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Trendsetting: Sustainability in Irish Bars

Oisin Davis's latest Great Irish Drinks column

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Our man in the know on Great Irish Drinks, Oisin Davis, has researched extensively what incredible and innovative changes some people in the bar industry in Ireland are making to help lighten their carbon footprint, and setting in action a 'trend' for those to follow for 2019. 

Every January, publications the world over will gaze into their collective crystal balls and try to give us a prediction for what food and drink trends will be relevant for the upcoming 12 months ahead. Over the last few years, one such trend that has appeared in every journal is sustainability. The hospitality sector is most definitely recognising that it must do its part in addressing the huge global problems that face our environment and ecosystems. Even the smallest amount of better practices and good habits add up, especially when large numbers of venues adopt them.

That led me to ponder, what are Irish bars doing in relation to reducing their waste, purchasing more environmentally friendly products and shopping more locally? These are all some of the key factors that drive more impactful sustainability and they are by and large, very easy to implement. After a look around, I found that some places in Ireland were just doing certain things because they were on trend whilst ignoring how they might improve in other not so heavily spotlighted areas. For instance, they might have gotten rid of plastic straws because it was fashionable to do so but when asked, had no idea where their herbs come from when so many of them can be grown in Ireland and purchased all year round.

Upon further enquiry though, I found quite a few people had a far more holistic approach to having greener customs for their respective businesses and I focus on three of them for this piece. 

Andy Ferreira, General Manager, Cask, 48 MacCurtain Street, Cork

There's a shelf on the back bar of Cask that houses all the awards they've won. Let's just say that they're gonna need a bigger shelf. It's not even open two years and Cask is killing it. At the helm of it all is Andy Ferreira, a visionary bartender with a deep commitment to great Irish hospitality and love for all things local.

In addition to collaborating on special projects with neighbouring producers such as Killahora Orchards, Andy and his team are keen wild food foragers and are often seen hitting the boreens picking berries and flowers to flavour and garnish their cocktails. What really makes them unique though is their policy of never using fruits that are not Irish in their drinks. Considering that so many cocktails are typically dependant on lemon and lime juice, this is very bold but also adds an extra character to their now world famous cocktails.

"We don't use citrus or any fruit that's flown into Ireland in our cocktails. We put in a massive effort to source local products, so air miles aside, masking the flavour with a citrus fruit, which has been flown in from who knows where, just isn't an option. When drinks need acidity we'll use acids or vinegars or an Irish wine or a local fruit with natural acidity, maybe a local beer, there are dozens of options. Citrus is so sharp that invariably you need a sweeter to balance it, so your immediately putting your drinks in a flavour box that can be very restrictive."

Seaneen Sullivan, co-owner, L Mulligan Grocer, 18 Stoneybatter, Dublin 7

Another bar with a wide array of sustainable practices is Stoneybatter's own, L Mulligan Grocer, a mecca for beer & spirit lovers with equally impressive food. Co-owner Seaneen Sullivan shared some of them with me and they include purchasing items from other businesses that are so close, they share the same postcode. If there were a carbon footprint award for a gastropub, they'd be a clear winner!

Cucamelons
Cucamelons

As opposed to utilising the more traditionally used Angostura Bitters for their mixed drinks, they instead buy Off The Cuffe Bitters from Smithfield, which is made in the same building as the soft drink range King of Kefir, another staple item on the L Mulligan menu. For composting on their own allotment, they use everything from discarded tea leaves, spent coffee grounds and beer mats. At this same allotment, they will grow many items that will end up as garnishes for some of their signature gin & tonic serves, such as cucamelons (pictured above). A delicious fruit that tastes like a zingy cucumber. 

Their beer selection is always top notch and is heavily propped up with Irish brews, however, she is critical of some the Irish breweries more recent packaging methods. "Beer-wise, we stock many local beers and have a policy of limiting the number of single-use kegs we accept. For me, this is the next big issue for bars, as many of the craft breweries are using one-way kegs exclusively and the amount of plastic waste in these is appalling." 

Karl Cooney, Group Beverage Manager, Primesteak Limited 

Chefs are trained to use every element and morsel of what they purchase. Vegetable peelings can go into sauces or pickles and after they've cut all the meat off a carcass, the bones get cooked for stocks. In this regard, bar managers have a lot of catching up to do with their culinary counterparts from the kitchen.

But the man in charge of beverages for the six restaurants within the Prime Steak Group (locations include Fade Street Social and Rustic Stone), could give his fellow Irish bar managers some serious pointers. What Karl Cooney does with managing the bar waste for his work, is not just a masterclass in best ecological practice, but it makes great business sense too.

Dehydrated lemons
Dehydrated lemons

"We take as much of our fruit peels and waste from Fade st to its sister venue Bonsai Bar, where oleos (a component in cocktails that extract citrus oils) and syrups are produced. We then take the peels and excess, and either, fry, dehydrate, crisp or powder and send back into circulation around to all our bars to be used as garnishes or ingredients in drinks."

In effect, this means that nothing fresh gets wasted and there is a full cycle for their purchases across their group. He also has a great system in place for making some bar staples in-house. 

"Around the group make our own pimento dram, limoncello, kombuchas in the summer, infused vodkas to cut out air miles, cut some costs and give the bartenders more pride and knowledge in their work."

Then for one of the restaurants, they have another commendable approach for their floral requirements. "Bonsai uses a lot of flowers too for their drinks & food, all Irish grown and bought from local independent shops. If they go unused when fresh, they are dried and reused as a garnish again. If a flower isn't in season, we change it up and adapt to whatever we can get our hands on instead of buying imported flowers." An extremely simple, yet old school ethos that really helps fellow local businesses. 

Author: Oisin Davis 

Oisin works on a global level as an Irish drinks evangelist and producer. He is the founder of nationwide drinks festivals that celebrate Irish spirits in the best bars and restaurant in the 32 counties and to top it off he is co-owner of Poacher's Premium Beverages, Ireland's only all-natural mixer company. F&W is delighted that Oisin has joined our contributing team with his column "Great Irish Drinks."