If you’ve ever popped by a bar while the bartender is prepping for the night and peeked over at the compost bin, you’ve seen this: a bed of eviscerated citrus rinds. And this should surprise no one; fresh-squeezed juices are now one of the ten commandments of any craft cocktail evangelist. And those squeezed-out rinds—still full of flavor in the essential oils in the zest—go to waste.
In recent years, food waste has gotten increasing coverage—from documentaries like Anthony Bourdain-produced Wasted! and Massimo Bottura’s Theater of Life, to articles in national and local media. But until recently cocktails haven't been mentioned much. I wonder if there isn’t something inherent to alcohol—the psychology around indulgence, that you do not need that martini, much as you’d like to convince yourself that you do—that’s caused discussions of sustainability to lag behind similar discussions in cooking.
“I see no evidence of that,” says Jason Parker, the cofounder and president of Copperworks Distilling Co. Parker instead thinks that some of the reluctance and reticence on the part of distillers and brewers to discuss sustainability stems from a perceived lack of quality. The organic movement, he offers as example, got conflated with foods that “tasted like sawdust.”
Drinking culture, in turn, thrives on fun and connoisseurship, both of which can pretty easily be killed by discussing, say, how it takes between 20 and 100 gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer (depending on how efficient the brewery is). Many local brewers and distillers are working toward sustainability, though; they’re just going about it quietly.
“It is not our lead line,” Parker says. “But it is a belief we have.” And it’s a belief that Copperworks, along with local brewers and distillers like Fremont, Westland, and Elliott Bay Brewing, have been enacting in various ways. The innovations range from technical—a cooling tower at Copperworks allows distillers to recirculate the same 500 gallons of water instead of going through 70,000 gallons a day—to ecological: they buy malt from salmon-safe farms in the area through programs like Mainstem Malt and Skagit Valley Malting. And they even handtruck deliver to about 100 of their customers located around their waterfront distillery.
One of Copperworks's customers, No Anchor, furthers the reuse-recycle ethos in some of their cocktails. Take the “Oyster Wishes and Caviar Dreams” dry martini. To infuse the Copperworks vodka with oyster flavor, No Anchor’s staff clean and crush the shells from shucked oysters and rest the vodka on them “to get some of the brininess and minerality you’d get from a dirty martini,” says Chris Elford, who co-owns No Anchor and neighboring Navy Strength with his wife Anu Elford. Bartenders then mix the martini with a vermouth-like aperitif and predilute and store it cold, which prevents them from having to stir on ice and then toss the ice.
Elford is perhaps the most vocal bar owner in the city about cutting bar waste. In August, Navy Strength hosted Trash Tiki, a traveling pop-up that aims to “raise awareness and more importantly, solutions, to the insane amounts of waste the food and drink industry is producing every year.” They intend to teach local bartenders how to reuse things like blending up day-old almond croissants and turning them into orgeat syrup. They’ve even come up with a use for all those citrus rinds, not too far from how a cook uses chicken bones: boil them in water to make a stock.
“Imagine always being an environmentalist," Parker says of why he pushes sustainability at Copperworks, "always spending you free time skiing and hiking and in the wilderness. And imagine starting a business. You’re going to pay attention to your impact on the environment. And we’re only just starting."