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1–2 July 2024
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Getting more from what you have – sustainable cocktail ideas using ingredients you already stock

Sustainability is multi-faceted, with a variety of factors to consider. One of the most direct ways you can make a difference in your bar is by making full use of the produce you already buy, making some interesting new cocktail ingredients in the process.

“We always try to take a holistic approach when it comes to produce, and make sure none of it ends up going in the bin,” says Tom Kirk of Below Stairs in Leeds. “This usually means that if we need something for a homemade ingredient, the leftovers will become part of the garnishes. There is a lot of crossover, with byproducts from one drink forming the garnish of another, and so on. Pretty much every drink on the menu has some form of reclaimed element, whether it's in the garnish or the drink itself.”

At the Gleneagles Hotel, Michele Mariotti looks beyond the bar when it comes to minimising waste. “At the American Bar we use secondary or waste ingredients in collaboration with all of the F&B departments of the hotel,” he says. “Around 80% of the non-spirit ingredients in the menu come from the hotel’s ecosystem, which naturally also means cost saving, allowing us to invest extra budget in equipment, research and development.”

Zero-waste ingredients

Citrus – near-ubiquitous in bars, but prone to producing waste – is a good place to start. At Kiki Lounge on the Isle of Man, citrus has always been made using the super juice method. “This involves peeling the skin of your chosen citrus and adding this to a blend of acids – citric, malic and tartaric. We let them steep for a while before lengthening with water to bring acidity to the desired pH, blending, adding juiced citrus, and straining,” says Kiki Lounge’s Drew Fleming. “This has drastically reduced our consumption of fresh lemons and limes alongside making use of the entire fruit. The lime husks are then frozen and used in our house Zombie, to cradle overproof rum and flames.”

Below Stairs also makes use of super juice. “By making an oleo citrate from the citrus peels, you can massively increase the volume of juice you get from a batch of lemons or limes, which reduces the amount you need to buy and the cost of using it in a drink,” says Kirk. “The byproducts can then be used to make cordials or bitters, with very little effort to get even more value.”

At Little Mercies in London, there are a few strategies for dealing with citrus. “We looked into both blackening and salt preserving the husks and fruit, to give us ways to keep them after they would normally be thrown,” explains Alan Sherwood. “We started by salting blood oranges for our Moro Margarita, in an attempt to find a way to have them for use all year, and then applied this same technique to all citrus.”

The bar also produces Super Citrus Gin for its house Collins, as well as sun-dried black grapefruit, which it uses to make a marmalade for use in a Paloma.

Beyond citrus, the team at London bar Dram often uses a single ingredient in a variety of ways. “For instance, our plums from the winter have been fermented in batches en masse and then used across a variety of drinks in different ways, using different techniques,” says Chris Tanner.

Dram also looks beyond the bar to reduce waste, such as its use of whey from a local dairy farm. “The environmental impact of whey on local communities and local water sources makes whey a difficult product for dairies to dispose of,” he says. “We’re able to take a waste product that also has environmental implications, and find a way to use that.”

Tanner combines these two ingredients in the bar’s Plum & Whey cocktail, while the plum wine is used in another cocktail alongside a skin-contact wine. “There is a lot of fermentation that takes place here, which is a way for us to work on bulk products,” he says.

Pietro Collina of London’s Viajante87 has a strategy for minimising waste from produce like melons and squash. “Instead of getting rid of the seeds in the middle, we incorporate them into different stock waters – melon water or squash water. The seeds provide a lot of great aromas for drinks,” he says. “We sous vide it all together and then blend them. You get a really amazing, flavourful syrup or cordial, which you can add to the regular process of making syrup with the pulp of said fruit or vegetable.”

As a tropical bar, Kiki Lounge produces its fair share of banana skins. “These are lightly toasted, and an equal weight of sugar is added. This oleo is left for up to 48 hours before the resulting liquid is bottled and strained,” explains Fleming. This ingredient is used together with the bar’s low-waste lime juice to create its Art & Reality cocktail, combining these with Del Maguey Mezcal, Ancho Reyes and grapefruit.

Bringing it all together

Creating a variety of zero-waste ingredients is all well and good, particularly for the planet, but the proof is in the cocktails they produce.

At London’s Equal Parts, a prime example is the bar’s Red Raw Chilli Paloma. “We create a cordial from red peppers, with the leftover peppers infused in tequila. The leftover from that is dehydrated and blended with salt to create our unique salt rim. Essentially, nothing goes in the bin,” says Matteo Vaccargiu.

Collina at Viajante87 has a Paloma example too. “One of the things I always love in a Paloma is bitterness, which you can get from fresh grapefruit oils,” he says. “We make a cordial from grapefruit skin, blending and adding citric acid – this cordial is a really important component for the bitterness of our Paloma.”

Green apples, meanwhile, are comprehensively used to produce two different cocktails at Viajante87. “We juice them and clarify the juice, which we use in Vino Tropical, but then we take the skins of the apples and cook them with sugar and apple vinegar and then make a cordial, which goes into the Ya Está,” says Collina.

At Below Stairs, Kirk has a few examples, starting with the bar’s Banoco Fruit, which makes use of lacto-fermentation, and waste products from another cocktail. “We ferment the bananas for about three days before blending with pectinase to extract the juice. The banana pulp that's leftover is combined with the solids that come off the rum infusion and the fats from our Clarified Milk Punch to make a toffee to use as the garnish on the drink,” he says, adding that this has the added benefit of having a long shelf life.

Another one from Below Stairs is the Corn + Silk, which makes use of beer that would otherwise be thrown away during a line clean. This is combined with cornflakes to produce a cereal milk. The leftover solids are combined with leftover coconut butter from the Banoco Fruit rum infusion, as well as fats from the Clarified Milk Punch, which is all dehydrated to make something reminiscent of a cereal break bar, says Kirk.

Mariotti has various examples of cocktails using zero-waste ingredients at Gleneagles. “In our Cucumber cocktail we collect discarded cucumber ends from kitchens, juice them, ferment them with cider yeast and combine them with jasmine liqueur and gin for a savoury, refreshing drink,” he begins. “For Blueberry, we collect leftover blueberry muffins from our café and breakfast buffet, blend them with vodka, fat wash the mix and create a milk punch,” he adds.

At Little Mercies, Sherwood describes the bar’s Garden Picante cocktail, created to make use of waste herbs and vegetables from a high street green grocer. “It also uses waste lime juice that we freeze and then turn into a cordial with sugar and lactic acid,” he says. “We do the same with any waste lemon juice, so we never have to throw out citrus.”

Top tips for sustainable cocktail ingredients from UK bar operators 

“You don't need the fancy kit to do things more sustainably. We've been open six years, and for most of that time all we had was a kettle and a blender – you don't have to invest in a rotavap or centrifuge to get the most out of your ingredients. Also, being able to look at the menu as a whole, rather than a series of separate drinks, has had a huge impact on our ability to almost completely negate the amount of produce that gets wasted. It spreads costs across multiple items, which improves your overall GP, making it economically sustainable too.” Tom Kirk, Below Stairs

“Work with the community of people and businesses around you. If you can't utilise your waste, someone may be able to! Start small, ensure the prep is sustainable and increase from there.” Drew Fleming, Kiki Lounge

“Examine ingredients from all angles – different parts of a vegetable or fruit contain varying flavours, depending on the technique used. Leftovers are often where the flavours are most concentrated.” Matteo Vaccargiu, Equal Parts

“Using fewer ingredients in lots of different ways can often be more creative for bar teams, and can yield really interesting results. If you have an ingredient that’s really delicious and you want to keep playing with it and making drinks with it, that’s not only better, but more fun too, and can yield way more creative results.” Chris Tanner, Dram

“Look at all the trimmings you have, such as herbs or citrus. You can put these together to make a ‘trash’ cordial. We do ones with the trims of cucumbers and jalapeños from the kitchen. You can keep a container in your fridge for trimmings. When you have a good amount, just put it all together - you could incorporate a tea, like white tea or jasmine – add different types of citrus and cook it all up. Add sugar and you get a variety of aromatic, delicious syrups. If you fortify that with a citrus component like citric or malic acid it helps to stabilise it, keeping it fresh for at least a month.” Pietro Collina, Viajante87

“Cordials are the simplest system to minimise waste from the off. They are super easy to make, and can be substituted into most cocktails that aren't looking for fresh lemon/lime flavour, but that need a nice bright acidity.” Alan Sherwood, Little Mercies

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