The latest trend in the drinks world isn’t as simple as a single spirit, ingredient, or era. Instead, bartenders are championing sustainable cocktails—and sippers are starting to take notice.
In 2017, it’s not uncommon for consumers to seek out locally sourced produce, make the effort to commute by bicycle, and eschew plastic bags in favour of reusable cloth totes. But how can cocktail lovers apply these eco-friendly principles to the contents of their shakers?
To find out, we connected with Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr. Lyan. One of the leading lights of the sustainable cocktail movement, he opened White Lyan in Hoxton in 2013 with business partner Iain Griffiths; the botanical-themed Dandelyan in the Mondrian Hotel soon followed. Having been named the World’s Best Bartender at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards in 2015, he’s now perfectly positioned to share his revolutionary ideas on the ethics of cocktail-making.
For starters, he says, “it’s amazing to see how quickly and widely sustainability has become adopted in the world of food and drink.” Chetiyawardana first began giving talks on the topic in 2011, and since then has seen a surge of interest in eco-friendly drinks making. “I think the public are realising the importance of it—because we’re doomed if we don’t do anything!—and the industry has reacted to the demand for more considered offerings. I think it’s also because the industry has realised it doesn’t need to be a contradiction. Luxury can be sustainable.”
Though it’s now in the process of being reborn as a creative development space, White Lyan offered Chetiyawardana the perfect chance to explore questions of sustainability. In lieu of fresh citrus, which is subject to shortages and often carries a heavy carbon footprint, he experimented with vinegars and citric acid. The bar also forsook ice, and managed to reduce its waste outpost to just bottle caps, napkin wrappers, and two dozen glass bottles each week.
Happily, Chetiyawardana isn’t the only voice in the industry causing sippers to sit up and listen. He also describes Doug McMaster at Brighton’s Silo as “the true poster boy” for the cause, cites Claire Sprouse and Chad Arnholt’s Tin Roof Drink Community for its inspiring sustainable practices, and lauds pop-up and online platform Trash Tiki, helmed by Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage, for its focus on reuse. But he’s “most excited by seismic changes in big industry. That’s what will change the public’s mind and make a huge difference.”
Beyond Dandelyan, London’s sippers will soon have another sustainability-focused bar available to them with Nine Lives, opening next month. Led by the founders of the Sweet&Chilli drinks agency, the bar will offer a selection of so-called “loop” serves, in which ingredients are reused and given new life. Lemons are the perfect example: Nine Lives plans to use the skin, oils, and juice of the fruit in their cocktails before redistilling the pith to produce essential oils for liqueurs and hand soap. Any remaining waste is used for compost, which in turn fuels the bar’s own herb garden.
Beyond choosing their watering holes carefully, eco-conscious sippers can also make a few basic changes when bartending at home. Avoid overly packaged materials for starters, says Chetiyawardana. “Buy organic, buy from farmers directly or farmers markets and cooperatives — buy from people and suppliers who are doing the right things. And then shout about it! Make it be seen that conscientious consumption isn’t niche but is the future.”
If you need more convincing to undertake the extra effort, know that ethics aren’t the only reason to pursue sustainable cocktail making. As Chetiyawardana says, it’s also a simple matter of taste. “Better ingredients just taste better! Lots of heritage varieties have a range of flavour that’s been lost in mass commercial goods.” That’s reason enough for us.