Bartenders have actively been looking to reduce bar waste. And with consumers becoming more aware of the environment, if you’re not getting down with sustainable bartending and zero waste cocktails, you’re going to end up stuck in the past. Sustainable bartending helps for fresher ingredients, a clearer conscience and if you work for a bar. Improved profits and higher GP percentages. So, get on board. I mean who doesn’t want to save the planet one tasty guilt free cocktail at a time?

What are sustainable cocktails?

Sustainable cocktails are cocktails that are more in harmony with nature. It’s about minimising natural resources and conserving energy. In a nutshell, its about throwing away less “left overs” and using the full potential of an ingredient instead of say, juicing a lime then throwing away the 80% of the fruit you didn’t use.

So how do you become more sustainable with your bartending? how do you create zero-waste cocktails that taste good?

Not to worry. Below are my 7 tips to creating sustainable cocktails.

7 Steps to zero-waste, sustainable cocktails

1) Infusions

First things first. The key with zero-waste cocktails is getting the most out of the ingredients you have. Generally, after you have used what you need, the left overs get thrown in the bin. RIP to that ugly strawberry that didn’t quite make it to the garnish.

One thing to do that will help save and get the most out of them perishing ingredients, is to infuse them into syrups or spirits.

Check out more on infused spirits HERE and syrups HERE

If you have the equipment you can distil them perishing ingredients. But that takes some high quality and expensive equipment. However, if you have the money to burn and the knowledge to go along with it. You will end up with some next level cocktails and specific, complex flavours that can be hard to find with commercial spirits.

2) Don’t Throw Away Wine

Once oxidised, wine can be made into vinegar or reductions for drinks. If you work in a bar with a restaurant. The kitchen would be more then happy to take that week-old wine for sauces or marinade.

White wine syrups work great for gin cocktails and red wine syrups work great for rum cocktails. If theirs just no rescuing that wine, pour it into a glass, cover the glass with cling film, poke a small hole in the top and voilà! You have a DIY fly trap.

3) When Life Gives You Lemons

Citrus is more than juice. Damn near 74% of cocktails call for lime or lemon juice (Number based on a guess at 1AM whilst I’m writing this. I originally put 70%, but 74% sounded like I knew what I was talking about) and when creating cocktails, its your first go to thought, “which citrus juice will I add to this drink, lime or lemon?” It makes sense, sour is one of the 5 tastes and adding that citrus is crucial for balancing a cocktail.

However, there are more ways to add that acidity without the aid of limes and lemons. You could use Phosphoric Acid, Lactic acid, Citric and Malic Acids, tannins and vinegars, the list goes on.

Citric and Malic acids are favourites of mine. There organic acids found naturally in high concentrations in both limes and lemons. When citric acid is dissolved in water, and you’ll have to play around with the ratios to get it right (Hint, a little goes a long way) then the end product tastes alot like lemons. Malic acid is a lot softer. More like the acidity found in apples. Both work perfectly for fast paced bars because it cuts down on the amount of work that goes into squeezing 10 bottles worth of lime and lemon juice.

However,

If you must use Lemons and Limes. Consider the fruit as a whole. I find that one lime holds about 25ish ml of juice, which means for one 700ml bottle, you need to juice 28 limes and where do they go after you juice them? That’s right. In the bin. Consider peeling your citrus first. It takes a bit longer, however, you can use all them peels for infusions, garnishes, dehydrating or oleo-saccharum.

oleo-saccharum simply means sugared oil. I’ll be making a tutorial on how to make this shortly, in the mean time you can find pretty easy to follow recipes elsewhere online BUT MINE WILL BE BETTER SO COME BACK PLEASE.

photo of lemons

4) Dehydration

Quirky garnishes that can’t be consumed are just getting thrown away after their use. That’s not sustainable. So, all your cocktail garnishes need to be edible. And perishable ones won’t last. So dehydrating fruit will last you a lifetime of edible garnishes, there easier to keep and they look a whole lot swankier.

Click here to check out more on dehydration.

5) Fermenting

Keeping away from perishable ingredients is great, It’s the easiest way to make zero waste cocktails. If nothing’s going bad, and nothing needs to be thrown away then you’ve cracked sustainable mixology. Well done. However, sometimes, you need to use perishable ingredients, most fruit favourites are perishable, fresh limes, lemons, strawberries etc. So, what do you do once they start to go bad?

One thing you can do is to ferment them left over ingredients into a soda to use to top cocktails with. See a whole article on fermenting sodas here

Pineapple skins can also be turned into traditional Mexican tepache which you can learn about here

6) Grow Your Own Ingredients

As soon as herbs are picked, they begin to lose flavour and die. Sad thought, right? RIP herbs.

However, that means if you’re growing your own herbs and cutting out the middle man, the time between picking them and making a drink is vastly shortened. Making for fresher drinks and better flavours.

But what the hell does this have to do with sustainability you ask. Simple, growing your own ingredients cuts out the packaging making for zero waste cocktails. Hurrah!

7) Lose the straws

That’s right, this one doesn’t need much explaining. Straws are bad. However, if you must have them, opt for biodegradable ones or metal reusable straws.

Question convention and consider what else you could use in the place of a straw, sipping through lemon grass for a citrusy edge to that gin sour? A chocolate straw for that mudslide? How about a cinnamon stick for that tiki drink of yours? Bamboo, glass, papaya leaf stems, hallowed out vanilla beans, the list goes on and the possibilities just get quirkier and more inventive.

That doesn’t just go for serving aswell. With every one drink there is normally two straws wasted. One for tasting the cocktail and one for serving and if that drink doesn’t taste quite right, that’s another straw wasted once you adjust it and try again.

Use a reusable metal straw or tasting spoon when testing your cocktails flavour. That way even if you’re still not going to give up with serving plastic straws, you’ll still cut down your usage by half.

Photo of straws

Final Note… Balance

Don’t go overboard. Being sustainable is great, but it’s a thin line, “I used this fruit by-product to create a delicious cocktail” sounds great. “I took everything that you would normally throw in the bin and liquefied it so you can drink it” sounds, well… unappealing.

Sustainable bartending is something to do for the environment and well, to save money. Not just because it’s the next cocktail trend. Keep in mind that cocktails are an indulgence. A way of treating yourself. I’d rather have a beer then liquefied rubbish, as would many people I imagine. Cocktails are expensive after all, especially when compared to the price of a beer and whilst we are on the subject, lets just talk about beer.

Draught beer to be precise. The only packaging involved is the keg, which suppliers will pick up, clean and re-use. There is no garnish, no straws and the whole thing gets consumed apart from the glass. Which is then washed and then re-used.

Ice...

Do you know what one of the largest energy sucking parts of a bar is? It’s the ice machine. Large cubed ice machines waste about 50 per cent of the water they bring in. When making a cocktail, you scoop ice out of an ice well. An ice well that’s slowly melting and wasting water, add that ice to a shaker or mixing glass and dilute/chill your drink via shaking or stirring, then you pour that ice away. It’s a massive waste of water and energy used to create the ice. Draught beer on the other hand. Uses no ice.

Now you could argue that there is a lot of waste in the making of beer and energy waste in cooling the beer. But generally, if you’re getting beer from a local and sustainable brewery then no matter how hard you try to create a zero waste, sustainable cocktail. Its going to be very difficult to come close to the sustainability of a nice cold pint.

An if that isn’t enough. A pint will cost you half the price of a cocktail. We choose a cocktail for exciting flavours and a delicious treat. Not because of the sustainability. That’s just something that helps us feel a little guilt free. So, don’t get to caught up on this focus of zero waste. Sometimes, something will have to be wasted to create a great tasting cocktail and that’s alright. Its all about finding the balance of exciting flavours, delicious recipes and waste reduction to create the perfect sustainable cocktail.


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