Imbibe live logo in white
1–2 July 2024
Olympia London

How to bring sustainability into your cocktails

The environment is on everyone’s agenda – more than ever before. While some bars have  been pioneers when it comes to sustainability, these considerations have become more widespread in recent years, with venues increasingly aiming to be zero-waste, and more closely scrutinising the impact they have on the planet.

One way that a bar can do its part when it comes to the environment is to make use of sustainable ingredients, whether these help to reduce waste, are sustainably sourced, or have a reduced impact in other ways. In many cases, making use of these will be better for your bar’s bottom line too!

Below are a few examples of sustainable ingredients that you can add into your cocktails.

Zero-waste citrus: reuse and repurpose

A good first step in making your bar more sustainable is ensuring that you’re making the most of the produce you use. Reusing the parts of a fruit that you’d otherwise discard can have a big impact, and can result in some interesting cocktail ingredients too. Citrus husks are a classic example, produced and discarded in vast quantities to create fresh citrus juice for the majority of cocktails out there.

But these can be repurposed in a number of ways, such as utilising them as garnishes, infusing them in spirits or syrups, or making oleo saccharum. The latter is made by using sugar to extract the oils from citrus peels, and is an excellent – some would say essential – addition to punch. An oleo saccharum elevates any punch recipe.

Zero-waste cocktail experts Trash Tiki offer another way to make use of spent citrus husks. Their Citrus Stock is made by boiling spent citrus with water, and then adding sugar, as well as citric and malic acid. The result is great when making batched cocktails.

Another good way to reduce waste is to work closely with your kitchen – if your venue has one. Their waste might be the perfect ingredient for the bar, and vice versa.

Consider this cool fermentation method

Another great way to make use of the parts of a fruit that would otherwise go to waste, as well as a great way to preserve fruit, is fermentation. There are many ways to go about this, but one of the easiest is to make the Mexican drink tepache with the skins and core of a pineapple, which would otherwise go in the bin.

The process is simple. Combine the aforementioned discarded parts of the pineapple with sugar and water, and an optional cinnamon stick. You can add yeast too, but the skins will likely contain enough of their own. Fermentation takes a couple days, and results in a fresh, complex, low-alcohol drink. Tepache also makes a great ingredient for long cocktails. Given its origins, tequila is a good place to start when mixing this sustainable ingredient.

Zero-waste drinks producers on the rise

A growing number of drinks brands are making use of ingredients that help to reduce food waste, such as Discarded Spirits. The first in their range was a vermouth made from the fruit of coffee beans, which otherwise goes to waste. There’s also a rum infused with banana peels, and a vodka produced from the stems, seeds and skins of grapes used for wine production.

Kent’s Greensand Ridge sources surplus produce from local farmers to produce its spirits, using fruit that is deemed unsuitable for supermarkets. In addition, it makes use of renewable power for its distillery, and is carbon neutral too.

Another UK zero-waste champion is Foxhole Spirits. For its Hyke Gin, for example, surplus oranges are used as a botanical, while surplus grapes are distilled to produce its base spirit.

Dehydrated garnishes to add interest and appeal

Garnishes are notoriously wasteful, prepped in quantity before a shift, and then usually discarded at the end of the night. The process of dehydrating fruit extends their shelf life dramatically – up to a number of months, rather than a couple days or less.

Dehydrated citrus wheels are probably the most common, and do indeed make beautiful garnishes, but there’s no limit to what you can dehydrate and decorate your cocktails with. Think pineapple, mango, rhubarb, raspberries and more. 

Verjus – the up-and-coming sustainable ingredient

One sustainable ingredient that’s been increasingly popping up on cocktail menus in recent years is verjus, which is the juice from unripe white grapes. Bright and very acidic, verjus not only makes an interesting cocktail ingredient, but is significantly more shelf-stable, and more environmentally-friendly to ship, than citrus fruit.

It might not replace lemon or lime juice in classic cocktails, but it’s a great ingredient to consider when creating new drinks, and works really well in tall, highball-style drinks, for example, and is a useful tool to have in your arsenal when creating non-alcoholic cocktails too.

Keep it local to reduce your impact

One of the simplest ways to reduce the impact your cocktail list has on the environment is to reduce the distance the ingredients have to travel. In the UK, it’s inevitable that some components of your drinks, classic cocktails in particular, will need to be sourced from afar, such as certain spirits, and citrus fruit.

But there’s an abundance of fantastic local produce to discover and incorporate into a list, not to mention an ever-growing number of local drinks producers – wherever you are. In addition to reducing your carbon footprint, you can make a feature of your support of local farmers, distillers and more.

Let’s not forget sustainable packaging

One area of sustainability in drinks that has improved dramatically in recent years is packaging. It’s worth seeking out distillers that offer their spirits in bulk, or that offer refills. Ecospirits is a relatively new system that allows distillers to distribute their spirits in a low‐carbon, low‐waste way, for example.

Meanwhile, a number of distillers have been reducing the weight of their glass bottles – such as East London Liquor Company for its new London Rye, and Calvados brand Avallen – amongst other sustainable packaging innovations. A number of big players in the spirits industry are even making progress in developing paper bottles for their brands – watch this space!

Jon Rus and Dominic John of The Natural Bar Company will be hosting a masterclass on "How to create a sustainable cocktail menu" at the upcoming Imbibe Live event on 4-5 July, find out more about the session here, view the full masterclass programme here and register here to get your ticket to Imbibe Live, the biggest drinks trade event in the UK.