A New Way to Think About Drink Sustainability

With its latest menu, The Modern Life of Plants, Dandelyan seeks to better understand the bar world’s most called-upon ingredients.

Up until now, the discussion about sustainability in bars has very much focused on three key aspects: seasonality, locality and urban foraging. But at London’s Dandelyan—which launched its new menu, The Modern Life of Plants, earlier this month—owner Ryan Chetiyawardana and the bar team have rejected these tenets. Instead, they’ve chosen to explore the notion of industrialization, particularly as it pertains to botany. Understanding it, the team believes, can offer a path forward that champions sustainability on a large scale.

“We’re not trying to support monocultures or the negative effects of industrialization,” says Chetiyawardana. “We’re trying to be realistic about the fact we can’t all live off foraged fruit.”

Inspired by three crops, each produced en masse—currently mint, grapes and hops—The Modern Life of Plants is designed to explore the way that plants are grown, and in doing so, to offer drinkers an honest portrayal of our food systems. Every drink, of which there are 12 total (four per category), comes with a story about its concept, specifically as it relates to how certain crops have survived and thrived thanks to industrialization.

Mint, for example, isn’t just one of the most called-upon ingredients in bartending—it’s also historically been a necessary companion crop, useful in deterring insects that chew through the foliage and flesh of vegetables, such as cabbage, peas, tomatoes and beets. Similarly, hops are highlighted for their role in the preservation of bees; beta acid, a substance that’s naturally occurring in hops, can be used as an insecticide to combat varroa mites, which are a main contributor to Colony Collapse Disorder.

By highlighting the histories of how certain crops became dominant, the team aims to explore how to use and grow them in a large, albeit sustainable, fashion. “On a Friday or Saturday night, we can send out 1,000 cocktails,” says Chetiyawardana. “We have to be realistic and ask, ‘How do we scale up production of the crops we demand but still focus on quality?’”

Here, a look at Dandelyan’s new menu in three drinks.

Category: Mint | Cocktail: Brundall

Bacardi 8 year old, Braemble Gin Liqueur, apple, Summerdown mint, ground ivy

Black Mitcham (grown at Summerdown Farms in Basingstoke, England) is an old British mint that is traditionally used in perfumery and cosmetics. However, in 1945, it was near extinction; the pressure to grow less labor-intensive crops during the war made the British fields of mint a thing of the past. Sir Michael Colman (of Colman’s Mustard fame) chose to reintroduce the species to Britain on a large scale in 1996, having found a farmer growing it industrially in the state of Montana. Beginning with a small trial plot about the size of a tennis court, Coleman proved that individuals can turn the tide for whole crops. The Brundall, a booze-forward rum sour, which incorporates the mint as an oil, is a clear example of the conversation the menu is hoping to start.

Category: Grapes | Cocktail: Canon-Cosmo

Ketel One Citroen, pink sour mix, flamed orange, almond

Trends not only affect what and where we eat and drink, but also how much of an ingredient is grown. The Canon-Cosmo plays on that notion of ubiquity, pairing concord grape juice (which is used in everything from grape jelly to candy and soft drinks) with ingredients that are having, or have had, huge moments in the limelight. Its base spirit, vodka, was the preferred spirit for much of the latter 20th century. Almonds, meanwhile, have become a modern cash crop in California—so much so that short-term vegetable crops are widely being discarded in favor of planting more trees. Named for the pervasive ’90s-era cocktail, this drink considers how trends can affect what we grow, and why some crops are ripped up and others planted in their place.

Category: Hops | Cocktail: Laverstoke Park Spritz

Porter’s Gin, apple oleo, Asterley Bros British Vermouth, celery, chenin, soda

Paying homage to biodynamic practices, this drink highlights how Jody Scheckter, owner of Laverstoke Park Farm and Soil Foodweb Laboratories, proved that even biodynamic farming can be scaled up. His farm, which now boasts 2,500 hectares farmed biodynamically, has become a prime example of industrialized sustainability. The Laverstoke Park Spritz uses a vinaigrette made from fresh hops grown on Scheckter’s farm and repurposes the offcuts and pulp of apples, generally discarded as waste, to make a faux oleo saccharum. It’s an example of a closed-loop drink that takes the notion of sustainability one step further by considering the source of the repurposed waste, and how it was grown.

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Jane Ryan is a London-based writer. After studying journalism she turned to a career in politics reporting before focusing on hospitality, starting out at CLASS magazine and Difford's Guide, and eventually going on to launch DrinkUp.London.