Straws, paper napkins, coasters, over-the-top garnishes: The bar world is no stranger to waste. Which is why, over the past several years, the trend toward greater awareness of everything from the environmental impact of plastic straws to water waste has been such a welcome addition to bartending.
It’s also given birth to a whole new canon of sustainably-minded cocktails, many of which are hiding in plain sight. Some use seasonality as a tool to cut down on carbon footprint; others are eliminating ancillary items, like straws, napkins and paper menus; and still others are looking closer at their ingredients to find ways to stretch them beyond their primary use.
For Houston sommelier and bar director Sean Beck, it starts with using ingredients that don’t have to travel too far, and finding ways to share those ingredients with the kitchen. “It allows us to work with the local farmers used by our chefs and we can use parts of produce and vegetables they might scrap,” says Beck. “The bottom line is an overlapping use of ingredients means less waste. This shared pantry approach is one of the advantages a restaurant bar has versus a traditional bar in terms of the quality ingredients, array of flavors and sustainability.”
Another big step bartenders are taking to cut down on costs, resources and unneeded waste: reusing prep ingredients. That often means recycling the skins and peels from the crate-loads of fruit and vegetables intended for juicing to utilize as garnishes, in flavored syrups or oleo saccharum for punches. “There are infinite ways to make bars more sustainable,” says Austin bartender Caer Maiko Ferguson. “I can’t expect every bar to switch to an iceless cocktail system, digital menus and their own farm-powered solar panel, but you can at least not run your water and support sustainable spirits.”
The issue of sustainability in spirits production, particularly in the case of spirits like tequila—which relies on a variable, non-annual plant—has become increasingly important. As demand thrusts tequila further into the spotlight, questions of genetic diversity among agave plants, water waste and the preservation of the plants’ ecosystem have become critical to its future. “The biggest thing you can do to make a sustainable cocktail is support spirits producers that use sustainable practices,” says Ferguson. “The carbon footprint of a company is so much larger than one of a single person making drinks.”
Admittedly, the holidays are not a time of year that is typically associated with sustainability of any sort. It is a month-long stretch of indulgence mired in eggnog. But it doesn’t have to be. Not only has our definition of “holiday” drinks expanded to include spirits not typically associated with holidays—like tequila—but today’s drinkmakers have also proven that those cocktails can still be indulgent without being irresponsible.
In an effort to prove both points, we asked five top bartenders from across the country to develop a holiday-appropriate tequila cocktail that utilizes sustainable practices. Each of the drinks calls on different variants of El Tesoro de Don Felipe®, a tequila brand committed not only to traditional methods, but sustainable practices aimed at preserving the spirit for generations to come. Here are their drinks, all of which can be scaled up for entertaining.
Five Sustainable Tequila Cocktails for the Holidays