A healthy cocktail? Organic ingredients find their way into spirits, liqueurs

By Gavin MacMillan
April 19, 2011

Organic ingredients find their way into spirits, liqueurs

With health consciousness at an all-time high and the environmental movement continually gaining speed, more and more bars are getting into the game and making an effort to go green. Organic ingredients are popping up at every turn – more than 75 different types of organic spirits, liqueurs, wines and beers are available in most provinces.

It’s important to identify the difference between a “green” cocktail and the idea of the healthy cocktail. Ordering up a beverage made with green tea liqueur is not going to earn you any points on the antioxidant front. Organic spirits, wines and beers are becoming more and more popular, and new companies are jumping on the organic bandwagon. Other companies, however, have been producing organic and sustainable products for decades. Are cocktails with organic ingredients any healthier for you? Aren’t cocktails supposed to be a little bit naughty anyways?

To answer this question, we got behind the bar and made three cocktails – one 100 per cent organic; one made with non-organic spirits, citrus and sweeteners;  and one made the typical way in most bars in Canada, with post mix, a flavoured corn syrup that comes from a soda gun.

The cocktail of choice was a Tom Collins, made three ways:

Organic CollinsCostCalories
45mL Juniper Green Organic Gin$1.6196
30mL organic lemon juice$0.678
2 tsp  organic sugar syrup$0.0729
30mL soda water$0.020
Total cost for ingredients$2.37133
Non-Organic CollinsCostCalories
45mL Bombay Sapphire Gin$1.6596
30mL lemon juice$0.318
2 tsp  sugar syrup$0.0329
30mL soda water$0.020
Total cost for ingredients$2.01133
Lazy CollinsCostCalories
45mL Bombay Sapphire Gin$1.6596
30mL lemon lime bar mix$0.0241
30mL soda water$0.020
Total cost for ingredients$1.69137

Organic Collins pros and cons: this cocktail is delicious and fresh; however, it is considerably more expensive to produce, despite the organic gin being marginally cheaper to purchase.

Non-Organic Collins pros and cons: good, fresh ingredients (non-organic) make a great tasting cocktail; no organic marketability. This cocktail is delicious and fresh, and is, as you might expect, more cost effective to produce.

Lazy Collins pros and cons: high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavours from the lemon lime bar mix take over the gin flavour. This is the least expensive to produce but you get what you pay for.

Serving organic cocktails can yield a higher sale price, offsetting increased costs of production. To that end, operating a sustainable bar or restaurant is easier than one might think, not to mention the opportunities to save money and increase margins. Making each business decision with both your client’s health and the environment in mind is rewarding in many ways – socially, economically and environmentally.

Fresh, organic, seasonal, local and sustainable are really just a part of a much larger picture that involves every business decision you make, from the light bulbs you choose to the cleaning products you use, and how you separate your waste.

Here are some points to consider when developing your next menu and pondering organic ingredients for your bar:

Fresh

If you haven’t tasted the difference between a fresh cocktail and one that comes off a post-mix line, try it out and you’ll never go back. It’s like the difference between handmade pasta with fresh tomato sauce versus readymade canned pasta.

Organic

Under organic production, the use of conventional non-organic pesticide (including insecticides, fungicides and herbicides) is precluded. However, contrary to popular belief, certain sprays and other materials that meet organic standards are allowed in the production of organic food.

Local

This means supporting business in your geographic region, and making such decisions as not importing bottled water from the other side of the world when a large supply of clean and fresh water is at your fingertips. Developing relationships with the folks at your local farmers’ market can inspire on both culinary and beverage fronts.

Seasonal  

Use peaches on your menu when peaches are in season locally, not when peaches are in season in Argentina. Shorten the bridge between the kitchen and the bar – when your kitchen is making peach cobbler, your bar chefs should be making peach Daiquiris or peach Mojitos.

Sustainable

Taking the sustainable route is not the easiest, but it is becoming increasingly accessible. Businesses that make the commitment can expect to be rewarded with a loyal clientele; a few pioneers of the green bar philosophy can attest. San Francisco’s Elixir was one of the first green bars to open, and proprietor H. Joseph Ehrmann makes fresh fruit cocktails with organic and/or environmentally responsible products. Taking it to the next level is Green and Tonic, a volunteer group that consults with bar owners to help them find solutions to reducing their waste, energy and water consumption.

Though organic wines and beers have multiplied over the past few years, the number of organic spirits is increasing at a slower rate. The main reason most spirit producers haven’t marketed organic products is because there is a negligible difference between alcohol distilled from organic grains or fruits versus conventional crops. Yet there are now organic spirits available in almost every category.

Fresh, local, seasonal and sustainable should no longer be looked at as options, but rather as business decisions.

To keep it green at the bar, order:

Vodka – Square One Organic Vodka uses organic rye and sports a square-shaped bottle (which means a lower CO2 profile).

Gin – Juniper Green Organic Gin is made up of organic juniper, coriander, angelica and savory – botanicals carefully chosen to be enhanced by the smooth organic spirit distilled from organic grain.

Rum – Papagayo Organic Rum has organic sugarcane that is crushed, with the syrup extracted for fermentation. The fermentation lasts 36 hours until the syrup has reached the ideal level of purity. The pure fermented syrup is then distilled in traditional stills into rum.

Whiskey – Highland Harvest Organic Scotch Whiskey is aged in oak barrels for four years and blended in Scotland from three organic grain malts.

Tequila – 4Copas Organic Tequila, and specifically 4Copas Blanco, is about as close to the agave as you can get. The blue agave is estate grown, organically certified and tested for peak sugar content individually before harvest.


About the author:

Master mixologist Gavin MacMillan owns BartenderOne Corp., Canada’s leading group of bartender training schools. An award-winning bartender, bestselling author and blogger, he is considered one of Canada’s leading authorities on cocktails and mixology.