How can spirits brands get involved in sustainable bartending?  - On-premise trends

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Sustainability in the on-premise started with outlawing the plastic straw. Now, it is evolving into a much bigger concept, thanks to industry influencers both behind the bar and behind the brands. Lucy Britner looks at how - and why - drinks companies are getting involved in sustainable bartending.

Nine Lives in London is focused on sustainability

Nine Lives in London is focused on sustainability

In 2016, Bacardi made a move in-house to remove straws and stirrers from cocktails at company events. At every gathering - from the headquarters in Florida to the Bombay Sapphire distillery in England - straws are no more.

"Plastic straws don't biodegrade, and their use is ubiquitous across many industries including the spirits market," Bacardi said at the time. "We are resolved to be part of the solution, and this includes reducing the amount of waste we produce." According to the firm, straws and stirrers are among the most-collected pieces of rubbish in our oceans. For more on the company's 'No Straws' initiative, take a look at this video.

Bacardi isn't the only firm making sustainable moves in the on-premise channel. At the Tales of the Cocktail's Tales on Tour bartender conference in Edinburgh this April, Brown-Forman's Jack Daniel's brand hosted a masterclass called 'Upcycling and the Art of Bar Sustainability'. The event focused on sustainability in bartending as well as zero waste. The initiative brings not only environmental benefits, the company says, but also business ones.

"There is no denying sustainability is a hot trend this year"

"There is no denying sustainability is a hot trend this year," says Brown-Forman's head of brand advocacy, Nidal Ramini. "We decided to show the trade and consumers how they can benefit from this way of thinking." According to Ramini, the seminar follows on from Jack Daniel's own sustainability initiatives - the brand sends zero waste to landfill, for example, while 100% of stillage goes into farming.

Meanwhile, at Pernod Ricard, the concept of sustainability forms part of a bartender initiative for the firm's Olmeca Altos Tequila. The Tahona Society competition this year challenges bartenders from 28 markets to make a cocktail with sustainable values.

"It is important that we continue to provide support and education for future bartending generations by encouraging sustainability, which is at the heart of our business and at the future of the industry," says co-creator of Altos Tequila Dre Masso, who also trumpets the spirit's sustainable production methods. "The total waste from our distillery in a year would fit into a car boot," he says.     

So far, the regional heats of the Tahona Society competition have seen bartenders use bamboo straws instead of plastic ones, recycle citrus zests to make cordials as well as recycle water and ice. The final takes place in Mexico next month.

Behind the bar

Innovation in the on-premise has moved sustainability initiatives like alternatives to the plastic straw a step further. In July, the Experimental Group started to roll out biodegradable straws across its bars and restaurants in London, New York, Paris and Ibiza. The group, which was getting through 500,000 plastic straws a year, started working on the project around two years ago, with eco company Ecovissa and the Oceanic Global Foundation. The new biodegradable straws are made from PLA (polylactic acid), which is a plant-based bioplastic made from corn starch.

"The move will position the bars, hotels and restaurants of Experimental Group as leading the way globally in dramatically reducing waste in an industry which is so driven by this agenda, whilst creating a communal shift towards responsible consumption," says Experimental's Xavier Padovani.

Elsewhere, operators at the forefront of sustainability are pushing the concept to the next stage. When UK on-premise operator Ryan Chetiyawardana opened London bar White Lyan in 2013, there was a lot of buzz around the approach to waste. The bar did away with perishables such as citrus and ice to serve pre-batched drinks, dramatically reducing excess waste. Chetiyawardana closed the bar in April, in preparation for the next chapter. This time he has partnered with a champion of sustainable dining to open a new concept.

Chetiyawardana and restaurateur Doug McMaster from zero-waste restaurant Silo in Brighton will launch Cub at the former White Lyan site next month. According to the press material, the concept will "strike up a modern fresh conversation around sustainability" with the venue becoming "its own ecosystem with experimental ingredients grown on site as part of a programme to research the effects of environment on food growth and flavour".

For Chetiyawardana and McMaster, the new venture is about moving sustainability to the next level. "We want to keep pushing boundaries, but in a way that feels accessible and honest as well as exciting and modern," says Chetiyawardana. "Cub will be the continuation of these conversations but taking them in a new direction – looking at how we can rejoin the worlds of food and drink, and showcase the importance of innovation and sustainability to a wider public."

When it comes to brands, the pair are working with "partners Krug Champagne, Belvedere and LVMH".

Chetiyawardana tells just-drinks that he expects the on-premise to see "more integrated initiatives" between bars and brands. The sustainability movement "needs to involve everyone, so that means big changes across the industry, but ones that feel part of the fabric, rather than a point of difference", he says.

Also in London, Nine Lives, which opened in June, flexes its sustainable credentials in everything from the light bulbs to the brands on the back bar. Owner Tom Soden, who has just finished writing a training module about sustainable bartending for a large, global drinks firm, has developed something of an obsession with the subject.

"Would I buy a beer from Mexico? No."

"When you analyse the sustainability of a particular product, one of the major elements is distribution," he tells just-drinks. "We look at all of our products - the weight, the size and what we need to order. Take mezcal - it's not a weighty product and I can only buy it from Mexico, so we will buy mezcal. Would I buy a beer from Mexico? No. That's a mass-produced product and high volume for us." He says the beers at Nine Lives are "all local and, where possible, in cans", while wine comes from nearby countries such as France, Spain and Italy.

Bulk business

Bulk spirits is another avenue Soden would "love" to explore. But here, it seems, is where the industry reaches a bit of a stumbling block. First, of the few places that offer the service in the UK, Soden is unsure that containers are fully recyclable. For a man who owns his own wormery, this is a problem.

Second, there's the brand issue. "I have approached big brands and said I would like to buy in bulk," Soden tells just-drinks. "There is this difficulty for them, because then they also have this whole thing about protecting their brand and their image.

"A bar in London needs to be able to gain support from brands because the cost of operating is too big."

Of course, there are other ways brands can get involved: Soden received support from Diageo and Ketel One vodka to set up a garden, where he grows herbs and fruits - and keeps his wormery.

"We will use this as a place where we can show consumers and trade how to be more sustainable," he adds.

There is a movement within the on-premise community called P(our) - the collective, which includes Chetiyawardana as well as a host of other industry heavyweights, was created to share knowledge and innovation. Bartender Alex Kratena, who is one of the movement's founders, also believes there is merit in bulk spirits. "There are increasingly more bars around the globe buying spirits in bulk," he tells just-drinks. "The brands that will win here are the ones who are willing to deal with the logistics of it all and make that happen."

Kratena says lots of big companies have a large amount of "in-house expertise - including scientists and chemists".

"I think a lot of [bar] operators would benefit hugely by gaining access to these departments," he adds.

Overall, Nine Lives' Soden says the movement is "small at the moment" and he believes it is a "luxury to be able to make sustainability a main focus because it's an unknown" for a business.

The trick, he believes, is to make sustainability cool and "not get too anorak-y" on the subject.

After all, consumers still want good drinks and a good time.

How brands are looking to utilise sustainability to connect with consumers - Sustainability Spotlight

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