Words by Sarah Miller
Nobody wants to talk about the pandemic anymore, but there’s no avoiding the way in which it changed our drinking habits. The closure of bars and restaurants not only shifted where we drink, but it also inspired drinkers to be more ambitious on the home front, from purchasing premium products and ready-to-serve drinks to getting creative with the cocktail shaker. This year the home bar was declared a bigger priority to homeowners than a new kitchen but, with Love Food Hate Waste’s new campaign urging us to think not only about the food we throw in the bin but also the liquid we pour down the drain, the onus should also be on ensuring that home bar is as sustainable as possible.
Curate your collection
The key to an environmentally conscious home bar, like any good venue, is a well-curated collection of core spirits. Spirits production is exceptionally carbon intensive, but – with packaging and transportation accounting for 25-50% of that footprint – buying booze directly from your local distillery (and ideally on foot or by bike) is a surefire way to mitigate some of its impact. Especially so if they also allow you to refill any empty spirits bottle as they do at East London Liquor Company, York Gin and Northern Ireland’s Boatyard Distillery.
If, on the other hand, you’re restricted to ordering your alcohol online, you have the opportunity to select from some of the most sustainable spirits available, such as Arbikie’s Nàdar Gin made from peas, Ramsbury’s Single Estate Gin and Cooper King’s vacuum-distilled carbon negative gins. To reduce the impact of delivery as much as possible opt for brands which take advantage of existing shipment routes, such as Royal Mail, and look for lightweight, innovative (and ideally plastic-free) packaging solutions, such as Green Man Wildwood Gin’s paperboard Frugal bottle, Scotland’s Shoogle Spirits and Isle of Harris Distillery’s aluminium bottles or Rock Rose and Bullard’s refill pouches.
And don’t forget the modifiers! A surge in British vermouth means you no longer have to rely on products imported from France, Italy and further afield. Instead take your pick from Sacred’s original English vermouths made with wines from Three Choirs Vineyard in Gloucestershire or Wales’ first vermouths produced using hand-picked botanicals by Still Wild in Pembrokeshire. Super sustainable Vault Aperitivo even offers a Rosemary and Orange Bitter which is naturally coloured through the infusion of hibiscus flowers and works wonderfully well in classic cocktails such as the Spritz or Negroni.
Get the right mix
When it comes to serving your spirits, cocktails with fewer ingredients naturally have a much lower carbon footprint, which is all the excuse you need to venture no further than a classic Gin and Tonic. With mixers accounting for two-thirds to three-quarters of your drink you’ll want to pick one that tastes good and, thankfully, when it comes to environmental impact there are plenty that do good too. Fever-Tree UK, Double Dutch and Lixir are all carbon neutral, and Lixir is also the UK’s first B-Corp mixer brand with a history of investing in both environmental and human sustainability, through its partnership with clean water charity Just A Drop, and also donating its surplus stock from lockdowns to UK-based food charity Feeding Families.
When it comes to the packaging and transportation of mixers, easily recyclable and lightweight aluminium cans tend to win out over glass bottles, but an even better solution is to swap out your G&T for a Collins or Sling and invest in a SodaStream sparkling water maker – saving both environmentally, and financially, on buying single-use bottles.
Keep it cool
We all know those long drinks taste better ice cold – and more ice means faster chilling followed by slower dilution – but water is a finite resource, with the World Economic Forum predicting there will be a 40% gap between global water supply and demand by 2030, so it is something we should use sparingly. Given the high energy and water demands of most commercial ice machines, and the fact that shipping water in any format makes little sense, it’s always going to be better to make your own ice than buy it in. However, if you also want to reduce your ice usage it’s always worth pre-chilling ingredients and/or glassware as well as considering investing in an insulated or double wall cup, and pre-batching and -refrigerating cocktails such as Negronis and Summer Cups. Discarded Spirits Ambassador, Sam Trevethyen, even suggests mixing an Espresso Martini with a blender stick, rather than shaking it with ice, for a still pleasingly foamy consistency.
Reduce your waste
It’s not just ice water that we tend to squander when shaking up our favourite cocktails. Fruit and herbs used in the process contribute to the 70% of food waste that comes from UK households and, according to The Waste and Resources Action Programme, a staggering 6% of all alcohol is also poured down the drain at a considerable environmental, and financial, cost.
The first step in reducing your waste is preserving your ingredients, so ensure everything is stored correctly and your vermouth, once opened, is kept in the fridge. Then make sure you get your serve sizes right and store or reuse any leftovers; David T. Smith recommends simmering down flat mixers to make a tonic syrup that can be diluted with soda water, or try mulling old wine and using it in place of vermouth in a festive Sloegroni.
Garnishes can often be ditched at home if you’re not trying to impress anyone, but many cocktails demand fresh juice so ensure you make the most of that fruit by first peeling it and using any leftovers to create syrups, shrubs (aka drinking vinegars), tepache (a fermented beverage made from the peel and rind of pineapples), oleo-saccharum (an oil produced by coating fruit zest in an excess of sugar) or even the Zero Waste Cooking School’s citrus fluff! There are also citrus juice alternatives – such as Supasawa – available on the market, but with research from Two Drifters Distillery revealing that European limes are carbon negative – having removed more CO2 from the environment than they emit in shipping to the UK – you don’t have to forgo your fresh citrus in your Daisies or Sours.
Many of the world’s most sustainable venues, such as London’s Silo and Sydney’s RE, also look to kitchen leftovers for drinks ingredients and you can too; crystallised honey can be dissolved with hot water to create a flavoursome sugar syrup, spent coffee grounds can be used to make coffee liqueur, wilted herbs make brilliant Basil Smashes and leftover chickpea water is a great vegan alternative to egg whites in Clover Clubs and White Ladies. Emma Stokes even utilises the leftovers from a pancake breakfast in her Buttermilk Maple Gin Flip!
Of course, not everyone aspires to be an at-home mixologist – and purchasing whole bottles of bitters and liqueurs for cocktails you’re only going to make once or twice is also incredibly wasteful (and expensive) – which is where that other pandemic success story comes into play: the ready-to-serve or canned cocktail.
The fastest growing spirits category last year, premixed cocktails offer the ultimate convenience but, with more brands using premium spirit bases, the quality is often as good as – if not better than – anything you might make at home. MOTH (Mix of Total Happiness) and Whitebox’s cocktails both perform consistently well in blind tastings, and their small aluminium cans are both lighter and more easily recyclable than their glass counterparts, but this fast-paced and creative category has seen some truly innovative packaging solutions.
NIO (Needs Ice Only) cocktails’ ultra compact packaging not only looks good but is also lightweight and made with FSC certified paper and recyclable plastic. However, it’s Cocktails by Mail, from former bartender Steph DiCamillo, which come out on top for me. Not only does Steph prioritise sourcing from UK-based companies and those who are genuinely doing good for the environment, she also creates her own low-waste ingredients – such as a banana oleo – to give her drinks a real point of difference. Better yet, those creations come delivered in entirely plastic-free packaging, including pouches that are certified to be fully compostable at home! By Steph’s admission they may not be the flashiest or most slick branded containers for your cocktails, but that hasn’t stopped Cocktails by Mail being declared Best Overall Letterbox Cocktails by the Independent’s Indy/Best.
As Steph puts it, sustainable drinking is “not about being perfect, it’s about making better choices,” and I think that’s something we can all aspire to, especially in the comfort of our own homes.
Great article! Particularly like the tips on British vermouths!