From wasted water to shipped-in spirits, castoff citrus and a binful of bottles, not everything to do with the cocktail scene leaves as pleasant a taste in the mouth as the drinks themselves. But a few simple steps can make things much more sustainable, whether you’re running a bar, drinking in one, or mixing some tipples at home. 

By Ben Norum

Less ice, baby

Water is one of the world’s most precious resources and we’re all using far too much of it. When it comes to drinks, the biggest culprit is ice. Even if you’re not going to go full White Lyan and banish the stuff, you can still reduce the amount you use. A few bigger cubes (or balls) of ice make much more of an impression in the glass than lots of small cubes. And, because bigger cubes melt more slowly, there will also be less waste over the course of the evening.

Stirred, not shaken

To the same effect, batch-making drinks, keeping them chilled and stirring them over a little ice, is much more efficient than shaking each cocktail separately. Just think how much ice goes into a Boston and is then discarded after a few exertions of the arm. Sorry, Mr Bond.

If life gives you lemons…

Make lemonade. Or limoncello. Or something. Citrus fruits are one of the most commonly wasted ingredients in bars, and often get thrown out at home too, after overenthusiastic garnish buying. Use your lemons and limes to make syrups, infuse spirits or make them into pastes and purées — you can always freeze leftover slices until you have a spare moment.

Don’t lose your bottle

The amount of bottles a busy bar gets through in a night, let alone a year, is staggering. And it’s surprisingly easy to build up a collection at home too. Recycling them is a minimum expectation these days, but why send them to be processed if you can find a new use for them yourself? Try serving table water in wine bottles, using empty containers to present cocktails, creating makeshift candlesticks, or enlisting them as vessels in which to age and infuse drinks.

Food matching

We all know about pairing food and drink for flavour, but what about sustainability? Duck & Waffle’s Rich Woods recently demonstrated how leftovers from the restaurant’s kitchen could be used up in cocktails. He whipped up tomato stalk gin and avocado skin tequila, and even used spent coffee grinds in a twist on an Espresso Martini. The same is true in reverse: if you have leftover Mojito mint, make a chutney; if you have egg yolks aplenty then cook quiche.

Sip with the seasons

Even the most cutting-edge cocktail scenes around the world lag behind their restaurant counterparts when it comes to keeping things seasonal. While it’s standard for top restaurants to change their menus entirely every few months to reflect what’s growing, cocktail bars are more inclined to stick to their stalwarts. So whether you’re behind the bar, or mixing in your kitchen, try muddling the best of summer’s soft fruits into new takes on classics, make a point of bigging up Brambles when autumn’s blackberries are abundant, and showcase seasonal citrus in winter warmers.

Keep it local

Quality should always be king, but championing what’s local is an obvious yet often overlooked step to being more sustainable. If you’re a London bar then using London Gin may be obvious, but the city also makes excellent vodka, vermouth, coffee and cola. Sometimes buying from down the road will cost more than shipping in the big brands but it’s worth it, for the planet and as a point of difference. Consumers: show you’re willing to spend a little more for something a bit special.

Garnish with grub

From sprigs of parsley on the side of a plate to shrubby on the side of your glass, garnish can be an incredible waste. That’s not to say you should do away with it altogether though: we taste cocktails with our eyes before our lips get near. Instead opt for garnish that can be eaten alongside the cocktail, such as berries, pickles or pots of popcorn. Just think: if you can’t eat it, beat it. And sorry, but that does mean paper umbrellas are out too.

By Ben Norum. Follow him at twitter.com@bennorum

Thirsty for more tips on sustainability in the bar and at home? Read issue 22 of The Cocktail Lovers Magazine here

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