Peanut chikki liqueur, a chamomile isomalt disc atop a negroni, and a bitter gourd-infused cocktail. This motley menu has been inspired by a rather unique muse — the planet. As the food and beverage space in India takes stock of its carbon footprint, bartenders are increasingly looking for inventive ways to raise the bar with sustainability.
When 30 Best Bars India — an initiative by Tulleeho and MW magazine to rank and celebrate the country’s best bars and bartenders — announced its winners in New Delhi, one key metric for judgement wassustainability. From sourcing ingredients locally, creating syrups from kitchen excess, reducing plastic consumption, re-purposing bottles, and reducing ice waste, bars are looking at circular processes to circumvent conspicuous consumption.
Bhavya Verma, Manager at Tulleeho says, “For us, Cobbler and Crew and Malaka Spice in Pune, won the award for Best Work in Sustainability, because of their overall commitment to the process. Malaka Spice has its farm, Cherish, and over a tonne of food waste is composted on-site. The team takes turns working on the farm, and they have a hydroponic set up on the rooftop to grow herbs. They flash freeze excess fresh fruit to repurpose them for the bar at a later date.”
Also Read | Sustainable bartending catches on in Indian bars
Sidecar, New Delhi, popularly seen as one of the country’s best bars, boasts a seasonal menu that heroes local ingredients. The bar also works with local communities to fashion coasters out of textile waste, and creates drinks like Mehrauli, which uses a zero-waste kombucha made from discarded citrus peel.
Yangdup Lama, co-founder at Sidecar, explains, “We have always been vocal advocates for showcasing local produce and keeping our carbon footprint low. To that end, we focus on seasonally available produce and highlight them through our Cocktail of the Week, and limited-edition menus. Our sister farm, Bhumi, helps us source the freshest fruits, vegetables, and microgreens so you’ll find a local kaffir lime in your cocktail rather than a yuzu or a beetroot in our winter warmers drink. Our bar and kitchen also ensure they use food scraps by making infusions, bases, broths that minimize food waste.”
Cobbler and Crew, Pune, has won accolades for its focus on all things local, with each drink being a reflection of the city, whether it is the use of a bhakharwadi masala spice on drinks, or strict adherence to the reduce, reuse and recycle policy. Here, a blowtorch and oven are used to remould chipped glasses, bottles are sourced from a kabadiwalla, and coasters are upcycled from plastic packaging by a local brand, Recharkha Ecosocial.
Copitas, at The Four Seasons, Bengaluru, made its commitment to going green evident with its a ‘Greener Future Menu’, which “is inspired by the ethos of using every part of the plant — from seed to fruit. “The pandemic has taught us new ways to reduce and control wastage while prepping for drinks, pre-portioning, and using fresh ingredients for our artisanal cocktails sourced from the local Trikaya Farms,” states Sarath Nair, bar manager, Copitas.
This is complemented by the use of locally-grown coconuts, coffee sourced from Coorg, and clay pots and containers from Bengaluru’s Pottery Town. “This creates a chance for our bartenders to engage guests in stimulating storytelling. We’ve started using paper straws, and coconut straws, and our replantable coasters and seed bombs with holy basil seeds make for great takeaways,” adds Sarath.
Involving the customer
Engaging guests in this conversation is an essential part of the process for bartenders. Kolkata-based freelance bartender Sourav Singh, has learned to repurpose excess fruit from his garnishes into inventive ingredients for his cocktails, “The orange pulp leftover from garnishes get turned into a marmalade that then goes into a Bourbon-based cocktail that has become a conversation starter with many guests.”
Bars across the country are taking the conversation forward, even naming drinks using green terms, like ‘Upcycled Love’, at PCO, New Delhi, managed by PassCode Hospitality. Vikas Kumar, bar manager at PCO says, “We make a rose petal distillate with leftover rose petals for this drink, and for our Chamomile Negroni, we infuse gin with the flowers, and then use the same chamomile flowers for the garnish in an isomalt sugar disc.”
This philosophy is taken forward at another bar managed by PassCode Hospitality, Saz on the Beach, Goa. Bar manager Prateek Gusain, says the tropical State offers a cornucopia of local ingredients. “While creating our menu, we use limited fruit, but research new techniques to maximise what’s seasonal and sustainable.” ‘Under The Palms’ is an ode to everything local, with cashew Feni, homemade Goan Liqueur, a kokum spice cordial, and Goan lemon juice. The leftover kokum and Goan lemon zest are chopped fine and cooked with sugar to create a kokum Marmalade.
Adds Prateek, “One of our garnishes, ‘leftover crown’, is made with excess grapefruit zest and fennel seeds, dehydrated into a disc, and for ‘All Clear Now’, white spirits are mixed with mint stems and an orange husk soda, which has a curious backstory. We make stock water from mint stems and orange husks, boil it, cool it, and then use the Mr Butlers soda maker to carbonate it,”
Ice, ice baby
While reusing scraps from the kitchen is one way to reduce a bar’s carbon footprint, ice is another big resource that often gets washed down the drain, but can be saved and reused. Prateek elaborates, “Leftover ice after it’s melted, is collected in a pan. We remove any impurities, boil it, and then chill it to remake ice.” At Cobbler and Crew, “multiple small ice bins are filled to a quarter to reduce wastage, brought on by bulky ice machines,” adds Bhavya.
While the industry looks to create a leaner and greener bar menu, local and seasonal ingredients emerge as the single largest category to take the story forward. Ankush Gamre, Bar Manager, Masque, and The Living Room, Mumbai, concludes, “Seasonal produce naturally optimises flavours, while leftovers are most often pickled, fermented or preserved for future use — the idea is to both, maximise flavour and minimise waste.”
Trimmings from prep stations at the bar and kitchen are repurposed into new components, whether syrups, juices, stocks, powders, or salts; many of these become either ingredients or garnishes in drinks. Which, as it turns out, is a win-win situation, as it also results in the exploration of powerful new flavours, from grapefruit peels to bittergourd skins.