A bartender pours a cocktail.

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Bars are uncovering a new way to reduce waste and promote sustainability: reusing their alcohol! The restaurant industry is coming up with all kinds of new ideas to get more bang for their buck. Of course, the smattering of whiskey and the backwash of wine left in cups and glasses after patrons leave gets thrown out, per food safety law, but things like the wine left in a bottle for serving at a table gets a new life in new ways.

Ryan McIlwraith, executive chef of Bellota SF, a Spanish-themed restaurant that opens soon, has been acquiring wine barrels and ceramic vinegar crocks to turn leftover booze into vinegar. The alcohol is inoculated to remove any icky things, and after a few more steps, voila! Delicious proprietary vinegar.

Alcohol also gets a new lease on flavor through things like marinades, brines, and pickling liquids for fruits and veggies. Jonny Raglin, who will open Bellota SF with McIlwraith, says he likes to make vermouth by simmering leftover white wine with herbs and caramel—yum.

A San Francisco bar, The Perennial, is finding all the ways it can conserve energy and promote sustainable practices before they open in January. The restaurant hopes to generate as little waste as it possibly can: cocktails will be chilled in the fridge instead of shaken with ice that is then discarded, and unused fresh citrus juices can be used to make sherbet. Other bars are putting leftover red wine into their sangria recipes or combining the dregs of aperitifs to make their own liqueurs and spirits.

Making house craft cocktails offers a lot of opportunities for restaurants to reduce waste and get creative. Using fresh ingredients like fruits and spices means that the waste can be composted rather than tossed out or repurposed for garnishes or to make bitters. Chad Arnholt, co-founder of the Tin Roof Drink Community, a sustainability consulting firm for bars based in San Francisco, says he has already seen better communication between restaurants’ bars and kitchens. If the bar has juiced one solo melon, they no longer need to discard the pulp—they can pass it on off to the kitchen to be made into something new.

Reusing ingredients allows bars and restaurants to save money and find new and innovative ways to make and serve food. Everybody wins!

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