Sustainability in bars may be a growing trend in the cocktail world but is it merely a buzzword and has it developed beyond refusing plastic straws.
This article is based in part on The Sustainable Bar, a seminar presented at the Business of Bars during Bar Week 2017 with Luke Whearty (Owner/Operator, Operation Dagger Singapore), Sam Egerton (Group Bars Manager, Merivale) and Toby Kline (Adelaide Hills Distillery) hosted by David Spanton (Publisher, Australian Bartender).
What is Sustainability in Bars
For some time now, the term sustainability has been prevalent in the culinary world with chefs and restaurants adopting an ethos of using produce from sustainable suppliers and minimising waste in the kitchen. Like many culinary trends, the movement has slowly been making its way into the cocktail world.
Bars such as Charlie Parker’s, winner of the Best Sustainable Bar Program 2017 have adopted the approach since their beginnings by applying the top to tail approach to cocktails, using every part of the produce that goes into cocktail ingredients such as stalks, leaves and roots. According to Sam Egerton, Group Bars Manager at Merivale, the bar wasn’t intended to be sustainable but it came from the background of running an efficient and profitable venue and part of that was to minimise waste.
Luke Whearty of Operation Dagger in Singapore does not call his venue a sustainable bar or a zero waste bar but points out that if everyone takes an active role and focuses on small parts, it can make a big difference. While sustainability and zero waste bartending tend to be used synonymously, he hasn’t seen a zero waste bar, but it shouldn’t deter people from making an effort.
For Sam Egerton, zero waste bartending is a buzzword but it is also a journey. “It’s a non-existent destination but a destination to try and head towards”.
Small Steps Towards a Sustainable Bar
While Ryan Chetiyawardana at White Lyan bar in London is at the forefront of closed loop bartending and has made it part of his ethos, starting small is often the first step towards a sustainable bar.
An easy start is to eliminate the use of plastic straws for tasting drinks before adopting a no straw policy for guests. “A reduction in plastic straws, even the consideration of can we or not, something that simple has a large scale impact,” says Toby Kline. Biodegradable straws may be seen as an attractive option but these only break down to a certain extent. Other options include bamboo, metal and glass straws or pasta straws yet each has its own limitation.
Another small step towards sustainability is to stop using coasters and cocktail napkins then taking additional steps to reduce waste in the bar.
“Organic waste is the easiest to kick off,” says Luke Whearty. During mojito season, they use left over mint stalks for teas and infusions. Avocado seed is used for bitters. “Bars can also compost and use worm farms which is a big reduction in waste”.
Citrus, a key ingredient in bars can have multiple uses. At Charlie Parker’s, the juice of lemons is viewed as “the prime cut”. They take the husks left over from juicing and make oleo saccharum and citrus syrup. They put it in kegs and make it into lemonade. Not only is it cost effective, it reduces the need to buy lemonade and they are not left with empty bottles to discard.
It’s not just bars that are taking active steps towards reducing wastage such as citrus. Initiatives from brands such as 42Below Vodka with their Recycled Cocktail Lemons Eco Soap reinforce the message. Used lemons were collected from select bars across Australia, turned into liquid soap then sent back to the bars at no charge.
At Operation Dagger, sustainability is part of the bar’s culture. They structure creative sessions and ask if they aren’t reusing something now, they may so do in 6 months’ time. The same applies at Charlie Parker’s with what they call creative schools.
“All the things that we do that are sustainably-minded need to be economically driven as well,” says Sam Egerton.
Adopting sustainability in bars can fuel bartenders’ creativity, pushing their boundaries to become more resourceful with the use of ingredients and reducing waste.
At the newly-opened Door Knock bar in Sydney, Bar Manager Jonothan Carr has adopted the ‘Trash Tiki’ movement to create a cocktail on the opening menu. The rum-based Tiki drink which uses mango and house-made orgeat employs the no wastage concept. Mango flesh is stripped and used as a purée, the skin is steeped into fino sherry, dehydrated and turned into an edible spoon for the garnish. Macadamia orgeat is strained and the solids are dehydrated, combined with rose water and crumbled on top of a used lime shell with the mango skin as a spoon. In short, the entire garnish is made from items which would have otherwise been discarded.
The Road to Sustainability in Bars
For Sam Egerton, taking the first step towards sustainability in bars is asking why. “Go back into your bars and look at what you have, the things you use every day and ask why do we use it, do we really need it, because most of the time the answer is no.”
Adopting a “no straw” policy or cutting out citrus may seem overwhelming at first. Yet when Sydney bar Palmer & Co had a lime prohibition for two months, the team was surprised at the negligible number of complaints. The same occurred at Charlie Parker’s when the bar stopped offering straws.
“We assume our guests are not intelligent enough to be a part of the same thing we are doing,” says Sam Egerton.
Taking the road to sustainability in bars need not be as daunting as it may sound. “Take baby steps and think through the process. Every little step counts whether it’s changing light globes, reusing garnishes or worm farms,” says Toby Kline.
“Sustainability is more than just the products we use in the bar or using all elements of fruit. It’s around the sustainability of ourselves, making sure that for someone like myself who’s been in the industry for 16 years that I can do it for another 16 years sustainably and how we can have an effect on our industry,” says Sam Egerton.
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