

Edible Butterfly Garnish – made of rice paper

Stir over Ice and dry shake and serve in a coup.

The team wanted to create a drink with limited waste and have largely achieved that. Lemon rinds are reused to make lemon cordial and the garnish is edible. Le Papillon is stirred to chill and then shaken without ice to limit ice wastage.

It also tastes pretty good too.

We will see more and more bars adopting a sustainable approach to drinks as the trend gathers pace and bartenders come to realise it creates stories about their creations and if executed correctly can save money long-term.

Check out:

The Cocktail Service team were in attendance at International Confex a few weeks back, and particularly enjoyed a discussion piece around the need to make live events more sustainable to ensure their success in years to come.

The talk featured Paddy from Above All, and Joe from Lineup Ninja. The onus is on us as individuals and businesses to push back on the supply chain collectively, to ensure sustainable practices are implemented across the industry. If you want to learn how to remove plastic from your day to day operations or living then click here.

For more information on sustainable drinking please get in touch with us.

Further Reading:

The Independent – The True Cost of Putting Imported Food on Your Plate

The Guardian – How the Myth of Food Miles Hurts the Planet


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