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Sustainable Cocktails

Mixologists are starting to pay attention to the impact of their creations, with forward-thinking bartenders shaking up an exciting selection of sustainable cocktails. Words: Richard Holmes
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For many of us, it’s become second nature to look critically at a restaurant menu. Is the meat free-range? How seasonal are the dishes? Is the line fish caught sustainably? It’s often a bellwether for the quality of experience, but it equally ties into a growing concern for the impact of our meal on the planet.

But when last did you do the same at a bar? Where did they source those limes, out of season? What happens to the rest of the orange once the peel’s been flamed into that Old Fashioned? What about garnishes that are quickly discarded, or single-use napkins and straws?

Happily, a host of forward-thinking barkeeps are doing the questioning for us, turning away from the carbon miles of far-flung ingredients and looking both local, and to closed-loop systems. It’s a trend that began back in 2013, when Ryan Chetiyawardana opened White Lyan in London, eschewing ice, perishables and major brands in a bid to reduce his impact.

“Chefs have been championing seasonality and local produce for years, but as bartenders, I think we’re a bit behind the curve. I wanted to try and bridge that gap a little,” explains Andy Ferreira, managing partner of Cask cocktail bar in the Irish city of Cork. “It certainly doesn’t make our life easier, but it makes it much more enjoyable.”

Cask offers four cocktail menus per year, divided neatly along the seasons, and Ferreira takes sustainability seriously. Outside of some key spirits, everything on his menu has to be grown and made in Ireland. That means no imported lemons or limes. No banana or pineapple. None of the tropical flavours you’d typically find on a cocktail menu.

Instead, Ferreira – whose parents hail from South Africa – looks to the local farms and hedgerows for inspiration. Rose petals in summer. Sloe and elderberries in the autumn. In the absence of lemon or limes, he turns to rhubarb and cooking apples for acidity.

“In this part of Ireland you’re surrounded by nature, which means you’re surrounded by great ingredients,” says Ferreira. “We wanted to really understand our native ingredients, and in doing that we felt we had to cut out imported flavours.”

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And it’s not just about fresh ingredients. Think of the bottles behind the bar. The kegs beneath the draught taps. The cellar of heavy glass wine bottles. They all have an impact, which owners are looking for innovative ways to mitigate.

The London Essence Company offers tonic on draught, cutting packaging by more than 90 percent, while in Australia’s Yarra Valley the Four Pillars Distillery – carbon -neutral to boot – saves tonnes of glass each year by piping gin directly into the main bar.

For Paul Aguilar of Himkok Håndverks Destilleri in Oslo, it’s about a trinity of sustainability, with a focus on profitability, ecological impact and staff wellbeing.

At Himkok “85 percent of the spirits served in our bar are made from our own distillery. We make our own gin, vodka, and aquavit,” explains Aguilar. “Our owner Erk Potur has recently invested in a whiskey distillery that will be providing us our house whiskey to make our cocktails in three years.”

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In a bar that serves around 15 000 whiskey sours each year, serving spirits from the stills next door offers a considerable saving on cost, and carbon.

In Amsterdam, acclaimed cocktail bar Vesper – already famous for their hyper-local creations – became a leader in this niche with their ‘Trash the Place’ project, which looked to create a zero-waste approach to cocktails.

A similar philosophy is behind the world’s first sustainable cocktail bar at sea, which launched on Norwegian Cruise Lines’ inaugural Prima class ship, NCL Prima, in August.

In collaboration with James Beard Award-nominee Gabe Orta, the ship’s elegant Metropolitan Bar includes a range of signature cocktails that take a deep dive into sustainability behind the bar.

In the ‘Primadonna’, a play on the classic Old Fashioned, the sweetness comes from syrup made of surplus banana peels collected from restaurants across the ship. It’s mixed with Flor de Cana rum, itself made with 100 percent renewable energy. For those with a sweet tooth, the Metropolitan’s Croissant Mai-Tai sees stale croissants cooked to a syrup, infused with cardamom, and shaken with rum, Cointreau and lime juice.

And Matt Whiley, founder of Sydney bar RE takes it even further. His Never Wasted initiative collects off-cuts and damaged produce from restaurants and markets to create his cocktail menu. He’s taken a closed-loop approach to the venue itself, fashioning the space out of recycled and upcycled materials. It’s a forward-looking approach to a time-honoured profession, helping guests cut their impact one inspired drink at a time.
Cheers to that.

by Richard Holmes

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