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Stirring up zero waste cocktails

Bars have been notorious for wastage—now a few are experimenting with low-waste drinks

A cocktail named Smoky Affair in Slink & Bardot, Mumbai.
A cocktail named Smoky Affair in Slink & Bardot, Mumbai.

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Slink & Bardot, a bar and restaurant in Mumbai, has a cocktail named Smoky Affair. It’s inspired by the classic Old Fashioned with bourbon, home-made syrup and bitters. The twist is the smoky flavour, derived from repurposed thyme and rosemary—day-old herbs from their kitchen that would have been discarded in the usual course. The drink is the brainchild of head bartender Santosh Kukreti, who likes to experiment with low-waste and zero-waste cocktails.

Bars have been notorious for wastage, with kilograms of citrus peels, paper napkins and fresh juices thrown away every few hours. Globally, this began to change about a decade ago, at the same time as dining trends like nose-to-tail eating to curb food wastage began to gain traction. In the bar arena, low-waste/zero-waste drinks aim to control food wastage by using parts of ingredients that are usually thrown away, like peels and pith. Bars have even begun to go in for composting. In India, a few mixologists, like Kukreti, Delhi-based Nitin Tewari and Goa-based Pankaj Balachandran, are attempting low-waste/zero-waste cocktails.

Obviously, there’s a long way to go. The regular Indian consumer doesn’t walk into a bar to order a zero-waste cocktail. Most stick to popular options like G&Ts, whisky sours or chilled beers. Most top bars, in fact, just have one or two low-waste cocktails. Unlike RE in Sydney, Australia, or Native in Singapore, India doesn’t have bars that work to reduce carbon footprint by running on solar power, using recycled products or eschewing disposable napkins and straws. “A bar in India, according to me, cannot be 100% zero waste,” says Balachandran, co-founder of Tesouro by Firefly, which ranked fourth on the list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars in 2022. “For instance, even if we repurpose herbs by dehydrating and powdering them to make salts, there’s only so much salt one can use. But a bar owner can be mindful of wastage and in the future zero-waste bars will play out in a big way.”

Some are trying to stir change. Balachandran is working on a menu that celebrates the “bounty of Goa”, a locavore approach mindful of the environment. They will be introducing a cocktail made with the stock of shrimp and clam discards. Kukreti has used discarded rose petals to make rose dust for garnishing, recycled coconut shells to serve drinks and clarified leftover citrus juice for recipes. One of his signature tricks is to use discards, like peels, wet coffee powder or tea leaves, to smoke cocktails. “I push for these cocktails because, as a bar manager, it helps me to lower the cost too,” he says.

Alcohol brands are playing their part as well. The premium rum Flor de Caña launched a global Zero Waste Cocktail Month campaign in August that will run till mid-September. Mixologist Rob Scott, Flor de Caña’s brand ambassador for the Asia-Pacific region, hosted nights at top bars in Mumbai like Koko, Pass Code Only and Perch Wine & Coffee Bar to serve zero-waste cocktails. The campaign, across 30 countries, hopes to reduce food waste by 15 tonnes this year.

Whether these straws in the wind evolve into movements remains to be seen.

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