A lemon slice here, a twist of orange there, and a gazillion plastic straws: Bars create a lot of waste. But by phasing out those straws and using the whole fruit, Atlanta bartenders are joining the growing low-waste cocktail movement. They’ve also come up with other creative ways to minimize what ends up in the trash.
“All of our fresh fruits that are used for peels and zesting are stored and juiced for cocktails,” says Erin Mason, beverage manager at Ecco Buckhead. “We don’t purchase any of our citrus juices.” With the excess lemon zest, she makes a lemon vinegar that’s used in the Napoleon Complex cocktail (a blend of prosecco, Cap Corse Blanc, pear liqueur, and lemon vinegar).
Taking things a step further, cocktail director Mercedes O’Brien (who recently departed Gunshow for another restaurant from chef Kevin Gillespie, the soon-to-open Cold Beer) works with the kitchen to use its waste in her drinks. One result of that collaboration is Gunshow’s seasonal tonic.
A recent iteration of the seasonal tonic featured sunchoke-mushroom vodka, cranberry-thyme tonic, amaro Montenegro, citric acid, and seltzer. “It’s supposed to be a direct reflection of what’s coming in from the farmers or what’s being grown at that time,” O’Brien says.
The drink minimized waste by using the kitchen’s leftover mushroom stems. At the time, Gunshow’s chefs were using a variety of local shrooms, including cremini, shiitake, and hen-of-the-woods. O’Brien also grabbed some of the kitchen’s locally sourced sunchokes.
O’Brien fermented the mushroom stems in a salt mixture for five days (and, when she was done, gave the mixture to the kitchen to use in sauces). She then dehydrated the fermented stems overnight at a low temperature, afterward submerging them and the fresh sunchokes in the vodka to infuse the liquor.
“The vodka itself is a little funky from the ferment and earthy and nutty from the sunchoke,” O’Brien says. Cranberry and thyme–infused tonic and citric acid brightened up the cocktail. “We try to look at drinks the same way that you’d look at a dish,” she says. “You want to check all the boxes and balances.”
This article appears in our June 2019 issue.