If you order a Martini at Post Haste, a new bar that opened this summer in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, you won’t be prompted with the usual follow-up question: olive or twist? Ask for the Martini dirty, and your drink will arrive with no olive brine at all. The bar’s mission to source ingredients exclusively from east of the Mississippi, where olive groves are few and far between, has led its bar team to find other ways to satisfy the demands of the typical drink order.
In the case of the dirty Martini, Post Haste answers with the Farmer’s Dirty Martini, a savory concoction made with Seneca Drums gin from New York’s Finger Lakes, fortified with cherry tomato brine. The drink is garnished with a bright orange “tom-olive,” a tomato grown by a cooperative farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that glows like a fireball in the well of the glass. “People might be hesitant,” says Fred Beebe, who co-owns the bar with his friend Gabe Guerrero, “but once they try it, it’s really freaking delicious.”
The bar’s philosophy also extends to the spirits it carries. You won’t find the usual suspects of imported name-brand spirits, like Tanqueray or Johnnie Walker, occupying the well. The backbar is a carefully curated selection of bottles from East Coast craft distilleries, including Eda Rhyne Appalachian Fernet from North Carolina and Philadelphia’s own Vigo Amaro. The bar sources beet sugar from the Midwest rather than using imported cane sugar and manufactures shelf-stable “super juice” by blending acids with citrus sourced seasonally from a small farm in New Jersey. “This is basically a big experiment to see if a bar could be locally focused within a certain set of parameters,” Beebe says. “I don’t think our concept could have worked 10 years ago in part because super juice hadn’t been invented yet.”
Indeed, even five years ago, attempts to integrate the farm-to-table model behind the bar in a sustainable way proved difficult to sustain. At A Rake’s Bar in Washington, D.C., which closed in 2020, the bar’s own dogma often stood in the way of its ability to make well-balanced cocktails, and its hyperlocal mission became burdensome in the face of the economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the cocktail landscape has changed dramatically today, allowing a new generation of sustainability-minded bars to follow in its footsteps with renewed vigor. Tools like immersion circulators, rotovaps and centrifuges have become more affordable and accessible. An explosion of domestically produced spirits and liqueurs have emboldened bar owners to localize their offerings. Meanwhile, more widespread techniques like acid-adjusting have helped maximize the use of seasonal produce, while reducing reliance on imported ingredients.
These hyperlocal beverage programs often mirror the farm-to-table ethos of the restaurants they exist within, where bar and kitchen work in tandem to support local purveyors, source products sustainably and minimize waste. The bar team at Farow in Niwot, Colorado, takes the restaurant’s mission—sourcing 90 percent of its ingredients from farms within a 10-mile radius—as seriously as the chefs do. They fat-wash Colorado-made Woody Creek bourbon, for example, with leftover chicken fat to make a cocktail called Zayde’s Matzoh Ball Soup, a savory play on an Old-Fashioned. The cocktail is seasoned with a tincture made from unusable celery tops and garnished with a miniature matzo ball derived from leftover lavash (thin flatbread crackers) and a fried chicken skin.
The olive-less dirty Martini at Philadelphia's Post Haste is made with ingredients exclusively from east of the Mississippi.
Andre Sierra, the beverage director at Terrene, a farm-to-table restaurant on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, upcycles California avocado pits, a byproduct of the restaurant’s popular avocado toast on the lunch menu, to make orgeat and falernum in the style of the Trash Collective’s avocado pit orgeat. “I think the trick is taking what’s familiar and seeing how you can evolve those ingredients with other things that you’re already using organically in the kitchen,” says Sierra. In Lula’s Heart—a cocktail named for the variety of avocado that flavors the falernum—he shakes the ingredient with rum, Lillet Blanc and California-grown passion fruit. The “50 Mile” Highlight section of the menu, meanwhile, showcases cocktails made exclusively with Bay Area spirits sourced from within a 50-mile radius of the restaurant, like Hanson Meyer lemon vodka and Redwood Empire Pipe Dream bourbon.
Beverage directors around the world are leveraging sustainable methodology to design recipes that both highlight local ingredients and use imported products more efficiently. Nipperkin in London, which opened earlier this year, eschews citrus in its cocktail program by substituting homemade fermented elderflower tea and verjus from a producer in nearby Sussex. Penicillin, a zero-waste bar in Hong Kong that resembles a laboratory, makes hydrosols (essential oil distillates) out of spent citrus pulp and a tincture made from leftover tom yum soup base to limit waste and minimize the bar’s carbon footprint.
As climate change accelerates, many bar professionals are approaching their work with an elevated sense of urgency. “The world is obviously at a precipice,” Beebe says. “I think every business leader in every industry should be doing everything they can to reduce their impact on our warming climate.” But Beebe is careful to not let Post Haste’s hyperlocal orthodoxy overwhelm the bar’s ability to offer popular cocktails to guests who want them. Instead of faithfully following classic recipes using locally sourced ingredients and rendering imperfect analogues to their import-driven counterparts, he offers more sustainable alternatives with a few neatly tailored alterations. His Paper Plane, for instance, uses Philadelphia Distilling Co.’s red aperitivo in lieu of Aperol alongside a reverse-engineered facsimile of Amaro Nonino, a proprietary blend of local amari he makes using several domestic liqueurs to emulate Nonino’s subtle bitterness and sweeter palate.
The bar riffs on a Last Word in the Wat’s The Word, using various expressions of watermelon that incorporate the entire locally grown fruit—a simple syrup made from the sweet red flesh, acid-adjusted juice from the green pith and candied watermelon rind—shaken with a base of Philadelphia-made Snug Harbor gin, Faccia Brutto’s Chartreuse-like Centerbe from Brooklyn and celery syrup.
To Beebe, a big mistake that many hyperlocal, sustainable bars have made in the past is losing sight of the fact that bars should be fun. “It can’t be some moral lesson, like, You have to drink this, even though it tastes terrible, because it’s the only thing that’s going to save the planet,” he says. The North Star of the bar is showing people a good time, not saving the world. But that doesn’t mean they can’t do their part. “When we explain to someone that we don’t have an imported ingredient and offer an alternative, we’re asking them to trust that we can still provide them something that they’ll enjoy,” Beebe explains. “We can make things that taste good using local products that are also more sustainable.”