Getting trashed takes on a whole new meaning on the cocktail scene
It’s pretty much universally accepted that being wasted after cocktails is a bad thing. The same goes for being trashed.
Well, here’s another news flash. Being wasted and trashed before cocktails is also a bad thing.
It’s estimated more than 120 billion pounds of agricultural crops were grown and used for alcohol production. These crops include corn, barley, wheat, herbs and fruits.
To grow, protect and harvest all of this, especially when the growers are using conventional, rather than sustainable methods, has a huge effect on the environment. Add this to the process of distillation with amounts of water, raw materials and extremely high levels of energy needed to purify the alcohol and run the distilleries, and the carbon footprint becomes large enough to hold every Boilermaker that’s crossed a bar in the past decade.
It doesn’t stop when it all gets safely tucked behind the bar or in the restaurant kitchen. Limes by the millions are squeezed of their juice and tossed, as are countless oranges, grapefruit, cherries and lemons.
Plastic cups, straws, skewers and long-tailed monkeys to hang on the cup add to the messy pile of the trashed and wasted. Fortunately, the tiny umbrellas are mostly biodegradable.
The good news is, people in the liquor industry and behind the bar are increasingly aware of the problem and are behind a growing planet-saving cocktail movement to produce new and delicious drinks.
In downtown Austin’s Roosevelt Room, bartender Justin Lavenue began saving the cinnamon bark used for making other drinks as well as the lemon, lime and other citrus peels, all headed for the trash. In one drink, he took the bark and lemon peels and added them to a cocktail smoker. The results come in a cocktail called the Pour Ma Gueule, made with gin, vermouth and absinthe.
At Santa Monica’s seasonal Rustic Canyon restaurant, chef/partner and James Beard Award–nominated Chef Jeremy Fox found his kitchen with a surplus of beet juice that seemed a shame to toss. He infused it with rose geranium and turned it over to barman Aaron Ranf, who created the Beet Royale, a take on the Kir Royale.
Jeremy Allen of the MiniBar in Los Angeles had an abundance of leftover cherry pits at the bar, so he began drying, cracking and letting them sit for weeks in jars of vodka. After adding sugar and straining, he created a house-made amaretto liqueur for all kinds of cocktails.
Remember the great sargassum invasion of 2014? Most people along beaches from Galveston to South Padre saw only piles of ochre-colored gunk that was neither pleasant to walk in nor smell. Greg Whittaker, the animal husbandry manager at Moody Gardens, on the other hand, saw a cold one.
“I was approached by Capt. Robert Webster at Texas A&M Galveston, who was working with a group on a sargassum alert system,” Whittaker said. “Part of their research was to show the good ecological reasons sargassum is important and not just ugly, smelly stuff that messes up beaches. He asked if it was possible to make beer out of it.”
Whittaker approached Mark Dell’Osso, the founder of Galveston Island Brewing, and the two began studying the makeup of the stuff, which is actually more an algae than a weed. The two created about half a dozen different batches of sargassum beer before they came up with one they liked.
“What we came up with was what you’d imagine — a kind of salty, sour beer,” Whittaker said. “It was very refreshing and low alcohol.” The beer was, in fact, very similar to a recently re-popularized German beer called gose (pronounce go-suh), which has been brewed there since the 16th century. What makes the original beer unique is the natural salinity of the river water from which it’s made, thus the similarities to the salty sargassum brew.
“That’s why we decided to name it Sargosem,” Whittaker said.
The beer was well received, but, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Sargassum generally comes in cycles, and what might be an invasion one year, might be a couple of clumps the next. It takes 300 to 400 pounds of fresh sargassum to make a five-barrel batch of beer, Whittaker said.
A number of producers have made huge investments to reduce damage to the environment while making their products.
Probably one of the most familiar one on the market is Kentucky’s Maker’s Mark bourbon whiskey. The distillery built and uses a state-of-the art treatment plant to recycle its wastewater, among other measures. The company also restored the acreage where the distillery is and created a state-certified nature preserve.
In Texas, distillers have readily jumped on the environmental wagon, including Deep Eddy Vodka and Austonian Whiskey, both in Austin. While it gave up a right to be called bourbon, Austonian Whiskey made the decision to be forest friendly and not use oak barrels to age its product. Witherspoon Distillery in Lewisville uses solar energy to power its plant.
So, cocktail hour is slowly moving toward forgoing trashed and wasted. That’s worth drinking to.
An Eco-friendly Beer Margarita
Adapted from a recipe for Gose Beergarita by Milena and Chris Perrine, craft brewers and bloggers for Craft Beering, www.craftbeering.com.
½ cup simple syrup prepared at home in advance
4 ounces eco-friendly Tequila like IXÁ Organic Tequila
12 ounces Sargosem beer (if unavailable, substitute a gose-style beer)
1½ cups ice cubes
Juice of 1 lime (Use lime for rimming)
Sea salt for rim
MAKE the simple syrup by combining ½ cup water and 5 tablespoons non-processed sugar in small pan. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature or store in the refrigerator.
CUT the lime in half and squeeze the juice into a blender. Save the limes. Add the ice, simple syrup and tequila. Pulse until ice is completely crushed and the mixture is fairly slushy. Add the beer and stir with a spoon until mixed. Some foam might remain on the top.
PLACE the sea salt on a plate slightly larger than the top of the margarita glass. Slice a wedge from the squeezed lime and run it around the rim of the glass and then dip the rim into the salt.
POUR the beer margarita into the glass and garnish with the lime wedge. Compost the lime afterward.