The Minimal-Waste Cocktails Bringing Root-to-Stem Principles to the Bar Top

Part foraged, part science project, these low waste cocktails are something to savour.

Article by Fred Siggins

Byrdie Pumpkin Ocean cocktailThe martini-inspired Pumpkin Ocean at Byrdi, Melbourne, is garnished with sea grapes. Photography courtesy of Byrdi.

Far from the somewhat mundane topics of carbon tax and energy policy, talk of sustainability has found its way to the bar, thanks to a generation of bartenders who grew up with the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra. These mixologists are applying a creative lens to the fight against food waste with delicious, surprising and no-less-intoxicating results.

Chief among the Australian venues pushing the envelope is Re- in Eveleigh, Sydney, operated by Matt Whiley, of the pioneering low-waste London bar Scout, and Maurice Terzini, of Bondi’s Icebergs Dining Room & Bar (the two previously operated a Scout outpost in Sydney’s Surry Hills, which closed in 2019). Techniques at Re- range from the obvious, such as using all parts of a fruit, to the biological, including extracting sugar with enzymes and using koji to metabolise starch from banana waste to create sodas.

Re-’s Evan Stroeve says his favourite example is the bar’s twist on a martini made with a distillation of beetroot leftovers and gin. “We combine that with passionfruit, marigold and mint geranium we collect from a community garden,” he explains. “The result is a complex martini twist we mist with the aroma of rain, which uses the same aromatic compound found in beetroot. It sounds a bit techy, but it’s served tableside to really get our guests involved in the fun.”

As well as making cocktails with things that would otherwise be discarded, Re- takes low waste to the next level with reclaimed glassware, pineapple-fibre upholstery (used instead of leather) and a bar top made of recycled milk bottles.

Luke Whearty of Byrdi, in Melbourne’s CBD, was inspired to start a seasonal, low-waste cocktail program after a stint in Singapore. “There’s barely any agriculture on the island,” he says. “So nothing is local or seasonal, and I really missed that about Australia.” Byrdi’s menu is produce-driven, guided by what’s available throughout the year, and every part of the plant is used. Leftover pulp from fermented quince goes through secondary fermentation and ends up as an amuse-bouche, for example, while skewers for garnishes are foraged from plum trees.

The result is drinks like Pumpkin Ocean featuring fermented heirloom pumpkin and distilled sea lettuce, a martini riff that tastes like it’s from the future. Despite the high-concept nature of Whearty’s cocktails, his first priority remains the experience of the drinker. “I’m aware of the potential pretentiousness of what I do, so I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable or intimidated,” he says. “But I do want to surprise them.”

As sustainability goes mainstream, more bars have come to see low-waste techniques as standard rather than a buzzy trend. In fact, many don’t promote the sustainability angle at all, preferring that the drinks speak for themselves and allowing them broad appeal beyond ideologically motivated drinkers.

At Perth’s Foxtrot Unicorn, the venue manager, Shirley Yeung, says connecting with the wider community has been key to their efforts to minimise waste. “We use 30 to 40 kilograms of oranges a week, but we only use the peels as a garnish, and the rest of the fruit was wasted,” she explains. “So now we have an arrangement with our juicing company to use them for their juices and we get some stock in exchange.”

The CBD bar doesn’t bill itself as a low-waste venue per se, but it’s still a critical part of its offering, with ingredients like berry pulp, leftover from a house-made syrup, used to make a garnish for the Strawberry Fields cocktail. It’s a sweet and fragrant highball, simple and thirst-quenching, made with vodka infused with leftover mint leaves, strawberry syrup and soda. “It’s one of our bestselling drinks,” says Yeung, “in part because using waste reduces the costs of goods and we’re able to pass that saving on to the customer.”

The martini-inspired Pumpkin Ocean at Byrdi, Melbourne, is garnished with sea grapes. Photography courtesy of Byrdi.