These days, farm-to-glass quickly is becoming as ever-present in bars as farm-to-table is in restaurants. Bartenders with an environmental focus increasingly are opting for organic spirits, beers and wines, along with sustainable produce. As with any well-crafted beverage, great taste is the ultimate goal, and fresh, unadulterated products make it easy to coax fabulous flavor. While natural and organic may sound complicated and expensive, we spoke with operators in several markets who detailed some straightforward ways to make green a routine.
An essential first step is authenticity.
“You need to be committed to sustainability and to the organic movement,” declares Fernando Salazar, vice president of food and beverage for Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, based in Parsippany, N.J. “Otherwise, guests will see their attempts as something just to be ‘fashionable’ and end up not being green but ‘green-washed.’”
Wyndham began its “ECOlogy MIXology — Have a Drink, Plant a Tree” initiative about two years ago in selected properties; it’s now in nearly every location. Menus feature information about the program, as well as a selection of organic cocktails, wines and beers, including the TRU Blue Signature Organic Cocktail ($10, depending on market) with TRU Organic Vodka, FRUIT LAB organic orange liqueur, lemon and natural blue-tinted syrup. For every drink sold, artisan spirits producer GreenBar Collective will plant a tree in the Central American rain forests on behalf of Wyndham. Green beverage companies tend to be philanthropic, something operators can capitalize on to heighten the appeal of organic drinks to guests. For every bottle of VeeV Acai Spirit sold, for example, the parent company donates $1 to rainforest charities.
Although admirably ambitious, it’s neither crucial nor perhaps feasible to overhaul an entire drinks menu in one fell swoop; operators can take gradual steps to revamp it. Jon Arroyo, chief mixologist at Washington, D.C., restaurant and bar duo Founding Farmers and Farmers & Fishers, suggests mixologists determine what conventional spirits they typically gravitate toward, then seek out some organic versions. Vodka is a good place to start because several organic versions are on the market. Arroyo reaches for Square One Organic Vodka, CapRock Vodka and Dry Gin as well as Charbay Vodkas for some of his sustainable drink features. The Organic Cucumber Delight ($12) mixes Square One Vodka with fresh cucumber and cantaloupe; La Paloma ($12), offered in spicy or mild versions, uses Tierras Organic Blanco Tequila, grapefruit, lime and agave, topped with Mezcal.
Salazar tasted several organic spirits lines before deciding on GreenBar Collective’s TRU, FRUIT LAB and CRUSOE lines. He recommends bartenders experiment with organic products, starting slowly by first adding one organic cocktail to the menu. Besides TRU Blue, Wyndham offers other green libations, such as the organic Hibiscus Mojito ($8, depending on market) and the Strawberry Thyme Lemon Drop ($9, depending on market) with TRU vodka, strawberry, CITRY organic orange liqueur and organic lemon juice. Properties also are encouraged to add offerings inspired by the cities in which they are located.
Although organic products often are associated with higher costs, Salazar notes that organic-spirit prices are comparable with those of conventional mid- to high-end bottles. Arroyo argues that even if buying green is slightly more expensive, it pays for itself in higher quality drinks.
“Oftentimes, the end result has more approachability, is not as abrasive and is more elegant,” he says, adding that artisanally produced spirits also tend to be pot-stilled, which adds viscosity, body and heightened flavor.
Beyond the Base
Because consumers typically think of organic products as fresh and seasonal, it only makes sense to source other high-quality cocktail ingredients. Salazar encourages bartenders in all Wyndham locations to use organic citrus juices and produce, acknowledging that availability may be limited in secondary markets.
“Ultimately, the direction is to use the freshest ingredients to craft cocktails, with organic ingredients as the preference,” he says.
Arroyo recommends heading out to farmers’ markets to see, taste, touch and feel what’s in season, and select accordingly.
Additionally, a small kitchen appliance can do wonders for freshness in a beverage program, according to Giovanni Martinez, beverage director for Los Angeles’ Les Deux Estate, a nightclub turned gastro pub with an ambitious cocktail list. “Buying a juicer is the easiest and best way to jump-start your drinks program in a very green way,” he explains.
Martinez and staff grow their own mint, cilantro, rosemary and basil, as well as most of the vegetables used at Les Deux Estate, which are displayed prominently on the bar. Ordering one of the bar’s ever-changing Green Dealer’s Choice cocktails gives patrons input into their preferred drink while allowing the bartenders to flex their mixing muscles.
So, does mixing green require high-flying mixologists working behind the bar? Not at all, says Martinez — any passionate bartender can do it.
“Mixology doesn’t mean you can cigar-smoke-infuse whiskey or fat-wash vodka; it only means you understand balance,” he says. “Fresh, high-quality ingredients will only make it easier.”
Rounding out a well-planned green-drinks list includes adding natural options to attract wine and beer lovers, who certainly shouldn’t be left out of the green movement. Wyndham hotels offer NATURA wines from Chile’s Emiliana Winery, which are produced with 100% organically grown grapes, as well as biodynamic Benziger Merlot from Sonoma. Founding Farmers’ most popular organic wine is Yellow + Blue Argentinean Malbec ($8 a glass), which Arroyo notes is completely sustainable, partly because it’s shipped in recyclable Tetra Paks.
Beer presents a bit more of a challenge. Though Salazar set up a Google Alert, he’s yet to find an organic or sustainable beer that has national distribution.
“Each hotel is asked to search out a locally distributed organic beer to add to the lineup,” he says.
In D.C., Farmers & Fishers features Samuel Smith Organic Lager, and Les Deux Estate serves Napa Smith Porter on a wine and beer list that changes frequently.
For cocktails, beer and wine, making flavorful and sustainable choices shows attention to quality and guests’ experience, as well as commitment to the world at large. Savvy operators realize that starting with small changes to a beverage program can make a calculable difference. NCB
Green, Beyond Drinks: 5 Tips for Setting the Environmentally Friendly Bar
H. Joseph Ehrmann knows a thing or two about being green. In December 2005, his bar, Elixir in San Francisco, was named as one of the first 50 businesses in the city to be acknowledged as a Green Business through the Department of the Environment’s certification program. His green thinking doesn’t stop at what he’s mixing, but extends to how he operates his entire business. It’s not difficult, according to Ehrmann, it just requires planning and paying attention. Here are some of his tips for running a green bar:
1) Lighten up. Swap out all of your bulbs to CFLs (compact fluorescent lamp), which come in all shapes, brightness levels and sizes, and are available as dimmable. An up-front investment goes a long way in using less energy. Don’t forget the bulbs in your refrigeration, as well.
2) Save water! Have your pipes checked for leaks. Put low-flow controls on your sinks. Upgrade your toilets and make sure your ice machine is working efficiently.
3) Efficiency is key. Check your refrigeration and ice machines regularly for optimal performance. Clean the vents. Make sure all seals on the doors are working. When replacing, upgrade to Energy Star units.
4) Recycle and compost. Even if your city is still in the “green dark ages,” some private organizations will take your recyclables and compost and may even pay you for it. You’ll be amazed to see how little you send to the landfill once you compost.
5) Invest now. Every change is an investment of time and money that begins paying back immediately but just like your initial investment in your business, you’ll see even greater returns over time, including customers who come back and want to support what you’re doing.