LOCAL INGREDIENTS AROUND THE WORLD
With many of our favorite ingredients on the brink of extinction, there has never been a better time to embrace the sustainable cocktail trend. Dre Masso, Director of Bars and leading mixologist for the Potato Head Group, drives home the importance of using locally sourced ingredients and opens our eyes to the world of waste-free cocktails.
For nearly 20 years, I collaborated, created and ran bars in London. Much of this coincided with a wonderful renaissance period for craft cocktail culture, but there was little appreciation for locally sourced produce or the impact this might later have on the environment. I spent the last four years living in Bali and working at the Potato Head beach club, where we were encouraged to practice in a much more resourceful and sustainable way. The wider area suffered from chronic over-tourism, which in turn created high levels of pollution. Since Bali is a remote island with high import taxes, it made no sense to ship in costly ingredients from other parts of the world, particularly given the high-quality organic produce that is readily available.
Why source locally?
We live in a consumerist society, which demands immediacy and convenience, whatever the cost, and this mentality has had a noticeable effect on the bar industry. Thankfully, we seem to have reached a tipping point. More and more pioneers within the bar community are speaking out against our “throwaway” culture, using social media to promote and raise awareness for the sustainability movement and highlight the benefits of using locally sourced ingredients.
In Bali, we not only encouraged bartenders to support their local producers, but also to use as much of the ingredient as possible. We came up with our own “root to flower” philosophy—using everything to minimize waste. This style of cocktail making allows for a lot more originality and creative flair. Aside from the obvious benefits for the environment, using locally sourced ingredients can produce a number of other unexpected rewards:
- Supporting local farmers creates a real sense of community, which customers acknowledge and appreciate, making them more willing to believe in your venue and what it stands for.
- It can be a great talking point, providing the perfect opportunity to teach your guests about local produce and how you’ve incorporated it into your serves.
- It can be expanded far beyond simply using the best ingredients in your cocktails; you can follow the same rules for glassware, cups, cutlery, coasters, artwork, uniform, decorations and everything else in your bar!
- If you want to go one step further than sourcing local produce, why not try growing your own? I’ve seen bars that turn their waste into compost, using it to grow their own herbs, and even a couple of bartenders who successfully nurtured beehives to produce their own honey! Something as simple as making your own syrups will stand out in your customer's minds and set your venue apart from your competitors.
The sustainability movement is something I’m very passionate about, so it’s encouraging to see that it’s slowly taking root elsewhere in the world. It can be a lengthy process, but believe me when I say it’s incredibly satisfying!
Hard Work Pays Off
Of course, as they say, nothing in this world worth having comes easy, and sustainability does present its own challenges. Many bartenders and venue owners I’ve spoken to have had difficulty finding a local producer who can provide them with the necessary ingredients or striking a deal that’s cost-effective for their venue in the long term.
There’s no quick fix or one-size-fits-all solution, but a little hard work can produce rewards which are tenfold. Working with local producers and alternating your venue’s offering according to the season is not only more cost-effective, it can also result in incredible, original flavor combinations and create a sense of exclusivity. By making a few changes today, you could hugely benefit your business and your customers in the long run.
Here are a few of my top tips to tackle the challenges of locally sourcing ingredients:
- Know your audience—check out what your competitors are doing and where they are sourcing their produce
- Devise a plan—look at areas where you can source locally and create a strategy and timeline
- Be realistic—sourcing locally can be a lengthy process, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t reap rewards straight away
- Start small—focus on changing a small portion of your menu to start with and build up gradually
- Involve your customers—take your customers on the journey with you, using social media and conversation in your venue to make them feel a part of something special!
Local produce in action
Wherever you are in the world, you’ll find unique and exciting local produce to enhance your serves—exploring the incredible flavors of Indonesia was one of the undisputed highlights of living there! Bali is known as the “Spice Island” thanks to its abundance of fragrant vanilla, cloves, cacao, coffee, cassia, nutmeg and mace.
Cacao grows all over Bali, but we took a trip into the heart of the island to get our first harvest. Following our “root to flower” philosophy, we made a sweet puree from the fruit that encases the beans, homemade bitters from the husk and a delicious liqueur from the fermented chocolate nibs. The final drink, “Xocolatlātl”, was served in a dried cacao skin.
1 oz. Chocolate-infused Arak
1 oz. BULLEIT Bourbon WHISKY
1 barspoon house made mountain chocolate bitters
.25 oz. house-made chocolate syrup
.25 oz. melted dark chocolate
1 oz. Dark Wheat Beer and Vanilla reduction
Shake all ingredients together then pour into a dried cacao shell with large rocks of ice.
Garnish with freshly grated dark chocolate.
This crowd-pleasing classic is another really simple way to utilise locally sourced ingredients.
- 1.5 oz. SMIRNOFF VODKA
- 4 oz. Tomato juice
- .25 oz. lemon juice
- 1-3 dashes Tabasco sauce
- 2-4 Dashes Worcestershire sauce
- salt and pepper to taste
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker.
Add ice and gently rock the cocktail shaker until chilled.
Pour into highball glass.
Garnish with lemon wedge and celery stick.
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