So you want to drink sustainably? Well Rich Woods has a lesson or two in store for you, beyond salvaged citrus husks and bamboo straws…
In mid-June Duck & Waffle dropped its new cocktail menu, a short list of ten drinks where each focuses entirely on an individual ingredient, from the likes of tomato, olive, lime and coffee, to coconut, strawberry, red pepper, walnut, avocado and even earth.
A quick bag search and an even speedier lift ride up to the 40th floor of the Heron Tower and the first thing you might notice from any of the Origins cocktails is that they’re entirely quaffable. You don’t have to be into modern molecular mixology to appreciate the flavour of these drinks. From the rosé-like summer sweetness of Strawberry to the tropical hints in the whiskey-based Coconut, this is liquid that tastes sublime.
“Of course they’re drinkable,” laughs Rich, Duck & Waffle’s Head of Spirit and Cocktail Development, when this is pointed out to him. But taste and balance isn’t something that’s always guaranteed when you’re dealing with a concept and the motif of less is more is executed well here – the cocktails aren’t overly complicated simply to fit in another version of strawberry.
Origins aims to extract, squeeze, ferment and skin each element of flavour from one ingredient to create a great drink. Named for these base elements, all ten drinks adhere to this in their own appealing and experimental ways. Take Walnut, which uses toasted walnut Monkey Shoulder whisky, spent walnut shell aperitivo, pickled walnut dry vermouth and walnut maple. It balances the sweet, dry, rich and boozy, all the time drawing on one little nut’s flavour profile.
“Not satisfied with using just leftover or wasteful produce, showcased in our previous Urban Decay menu, I wanted to show the various levels and complexity of flavour that could be obtained from multiple elements of a single source,” writes Rich at the top of the new menu.
Just how much flavour can be extracted from one ingredient though? Seemingly, if you understand a bit of science, even the discarded pip of an avocado has its possibilities. In the cocktail Avocado this manifests as ‘super-dry’ avocado pit bitters which are then mixed with Bacardi Carta Blanca rum, avocado liqueur and prosecco to create a beautiful and lightly sparkling aperitivo-style drink complete with the buttery notes we all associate with a ripe avocado.
By deconstructing each ingredient, Rich has managed to pioneer a new style of cutting waste, whether it’s his leftover-red pepper stalk and seed cordial, his pickled strawberry distillate or his spent coffee grinds & toasted coconut shell liqueur. Most importantly though the menu has successfully moved beyond the trend for sustainability and incorporated its ethos in a far more fluid and enjoyable way.
“The biggest challenge has been consistency,” says Rich, “with the raw ingredients. It’s difficult to get the same quality of strawberries, avocado, peppers and limes each week, so we’ve been keeping previous liqueurs, bitters, infusions and cordials back to make sure we’re producing the same flavours.”
Duck & Waffle’s small bar space, serving as the anti-chamber to its large restaurant, may not seem to be the venue for pumping out large numbers of drinks but the amount of cocktails served across its entirety is in fact huge, meaning this drive for sustainable and simultaneously luscious flavours should make a big impact on how we view an ingredient’s flavour possibilities and what part of them is strictly useable.
Ultimately it’s a very clever summer menu from a very clever bartender that is first and foremost tasty and secondly grounded in the most topical movement of the modern bar scene. Someone give this man an award.