Are Your Favourite Bars Sustainable?

Where to drink, with a conscience


Are Your Favourite Bars Sustainable?
Bars August 16th, 2018

You’re not usually thinking of words like “environmental sustainability” when you’re at the bar nursing an Old Fashioned.

But times have changed, and the provenance of a quality cocktail has become riveting. Maybe it’s a fancy marketing narrative, but the origin stories matter, and bartenders are trying to reduce waste while making delicious drinks.

Luke Whearty, founder of Operation Dagger, often finds people shrugging off the problem of waste. “People think it doesn’t matter. They think that just because China’s already contributing so much to the world’s waste, what we do in Singapore is not going to make a dent. That’s besides the point. If everyone thinks that way, then where will we be?”

Operation Dagger

Luke Whearty, who cut his teeth at the progressive Der Raum in Melbourne, centered Operation Dagger’s values around sustainability. Since the opening in mid-2014, he’s been applying a self-sustaining ethos and creative practices to his bar culture. It can’t save the world alone, but a little always goes a long way.

The Bee Pollen, a heady cocktail of wild bee pollen, oak, thyme, dark chocolate and lemon charcoal, made from burnt lemon husks. Photo by Jasper Yu

“If you’re producing a drink and not really thinking about where it comes from or where the waste is going, then you’re obviously not very sustainable,” says Whearty. Unused produce turns either into staff meals or something useful for the menu. Like the Bee Pollen, pictured above. It’s a heady concoction of wild bee pollen, oak, thyme, dark chocolate and yes, lemon charcoal. Lemon husks are burnt to charcoal after the used lemons are vacuum-sealed with spirit and sugar for limoncello. Whearty likens it to how a butcher thinks of his cuts of meat. Your primary cut is the juice, while the secondary cut’s the husk. The circle is complete without a need for waste.

That said, vanilla pods are also used as straws for flavour and aroma, and cocktails like the Chocolate Pinot employ oxidised red wine. The wine is salvaged by cacao nibs through a 12-hour cold-infusion to rid of any unsavoury characteristics.

Operation Dagger is located on 7 Ann Siang Hill

As its name suggests, Native is an advocate for local and regional produce. The Peranakan, its take on the kueh salat, is a defiant mix of flavours — such as chilli, galangal and jackfruit rum — that marry beautifully. Photo by Jasper Yu


Here’s one benefit from Luke Whearty’s efforts. Ex-staff Vijay Mudaliar left Operation Dagger to co-found Native, the eighth best bar in Asia that’s equally bent on saving the environment, one locally-inspired drink at a time.

Beyond applying waste reduction and sustainability processes, Native also engages like-minded companies that promote sustainable energy, fair wages and ethical producers to nurture the bar community and its customers.

Chemists love using the rotary evaporator, but bartenders are getting just as hooked. They use it to create advanced-level infusions, reductions and more. It’s a gentle process of separating mixtures at low temperatures and instilling the distillate into alcohol without destroying delicate flavours. It is the most complicated piece of equipment in the lab, but the results are poetic. Photo by Jasper Yu

Mudaliar does his own foraging and flavour-profile matching. Botanicals like pink jasmine go through a rotary evaporator to instil delicate flavours into spirits. In this way, the team creates infusions such as vinegar and kombucha to replace citrus fruits.

This line of thinking at Native extends to mindful cocktails and a zero-plastic policy. The bar grows its own herbs, supports local art — there’s a mural in progress, painted with leftover botanicals — and works with a solar company to harvest electricity. There’s also hardly any waste at the end of each day. So far the record has been eight grams.

Native is located on 52A Amoy Street

Meet Peter Chua, the head bartender at Junior, a 10-seater pocket bar tucked in the heart of Tanjong Pagar. Don’t worry if you’re on your own. He’s a chatty fellow who can regale you a night’s worth of stories. Photo by Jasper Yu

Junior the Pocket Bar

The 10-seater bar has two major themes a year, and it is currently all things New Orleans. There are fiery Cajun bites and classics like the Sazerac and Grasshopper. Head bartender Peter Chua will be honest with you. “On a scale of one to 10, we are a four in terms of sustainable goals,” he says. “We are not designed to be 110 per cent sustainable, but we do our best. From shipping in stuff to buying things online, all these create carbon footprints. There’s no one clear win, so you got to pick the lesser of two evils. How do we give a sh*t without wasting too much? At the end of the day, we owe it to our guests to bring them the best quality we can.”

The Roffignac is made from Cognac, raspberry, pisco, lemon and soda, drunk with a biodegradable potato starch straw. Photo by Jasper Yu

Junior uses straws when necessary and only the ones made from potato starch. The cool thing is how much they feel like plastic. Made by Bio-Pot, these straws have a shelf life of 21 months and are absolutely biodegradable. “People think that there’s one holy grail solution to saving the earth. But there are a lot of things we do that people don’t see,” Chua continues. “My biggest pet peeve is wasting water. After service, people tend to wash away leftover ice with water. Washing frozen water with water? That makes zero sense to me.”

Junior the Pocket Bar is located on 43 Tanjong Pagar Road

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