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Science Your Way to a Zero-Waste Cocktail

The White Lyan team shares their advice on how to turn food waste into cocktail ingredients at home.

When White Lyan first opened in 2013, sustainability in the bar world was barely a topic of conversation. Our policy of no ice, no fresh citrus, pre-batched cocktails and lack of branded spirits was a polarizing concept to some, but the bar undoubtedly helped start a discussion about the waste that cocktail bartending produces. 

At each new Lyan bar, we’ve tried to come up with creative solutions for the problem, whether it’s as simple as using bamboo instead of plastic straws at Cub or creating closed-loop bar snacks and drink recipes at Super Lyan. It’s become a centerpiece of our approach to drink-making.

While many of the techniques we employ require special equipment or an extra-special amount of patience, there are easy ways to help close the loop on your cocktail at home. Here five tips to building a more sustainable drink.

Utilizing Your Citrus to the Fullest

This is that first baby step to more sustainable cocktail-making at home, especially if you plan ahead.

  • Peel your citrus before you squeeze the juice. By doing this you can either use those peels as garnish or employ them in a sherbet (as in the Fancy 79). Sherbet, which begins with an oleo saccharum, is made by mixing citrus peels with sugar to draw out all the flavorsome oils locked in them, then incorporating citrus juice. You can always speed up this process by cooking the zest in equal parts water and sugar; this will result in a slightly more bitter and less viscous syrup.
  • Cook your citrus husks. At our restaurant, Cub, we use leftover, unpeeled citrus husks from Super Lyan to create a “citrus stock.” We cook the leftover husks under pressure for a couple of hours and turn it into our Wee Besties—citrus jellies dipped in dark chocolate. If you’re crunched for time, Trash Tiki’s version of the citrus stock will take you about 30 minutes.
  • Blend your pulp. If you are juicing any fruit that will leave you with pulp (like apples or pineapples), you can use it to create a syrup (as in the Ambrato Sour) by blitzing it with hot water using a hand blender, straining it (use either a sieve or a muslin cloth) and the adding sugar in 1:1 or 2:1 ratio. This way, you pull out all of the remaining flavor locked in the leftover pulp. The end result may not as potent as a traditional syrup made with fruit, but it is still flavorsome.


Substituting Seasonal, Local Ingredients

By choosing ingredients that are in-season or available locally, you can significantly reduce your carbon footprint. What’s local or seasonal to you will vary greatly depending on where in the world you are, but let’s use London as a reference point. Living in such a multicultural city gives you access to exotic ingredients any time of year; it’s easy to forget they have to travel miles to reach you.

  • Substituting for citrus. Citrus is a staple in drink-making, but it often racks up the most mileage getting to you. If you’re up for a bit of a twist, it’s easy to sub it out for local, seasonal fruit that’s still packed with plenty of acidity. We have previously used green apple juice (as in the Ambrato Sour), fresh rhubarb juice (in the Kryptonite Daiquiri) and sorrel water (made by blitzing sorrel leaves and water) to introduce acidity into drinks. Each one will provide a different flavor profile than citrus, which we see as an opportunity to reimagine drinks that would typically call for it.
  • Foraging as a source of alternative ingredients. If you venture out into the woods or a nearby park or garden, you can find seasonal ingredients that can save you air miles. As an alternative to coconut, for example, you can use fig leaves, which have a lovely green coconut note and can make a mean—yet very different—Piña Colada. Simply infuse the leaves into simple syrup (hot water and sugar in a 1:1 ratio). Likewise, you can substitute magnolia leaves for ginger by following the same steps. These are only two of many examples of alternative use of plants that can be dispatched in drink by way of a simple syrup infusion.


Turning Food Waste Into Drinks

One cook’s trash is another home bartender’s treasure.

  • Herb stems. The majority of the herbs are generally used only for their leaves, but the stems have plenty of untapped flavor locked in them. At Super Lyan, we have utilized parsley stems (sourced from a local restaurant) blended with snap peas and simple syrup (water and sugar in a 1:1 ratio), then strained out using a muslin cloth, in the Silver Leaf Fizz, our take on a sweet-and-savory vodka sour. You can repeat this with mint, thyme or basil stems to create your own herb syrup.
  • Cheesemaking and whey. Admittedly, not everyone will venture to make cheese, but there’s a chance someone in your proximity is. And they’re likely throwing out a whole lot of whey, which can add sweetness and acidity to drinks. At Super Lyan, we make a coconut syrup with whey (leftover from making homemade ricotta, one of our bar snacks) by mixing it with sugar and coconut chips, then cooking on the stove for about a half hour before being straining it through a muslin cloth.

Becoming more sustainable in your everyday life is usually all about small steps you can take in order to gradually introduce the big changes. Sometimes it is as simple as pausing to ask yourself, Why am I throwing this away? Or Is there anything else I can use this for? or simply challenging the widely accepted norms, like the use of plastic straws in cocktails or napkins instead of coasters. Becoming more sustainable, even in a home environment, is a process, but a few baby steps can go a long way.

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