London is gaining a thirst for eco-friendly cocktails
Mar 15, 2019
2019 is very much THE year to be green, after public opinion and widespread press, along with inspiration from pioneering bartenders. From ditching plastic straws, to root-to-stem ingredients, big changes have been happening.
The dramatic disuse of plastic straws has been one of the fastest overhauls in the London bar landscape. The switch almost happened overnight; as the calendar flipped to 2018, many of the city’s bars made a pledge to move away from the plastic. Companies that have recently adopted this change include D&D Group, Soho House and MEATliquor, who’s been plastic free for the past year. The Hawksmoor Group, along with neighbourhood bar High Water, both serve their drinks straw-free, with biodegradable ones on request. Their bartenders use metal straws when prepping cocktails to ensure on minimal waste.
At the forefront of this huge industry change has been award-winning mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana (a.k.a Mr Lyan), who has for years been a strong advocate for sustainable mixology. Cocktails at his basement bar Super Lyan come with a reusable bamboo straw, which are sourced from their supplier Pitt White Bamboo in Devon. Ryan says the aim is to encourage people to bring their straw back to the bar with them, just like they would with a pair of 3D glasses at the cinema.
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It’s industry pioneers such as Ryan that have contributed to this zero-plastic boom, a move which has been fuelled by both the The Government’s 2018 zero plastic pledge (to banish plastic waste in Britain by 2042), along with a huge boost from the Evening Standard’s Last Straw Campaign, which launched in January this year. The campaign had a powerful effect on London bars with many making big changes as a result, such as Michelin-starred Jason Atherton who made the move away from plastic at his nine London restaurants, (including Pollen Street Social and City Social).
Booze companies are also becoming equally as eco-conscious, with two of the world’s biggest drinks brands, Diageo and Pernod Ricard, making a pledge to banish unnecessary plastic from their operations at the end of 2017/ beginning of 2018.
Bars are not only facing the problem of plastic waste, but the issue of ingredient waste too. For years, many London restaurants have been focussed on using as little trash as possible, but it’s taken a while for the bar industry to catch up. Not everyone of course – back to Ryan Cheti who pretty much pioneered the move by hitting headlines back in 2013 with his original low waste cocktail bar White Lyan. The venue claimed to cut waste by up to 75%, with practices such as shunning perishable ingredients like fruit, and brandishing a strict ‘no ice’ policy – a move that certainly turned heads in a very traditional cocktail world. Along with White Lyan co-owner Ian Griffiths, the pair created the, now mainstream, concept of ‘closed loop’ cocktails, which involves using all parts of the ingredients that are usually thrown away. For example, steeping lemon husks and turning them into a sweet falernum syrup which is then used as an ingredient in another drink. It’s the mixology equivalent to nose-to-tail dining. ‘Nothing is out of bounds in terms of waste products that can be incorporated into cocktails – even eggshells, though tea bags are proving a problem.’ Ryan previously told Wired magazine.
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Ian, from the Lyan powerhouse, has since gone on to found Trash Tiki, with fellow bartender Kelsey Ramage. It’s a movement focussed on creating cocktails from what would usually be seen as garbage. The pair aim to make this manageable for us non-cocktail-guru mortals, using just a few simple bits of equipment like a bucket and a strainer.
Another bartender championing the move to closed loop is Richard Woods from sky-high city restaurant Duck & Waffle. Over the years he’s come up with a series of imaginative cocktail menus that focus on squeezing out different flavours from the same ingredients, such as using an avocado stone garnish in his forward-thinking aperitivo, and blanched tomato skin as an ingredient in his vegetale gimlet.
It was another clear sign that the eco was getting big when two brand new bars (from strong industry names) popped up in 2017, with sustainability as their USP. Zero-waste Scout launched in April last year, by cocktail aficionado Matt Whiley (from the likes of Peg + Patriot, Purl, and Worship St Whistling Shop). Here, Matt turns leftover ingredients into bar snacks and ‘ugly’ fruits into seasonal ferments that he serves up instead of wine. 2017 also saw the arrival of Nine Lives, a bar with a focus on the closed loop cocktail, using waste from the drinks to fuel the bar’s very own vegetable garden.
As you can see, this dramatic shift away from the traditional, waste-heavy, way of serving drinks makes for a very exciting time in the cocktail world by pushing mixologists to be more creative than ever with their serves. We can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
Photo by MelanieMaya on iStock