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Making Sustainable Cocktails at Home

The zero waste drinks movement continues to grow, with bartenders around the world implementing programs to reduce their environmental footprints. Efforts run the gamut—from swapping paper coasters for leather ones to overhauling ice programs and water systems—and many of the tricks bartenders use are surprisingly easy to adopt at home. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Ditch the Straws

Ask any bartender for the single most important (and easiest) trick to bring to at-home drinkmaking, and they’ll likely tell you it’s to stop using plastic straws and opt instead for re-useable metal or recyclable paper straws. It’s a small and simple way to help prevent millions of plastic straws from ending up in landfills.

Repurpose Culinary Ingredients

Like in bars and restaurants, your home kitchen and bar probably have plenty of overlap in terms of what ingredients are available for cooking and mixing. At places like Seamstress in New York, ingredients are repurposed in fun ways, like in the Playing For Keeps, where leftover radicchio used to infuse gin is then repurposed into a jam instead of being thrown in the garbage. Bartender Channing Centro also uses leftover sunflowers from a smoked sunflower syrup to make a topping for the house salad. “Booze-infused fruit and veggies also make for a fun snack, so keep those leftovers away from the trash,” he says. It’s a practice employed by many bars, like The Osprey in Brooklyn. “Much like a chef will use every part of an animal when he butchers it, we try to get the most out of every product. The kitchen uses seasonal ingredients, so we’re constantly checking with chef to see what we can do with ingredients he already has,” says beverage director David McGovern. “Currently, we’re making chorizo salt for a drink from the chorizo that chef is using in a dish.”

Stretch Your Citrus

Citrus is one of the most used ingredients in cocktails, and chances are good that you aren’t using your lemons and limes to their full potential. Try peeling twists and other garnishes before juicing to make the most of each rind. If you only use half the fruit, there are plenty of ways to use the leftover citrus, like cutting the half-moon into slices and dehydrating to use for future garnishes. Or take inspiration from the Trash Tiki folks and make a citrus stock or DIY curaçao. “Because we use all fresh juice daily at The Osprey, that leaves us with a lot of citrus rinds,” says McGovern. “The rinds have incredible flavor, so we combine them with spices and remaining juice to create another cocktail ingredient, adding depth and complexity to cocktails.”

Support Local Makers

“Much of the environmental impact of a product occurs upstream—that is to say all the stuff that happens in order to get that lime or bottle in your hands creates waste and emissions,”says Tin Roof Community founders Claire Sprouse and Chad Arnholt. “Thinking critically about what you buy is a profound, if simple, step to take towards lowering the carbon cost of your drinks. Ask yourself, ‘How was this made?’ How did it get to me?’ and ‘How far did it have to travel?'” Having consulted on programs at bars like San Francisco’s Tosca, Sprouse and Arnholt look at every aspect of how a bar runs to figure out ways to reduce waste. Buying local spirits is one way to check those boxes, Arnholt says. “In Brooklyn it’s lower impact for me drink a gin made in Albany than to have one shipped from California. Freight can account for as much as half of a cocktail’s carbon footprint.” Another consideration is packaging. “No more heavy bottle inside in a cardboard tube inside a wooden box that’s packed in a cardboard box. The time has come for our industry to stop manufacturing a bunch of crap to be immediately thrown away upon delivery. Every consumer is an influencer! Brands want you to buy their product, so they will respond once an issue hits the bottom line.”

Hit the Farmer’s Market

Buying seasonal and local fruit will also lower your environmental impact. “For produce, much of the footprint comes from transportation and refrigerated storage. If you buy a tomato in the winter it likely travelled from far away (possibly by air) and consumed electricity to stay cold,” says Sprouse. “In the fall, look to a local farm for your juice, and mix with local strawberries in the summer. If you’re in Florida, Texas or California you can feel better about your citrus purchases.” Another tip: Buy ugly fruit! “It tastes just as good and usually gets thrown away,” adds Sprouse.

Conserve Water

At The Osprey, McGovern trains staff to keep a close eye on water use. “Don’t leave taps running, don’t run glass washers unless they’re full,” he says. Ice is another factor that contributes to water waste in cocktails. Some bars prebatch cocktails in bottles and store them in the fridge or freezer, which will keep the liquid chilled without having to use ice. Justin Lavenue from Austin’s The Roosevelt Room suggests using silicone molds at home if you don’t have an icemaker. “This will save you a trip to the store to buy a bag of ice and will decrease the number of plastic bags going into the trash,” he says.

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