SB Voices: Trendsetters

1st June, 2018 by Owen Bellwood

The first six months in a new job can be overwhelming. Owen Bellwood says there are some amazing things to discover as a young drinks writer.

Trash Tiki use waste products in their cocktail recipes

It’s been just over six months since I joined team SB, and what a six months it has been.

With an interest in on-trade stories and a, perhaps naive, ambition to visit as many of London’s best bars as I could, my first six months as a drinks writer have been quite eye-opening.

Having worked behind the bar for several years, albeit not the most trendsetting bar ever, I was aware of some cocktail trends and had heard rumours of the workings behind some of the world’s best bars. However, seeing these techniques in action has been brilliant.

The amount of bars producing their own ingredients, in London alone, is incredible. Everything from the cranberry shrub used in Three Sheets for its signature Cosmo to a fennel, orange and pepper vodka made by the bar team at Rake’s for The Mad House cocktail.

This practise has blown the world of cocktail ingredients wide open, and with a finite number of spirits produced, bartenders are able to create an infinite number of flavour combinations – mind blowing stuff.

Scarfes Bar at The Rosewood Hotel has definitely created the most intriguing example of this. The team there created a cocktail menu inspired by famous faces and events from the last 18 years, with one cocktail inspired by Sir David Attenborough. To make his cocktail, the team made their own distillates from compost, grass and flowers, imagine that!

I’ve also noticed that along the way to creating these ingredients, bars are increasingly looking at ways to use any waste products they create. Reducing waste in cocktail bars has never been more important, with bars around the world striving to use every part of an ingredient, such as the juice, skin and flesh from a lemon, lime or orange.

The Naturalist at Scarfes Bar is made with compost, grass and flowers

Bartending duo Trash Tiki told me all about the steps they take to reduce waste behind the bar, which includes making cordial from watermelon skin, boiling down citrus husks to make a stock to use in mixed drinks and making an orgeat syrup out of toasted avocado stones, which are wasted by all those pesky millennials eating avocado toast every day – when will my generation learn!

The high-pressure environment of the world’s biggest cocktail competitions is also encouraging bartenders to use waste products and make their own ingredients. At the recent UK final of the Southern Comfort Southern Showdown competition, Thomas Hay-Owens, from Seaside Boarding House in Dorset, finished in the top three with a cocktail that used a home-made blackberry infusion and was topped with a sherbet made from the very same blackberries. While Charley Carrington, of Last Chance in Nottingham, created a twist on a Whisky Sour that used an egg white substitute made from lemon skins. I still have no idea how this worked but it was impressive.

While there aren’t a lot of bars that can spend upwards of £2,000 on distillation equipment, things like infusions, syrups and bitters can be attempted by any experimental bartender. I think this is one of the most exciting things I’ve noticed, while at present these techniques are reserved for the world’s best bartenders, it’s definitely something any bartender can attempt, I’ve even tried a few myself over the last six months, with wildly different levels of success.

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