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Embrace Waste: Repurpose Food Scraps into Excellent Cocktails

Whether greens are wilting in your produce drawer or you have scraps left over from dinner prep, food waste at home abounds. A team of professional bartenders aim to help change that.

Optimistic Cocktails sources 19 recipes from bartenders across the country. The recipe book comes from Outlook Good, a new hospitality industry group focused on climate justice. Claire Sprouse, a bartender, sustainability advocate and owner of Hunky Dory in Brooklyn, New York, founded the group in 2020 and also edited the book.

When the pandemic closed her business and impacted her climate justice work, she initially felt at a loss.

“On a personal level, I was asking myself, ‘Who cares about climate change in this moment when people are dying of a pandemic and businesses are closing, and the economy is falling apart?’ ” says Sprouse. “[However,] the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted how much work we need to do to prevent more serious issues from arising down the road.”

Sprouse, a Houston native, worked in San Francisco’s craft cocktail scene before she relocated to New York City. Alongside business partner Chad Arnholt, she ran Tin Roof Drink Community, a group that offers consultation and education on sustainability focused on bars and restaurants. Outlook Good is the latest iteration of Sprouse’s passion, built with the coronavirus crisis in mind.

Optimistic Cocktails advises readers about how to repurpose leftovers from coffee grounds to banana peels into an array of creative drinks. All are designed with flexibility of ingredients and ease of execution in mind.

Sprouse looked beyond coastal metro areas to collect recipes from bartenders like Eric Bennett at the Atomic Lounge in Birmingham, Alabama, and Breanne Rupp at Boat Drinks in St. Augustine, Florida.

During the shutdown, Alex Maynard, a bar consultant with Sequoia Gold and a partner at Starline Social Club in Oakland, California, began to make his grandmother’s stuffed bell pepper recipe for dinners. His partner suggested that they turn the scraps into a drink.

“If you’re trying to incorporate some sort of vegetable modifier, it’s often better in a syrup [than to muddle],” he says. “I prefer the cleanness of that, and the flavors are more robust.”

Maynard’s “Mule in Place” recipe adds Tequila, St-Germain, lime juice and ginger beer to the pepper syrup, but any spirits on hand can be substituted. Other types of sweet pepper could also work, he says. With hot peppers, Maynard says that it’s better to chop them up and let it rest in high-proof alcohol for a few hours rather than to create a syrup.

In addition to helping people utilize pineapple scraps or excess chicken fat, all proceeds from Optimistic Cocktails are said to benefit causes like the Oakland Undocumented Workers Relief Fund, the Impact Charitable Undocumented Workers Fund in Colorado or fundraisers for participating bar staffs. That’s what drew Maynard to the project.

“The joy of life is about trying to help all of us to be whole,” he says. “The chance to get to be creative and help people is a privilege in itself.”

Sprouse, a Filipinx-American, is already at work on a second volume of Optimistic Cocktails, with recipes culled exclusively from Black bartenders and people of color. Funds from the second volume are planned to help local groups that fight for racial justice. She’s also assembling a nonalcoholic recipe supplement to broaden appeal in the series.

“My goal with this and the other sustainability work I do is to provide people with a more hopeful way of addressing these really critical issues,” she says.

Alex Maynard’s “Mule in Place” Cocktail Recipe

Reprinted with permission from Outlook Good

Ingredients

1½ ounces Tequila (or any other spirit)
½ ounce green bell pepper syrup (see below)
¼ ounce St-Germain
¾ ounce lime juice
Ginger beer, to top
Bell pepper slice, for garnish

Directions

In cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine all ingredients except ginger beer. Shake well, and pour into double rocks or Collins glass. Top with ginger beer, and garnish with bell pepper slice.

Green Bell Pepper Syrup

In pot, add bell pepper scraps to 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool completely. Strain out scraps and bottle syrup. Refrigerated, the syrup should last a few weeks.