Is it just me or are cocktails really rubbish now?

By Kate Dranginis, SRA Climate Analyst

Rubbish cocktails are the trend in bar world right now. By that, I don’t mean we’re in the middle of an ironic throwback to lurid and sickly-sweet Woo-Woos, though they do have their time and place. Low-waste cocktails which consider their environmental impact are what the industry is excited about. 

The trailblazers that are Ryan Chetiyawardana, and Kelsey Ramage have been on the scene for a good while now. Considering the waste that drinks create is now well and truly in the mainstream. High street favourite, Revolution Bars have even ditched the half passion fruit garnish from the ubiquitous Pornstar Martini, in favour of a piece of edible rice-paper stating, ‘this used to be a passionfruit’. Cocktail competitions have incentivised bartenders to get creative and cut down on unnecessary waste. Notably, the Flor de Cana competition, is offering up a $10,000 prize to a bartender who creates the best sustainable cocktail. The Sustainable Restaurant Association are excited to be supporting Flora de Cana on their cocktail competition and their zero waste season for another year.  

We’re also seeing nods to sustainable practices in Jameson’s Grow Your Own, Diplomatico’s Mixed Consciously and Hennessy’s My Way. We’re also seeing the entrant list of countries and nominations grow every year for The World’s 50 Best Bars Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award

Recently, I had the pleasure of being invited to ‘The World’s Most Rubbish Bar’ a collaboration between Discarded Spirits and Hendricks, showcasing low waste but high-end cocktails. I’ve been a follower of Discarded Spirits for a while, but only recently tried one of their products.  

The night was held in Edinburgh’s ‘The Caves’ venue, which is a personal favourite of mine, dug out from ancient tunnels under the city, the vaulted ancient brick ceilings and interlocked different levels make it incredibly atmospheric.  

On the way into the venue, we were greeted by a large bin (pictured), then given four tokens cut out from old cocktail menus. We were ushered up to the second floor and introduced to Discarded Spirits, their main ethos is each of their products must contain at least two waste ingredients. After the introduction we were then shown back down to the first floor to taste test a martini made from Discarded Grape Skin Vodka and vermouth hand made from discarded wine, seriously tasty. The final guided tasting was hosted by their wonderfully excitable global brand ambassador, Sam. An espresso martini made from Cascara Vermouth, cascara being the dried skins of coffee berries, a hugely wasted product. Served this in a bar, you’d know no difference from a ‘regular’ espresso martini. 

We were then free to explore the main room, with DJs and intermittent talks from the brand and partners. This is where our drinks vouchers came in handy. There were four drinks on offer, I went straight in for the Oxymoron: Discarded Sweet Cascara Vermouth, oxidised wine, Smokey Monkey, reclaimed citrus cordial – there was absolutely nothing rubbish about it. We sampled two other libations, the favourite all round was the drink using beetroot crust. Although, I don’t know if crust is the most appetising of descriptors! 

What could have been an overly tacky pun-fest really was a fun, informative night showcasing how great low-waste cocktails can be.  

What Can You Do? 

Simple steps can really help cut down on the waste generated.  

Start when designing your menu: 

Use fewer products across multiple drinks, especially with fresh produce. Example – an orange twist garnish leaves a lot of peeled oranges, which can simply be juiced, passed on to the kitchen, or turned into an oleo, shrub, or bitters. Talk to your kitchen, or local kitchen and see where your produce overlaps too. 

Consider replacing fresh produce where possible, in big strong drinks, like Long Island Iced Tea the swap from fresh citrus to citric acid is unnoticeable.  

Dehydrate and pickle fresh ingredients for use later.  

Of course, buy in-season.  

Use any space you have to grow whatever you can, perhaps there’s a sunny window in the office or a little outside space that is just perfect to grow some herbs.  

Make use of your local larder too, just a little knowledge of local botany will help you know what can and can’t be picked. Here in Scotland, spring signals the arrival of never-ending swathes of gorse flowers, beautiful, yellow, and surprisingly coconutty in smell and taste – great for a little tropical hint without the air miles.  

Support producers with sustainability at the heart of what they do, as already mentioned, Discarded Spirits’ aim is to make waste taste good, and Flor de Cana are carbon neutral and Fairtrade certified. Another noteworthy brand is Avallen Spirits, not only is its calvados delicious and becoming a familiar sight in bars, but it’s also doing good for bees and the planet. Avallen is climate positive, B-Corp certified, donates a percent of its profits to charities championing bee protection, plants pollinator friendly plants and much more.  

Think about what your produce arrives in, pester your suppliers to deliver produce without packing or in reusable packaging. Glass is optional now too: I’ve written about my admiration for ecoSPIRITS in a previous post; ecoSPIRITS replaces glass bottles with returnable ‘ecoTOTES’. The big producers are following the smaller in taking up the ecoSPIRITS scheme, it shows that this is the way bars are headed. 

Make sure you have all the basics in order too, segregated waste bins, staff training on waste reduction and good ordering and stock rotation to prevent spoilage.  

Low-waste cocktails have gone from the wacky, aspirational outliers, to regular appearances on many menus, note, even The American Bar at The Savoy’s latest menu ‘Re:Invented’ is a nod to sustainability (incl. ‘reused champagne’, yum!). We as hospitality professionals now need to take these ideas and truly run with them. All of our menus should be low waste, always. 

You can start making an impact by submitting a zero waste cocktail to Flor de Cana’s competition.

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