Fancy a banana peel or carrot pulp in your drink?
There’s a fire at my table. It’s the corn silk that is being lit on fire to add a smoky effect to my drink. My cocktail could be a tribute to the versatility of corn: it has corn milk, vodka, corn-cob and lemon rind cordial and red chilli butter caviar. It comes on a ‘coaster’ that is essentially the corn’s husk. The drink itself is smooth, almost like a milkshake with a buttery bite from the caviar. It is also a cocktail that wears its low-waste tag proudly.
A creation of chef Arina Suchde, Corn off the Cob is one of the six new cocktails that are part of Wasted, a new sustainable cocktail menu introduced at Woodside Inn, Mumbai (both outlets).
A sustainable drinks movement is one that employs eco-friendly principles to the glass: minimises the use of natural resources, repurposes kitchen scraps and by-products, reduces waste, and has a low environmental footprint. The zero-waste drinks movement is a trend that saves time, money, and resources while also, in a small way, reducing the amount of waste generated in a bar or restaurant.
Across India, a few restaurants and bars are getting more eco-minded, beyond just getting rid of plastic straws. They are doing this by reducing waste in the cocktail-making process to create low-waste or zero-waste drinks. Some use discarded ingredients to add spunk to existing cocktails; others take the leftovers from making the cocktails and turn them into jams, punches, or as toppings for salads. Some make all their cordials, juices and shrubs in-house thus reducing the need for packaged products. Others use artisanal ice that melts slower thus reducing the amount of ice used. “Sustainable cocktails seek to eliminate that waste, through unconventional recipes and creative bartending,” says mixologist Atul Mundaye, Vice, Global Tapas Bar in Mumbai.
It is impossible to go zero-waste but there are few people and places proving that with some thought, it is possible to create a drink that is delicious and doesn’t cost the earth.
Take the Nox the Monk at Vice. Pineapple is the hero. The hollowed-out fruit serves as the glass, the peel and rind get sweetened with jaggery and fermented to create a tepache, and dehydrated leaves work as a garnish. This is paired with homemade peanut butter washed rum. “The decision to introduce this drink is a response to the fact that we waste an awful lot of resources in the hospitality industry,” says Mundaye adding that at least one component of every cocktail on their menu incorporates an element that would’ve gone into the trash.
Suchde has been championing low-waste cooking, and repurposing scraps for over a decade, by partnering with restaurants and conducting workshops. “The point is to treat this ‘waste’ as a normal ingredient. I know we talk about it being waste but I think it has a very negative connotation to it. I prefer using the word by-product,” she says. Her Wasted menu has six different cocktails, some safe, others a bit ‘out there’. Bananas are the star of Sneaky Sundae, a drink that doubles up as dessert: a frozen banana and peanut butter washed dark rum mixture, more sludge than liquid, served in a chocolate waffle cone with a whipped cream swirl, banana peel oleo and candied banana peel. Wheyski Sour uses the whey from in-house ricotta to create a sour infusion, an orange syrup made from leftover orange rinds, and orange rind dust. Wabbit Margarita has cold-pressed carrot juice and the leftover carrot pulp turned into a cracker and served as an accompaniment. Green Gin is a mixture of Greater Than Gin and a tonic created from the spent botanicals that went into the making of the gin. Dark Stranger uses spent coffee grounds. “The whole idea is to showcasing the diversity of these ingredients and by-products by putting it out there so people can notice it,” she adds.
Away in Goa, W Goa also highlights corn with a Bee’s Silk cocktail made by infusing whiskey with corn husk. Honey comes from a local vendor, straight from the hive; basil leaves are from their garden, and the corn husk becomes a coaster. All the waste from the drink goes into their compost. “W Goa is known for its wild parties and innovative drinks. We thought why not start a movement and create a sustainable cocktail?” says mixologist Ved Thakur. “It was an exciting challenge for us, curating a drink that would live up to the name and start a larger conversation.”
There’s a challenge associated with making these low-waste and sustainable cocktails, incorporating kitchen by-products and other waste into something delicious. As cocktails are a highly-priced item in any place, the onus rests on the bartender or mixologist to create a drink that is creative, has distinct flavour profiles and is interesting enough to keep people wanting more. Some, like Olive Bar & Kitchen in Mumbai create a whole menu.
A section of their cocktail menu is zero-waste drinks, made using the waste from the kitchen and the bar. The skin and rind of watermelons become a jam for their Rhodeo Drive. Lemongrass leaves are infused with spirits like rum in After Dinner Daiquiri. Citrus peels make a Saccharum, an alternative to fresh citrus juices. The Upcycled Espresso Martini is one of their top sellers and is a twist on the classic espresso martini, replacing vodka with tequila and using homemade coffee liqueur made from spent coffee grounds. “The inspiration is to reduce our environmental impact by using ingredients to its full potential so as to reduce the waste generated. Olive, being a high-volume bar means we should be conscious and take steps to reduce the waste generated, by creating something delicious and sustainable,” says mixologist Vedant Mehra.
If you get into semantics of the word, to call a cocktail truly sustainable can be a difficult, if not impossible. Are the ingredients sustainably produced? What is their carbon footprint? Are bars employing eco-friendly principles behind the bar as well as when purchasing drinks’ ingredients? But, bartenders wasting less and getting innovative with scraps that would ideally go into the bin, is a trend people need to get behind. A small step for waste, a giant step for mixology.
“It not only reduces environmental impact and it actually gives our business a competitive advantage. It reduces spend on produce and ingredients, it motivates staff and customers can enjoy a guilt-free gastronomic experience,” says Mundaye.
Mehra believes that the restaurant business we must be very conscious of their impact on the environment. “Judicious use of these ingredients reduces the quantity needed by us, which in turn is beneficial for natural resources which are depleting at an alarming rate but is also cost-effective at the end of the day,” he says.
At Woodside, Suchde’s menu is temporary – the well-received ones will move into the main menu and they will use the components from the not-so-popular drinks. “The staff have already starting creating infusions, syrups and cordials from the by-products coming out of the bar. So, when they plan their next menu, they will already start incorporating these elements in it,” she says
“Being ‘low-waste’ in our kitchens has always been a regular practice, if you ask the generations before us. I think our generation just needs that reminder.”
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