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Cocktail Bar Sustainability Tips from Duke's in Healdsburg, CA

Static1.squarespaceTara Heffernon, an owner of Duke's Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg, wrote in with several systems that the bar uses for sustainability. 


Burning the Ice

Instead of burning the ice, it is transferred into kitchen sinks to melt.  Most bars burn their ice with hot water, as ice doesn't melt in time to be replaced by fresh sexy ice the next day, especially with how many bars use high end ice like Kold Draft (which we do). Even our pebble ice doesn't melt fully overnight, just enough to be too soggy and gross to use, so sacrificing our labor by transporting the ice to melt instead of burning it is a step I think every bar should take.


Make Oleo Saccharum From Leftover Cut Garnishes

Leftover cut garnishes become oleo syrups:  We do it at the end of the evenings, just add sugar and mix to preserve. It depends on what we are using the oleo for. If blood oranges are in season, we keep those wheels in their own sugar then use that for a specific drink, but we do our lemons and limes together for our basic oleo for punches etc.


Use Up Orange Juice with a "Duke's Julius" Recipe

Our orange zest habit is countered with specialty happy hour recipes that call for orange juice, like our Duke’s Julius where the fresh juice meets gin, cream, vanilla bean, lemon, and our house saffron bitters.

Get the recipe here


Trade Cocktail Credit for Produce with Neighbors

We trade local citrus for cocktail credits with all our locals. We are lucky to live in an area where so many of our locals grow their own citrus. We still have to order some to keep up with our demands, but we have rangpur limes, meyer and eureka lemons, buddha's hand, bergamot, and oranges all growing in town. We have spent years making relationships with folks who have trees, and so many people would have thrown most away.

Some suggestions:

  • Start process of reaching out to see who in your area has produce that would want to trade or donate (when we trade it's more of a "can we buy you a drink for donating this" kind of thing as opposed to being set in stone for legal reasons
  • Farmers markets are a great source for making connections if that's available to you
  • Social media posts to connect, especially when you know certain things are in season, like citrus, pomegranates or stone fruit. Word of mouth with regulars also worked for us, but again we are fortunate to live in a grower community.
  • Asking them to bring a sample is good advice, so you don't take on bitter oranges or lemons that are all pith.


Growing Your Own Produce and Planning for Seasonality

Seasonality helps a great deal. Before I had the greenhouse I spent years planning my menu around when things bloomed. Rosemary is year round, so is thyme, so saving those menu placements for winter months and then having sun hungry herbs in the summertime, like basil and cilantro.

Mint, rosemary, thyme and basil are super easy; mint will save the most money as it's in call drinks not just creative cocktails. But it is invasive; needs its own space.

Rosemary goes such a long way for such an easy plant to grow, and that you actually could have that particular herb in a plant rotation growing on the bar because such a teensy sprig goes such a long way that you wouldn't hurt it if you swapped it out often.

One stone fruit tree can mean a big batch of cordial that can last months if fortified correctly. If someone has space for it, it goes a long way.

Citrus is the biggest money saver but only if you have the room and if you can control freezing. I have to wrap my few specialty citrus trees for a couple days of the winter in my zone, but 15 minutes away in Healdsburg it's 5 degrees warmer and citrus does great.

Citrus is the biggest sustainability puzzle, where we just have to buy it when we can't source enough locally, but Daiquiris are good for the soul so we simply must. That's why we are so precious with our citrus waste situation.


Growing Herbs Inside the Bar

It can only work with constant plant rotation to leave enough growth to keep them alive. I would imagine most people are doing that more for show, then they have a bulk supply coming in from elsewhere. I pick everything nearly every morning and bring it into my shift in jars of water.

Many things have to be picked at night or they wilt instantly, so my neighbors have actually tried to call me out as an intruder when I have been caught picking fennel in my garden after my shift ending at 3:30 am.


General Strategies and Gardening

Before Heffernon followed-up with the specifics above, she laid out some of their general waste reduction strategies as well as detailed information on her gardening for the bar: 

At Duke’s have countless ways of reducing waste:
• Metal and compostable straws
• Compostable everything from napkins to to-go containers (we literally only have printer paper in our garbage cans, all else is green waste or recycling)
• No burning ice, it is transferred into kitchen sinks to melt to save water
• Risky low juicing, or juicing on the fly, then reusing all our end of the night juice for daily punches and sangrias
• Cocktail on tap program reducing juicing needs; we use citric, lactic, and phosphoric acids for these 8 drinks
• Leftover cut garnishes become oleo syrups
• Our orange zest habit is countered with specialty happy hour recipes that call for orange juice, like our Duke’s Julius where the fresh juice meets gin, cream, vanilla bean, lemon, and our house saffron bitters
• Despite the fact that we are obsessed with booze from all over the world, we are also blessed by so many bad ass local distilleries that we still consider ourselves comparative localists
• Both our bar and our kitchen purchase from local farmers for anything I cannot grow myself
• We trade local citrus for cocktail credits with all our locals

I have a small farm at my home in Forestville where I have spent the last 10 years growing herbs, produce, and edible flowers for whatever bar I have been at, and for the past 5 years it’s all been for our own spot, which is a dream come true. Every year I convert a new piece of landscaping to produce things we use at the bar and it gets nerdier and more fun every day. 

My partners agreed to invest in a new greenhouse that my husband built over the past year, which has allowed my seed production to skyrocket, and guaranteed year-round product. In the winter our cocktails are covered in savory items, carrot fronds, baby chards, beet greens, and the stubborn varieties of edible flowers that survive the Forestville winter, in the summer my bar top looks like a nursery of pineapple sage, countless varieties of mints and basils, thyme, rosemary, cilantro, rao ram, fennel, bay, and so many edible flowers I would list but it’s long enough that it would be annoying.

From my farm we make syrups, shrubs, cordials and bitters in addition to the garnish game using my fruit trees, berries, gooseberries, quince, apples, currants, elderberries, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, beets, and more. I have a habit of buying plants just to see what they are going to taste like, that’s how I have a white currant bush now.