In France they’re known as les fruits et légumes moches, literally “ugly fruits and vegetables,” and supermarket chain Intermarché has made a fortune off selling them. In the UK, where I am based, we haven’t quite got the marketing right, but the concept is the same: bruised, misshapen and tired-looking produce is being spared from the trash bin.
It’s also become a staple in London’s savviest cocktail bars.
Scout, which opened in April, is the latest of a string of concepts—from Dandelyan to Nine Lives, recently-closed White Lyan and Tienda at The Curtain to Trash Tiki—that have made sustainability their mission. The bar, from Peg + Patriot’s owner Matt Whiley, whose London CV includes Worship Street Whistling Shop, Purl, Rök and Bone Daddies, has made news for making seasonal ferments out of ugly fruits and vegetables and serving them in place of wine.
“Making fruit wines isn’t new,” Whiley tells me. “People have been doing that for centuries. What we are trying to do with them is showcase the breadth of flavors found locally in Britain.”
Perhaps there is indeed nothing innovative about yeasts and airlocks—it was only last year that Ryan Chetiyawardana launched his Lyan Cellars pop-up with ‘wine’ made from different ferments—but it does take some trial and error to get started. Whiley had to get to know the different yeasts present in Scout’s kitchen-cum-lab, and create a stable environment to guard against the production of off flavors.
Since opening, he’s stabilized Scout’s prep temperature, thereby slowing down the fermentation, and he’s also moved away from traditional wine and beer yeasts, which were dominating the final liquid with a strong bread-like flavor. Instead, the bartenders at Scout allow the fruit and vegetables’ natural yeasts to develop for several days under muslin cloth before sealing the containers and monitoring the fermentation.
In an extra step toward reducing the bar’s carbon footprint, the produce doesn’t just come from off-cast waste—it’s also majority sourced in London. “There’s an obscene amount of grapes, plums and figs in London and once you start looking you see produce everywhere,” says Whiley. “Walking down the road I know if I can smell coconut there must be a fig tree nearby.”
In addition to the ferments, you’ll find a few familiar UK beers and ciders alongside Scout’s own—they make an American pale ale, a stout and an IPA—and four British natural wines, one even sourced from London’s urban winery, Renegade.
This focus on locality and seasonality is becoming ever more prevalent in London, which has—some might say surprisingly—emerged at the forefront of the low- and zero-waste movement. “We’re very fortunate, it’s a very mature market here in the UK and… I think comfort gives you an opportunity to assess things,” says Ryan Chetiyawardana, who has been the drink community’s most outspoken innovator when it comes to sustainability. He’ll be taking the ideas he’s explored at both White Lyan and Dandelyan to the soon-to-open Cub, where he plans to further bridge the gap between the bar and culinary worlds to reduce waste.
“With the community we have in the UK, those messages have spread; you see people pushing the conversation—people like Iain [Griffiths] and Kelsey [Ramage] with Trash Tiki,” says Chetiyawardana of the London-based duo who have taken their approach to turning bar waste into tiki drinks on a world tour. “[They] have made it an open forum, and as a direct result, venues are putting it at the forefront of what they do.”
Scout is certainly part of that lineage. And if the “runaway success” of Whiley’s ferments is evidence of anything, it’s that these efforts can inspire drinkers to step outside their comfort zone, closing the creativity loop. As Chetiyawardana puts it: “I think one of the nicest things we’ve seen across the board is how that’s snowballed.”