Bar pro Trevor Frye, formerly of Dram & Grain, is the founder of Wash Line, a spirits and hospitality consulting company.
After I left Dram & Grain, the craft cocktail bar inside Jack Rose Dining Saloon, I was moonlighting at a few other places in D.C., which reminded me of getting back to the high-volume bars where I had worked previously. I could never get over how much waste there was on a nightly basis. I was constantly picking stuff off the floor, throwing things away or being told to keep ingredients that should have been discarded. It also made the bars kind of gross, having garnishes set out on the bar with people reaching in and touching them.
I also remember watching bartenders using peelers for expressed citrus, seeing more pith retained in some than in others and noticing that depending on the distance from the peel to the glass a different amount of oil was added to the cocktail.
All of these things provide different nuances of inconsistency. For the everyday person who isn’t trained, it wouldn’t make or break a cocktail. But when I travel and see the highest standards in cocktail bars like The Dead Rabbit and Canon putting out an insane amount of drinks per evening, I notice their training programs are very concise and precise.
We wanted to be able to do that, all while cutting down on waste. Fruit is probably one of the biggest culprits in the industry, especially lemon and lime wedges and wheels. Guests often don’t really know what they want them for.
When I opened Five to One, I realized you can use an aromatic component that does the same thing as a garnish. That’s where I started the process. I created a handful of infusions, including lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, chamomile and bergamot. All are kept shelf-stable with vodka, diluted with purified water to 20 percent ABV and dispensed via glass atomizers, so you get flavor without adding something too boozy.
In a coupe glass, we’ll spray once on top of the drink to add a layer of aromatics and flavor and then add another spritz where the guest is holding the glass. Hands are like little radiators, and their warm temperature will waft up the scent. We’ll spray the concentrate on the lower part of a Collins glass and on the stem of a Nick & Nora glass.
Mint was a little more challenging, but it was a fun pet project to tackle. I started looking at sourcing natural oil extractions, but nothing popped the way I wanted it to. Mint has such a bright nose that evokes a specific profile, and some other versions are too strong or just not what I was looking for. I settled on cold extraction and a blanched ice bath, removing the bitter, earthy stems before extracting the flavor. I add vodka to it and immediately put it in a freezer, which shocks the leaves and preserves bright colors, so there is still that aesthetic element. When guests see anything brightly colored, they immediately associate it with freshness.
One of the drinks I was known for at Dram & Grain is the Ode to Omaha, basically a strawberry Old Fashioned that used smoke as a garnish. It was very Instagrammable. But what drove me crazy is that people would come in, order it and then tell me they hate rum or are allergic to strawberries or don’t like smoky sips. The no-garnish program at Five to One has really pushed our guests to dive down into the ingredients, and it has been neat to see people so receptive to that.
We give everyone a 15-second elevator pitch with our philosophy: “We developed a program that cuts down dramatically on waste in the bar industry, while providing consistent flavors to our guests.” We can then have a conversation about it if they want to. The atomizers are right on the bar top, so you can spray them on their hands, and they can see for themselves. Since they don’t contain sugar, they won’t be sticky. But it’s cool to point out to them that they have been there for days and weeks and still have the same brightness.
We can make drinks pop in the glass other ways, too, like using pomegranate soda to add a pink blush that replaces anything that could be sitting on top of it. When you drink a Dirty Martini, you are looking for brininess and saltiness. I will put our saline brine against olives any day. And we do still use fresh lemon and lime juices, so we can add a splash if you want one in your G&T or Vodka Soda.
The waste factor on plastic and paper straws is huge, too, so we only use metal ones. And no beverage napkins—only 100 percent reusable coasters. I’m not trying to shame anyone who’s using garnishes or straws. I understand that oftentimes the bartender isn’t the owner or manager, and when I made that transition, this is one of the pillars I put into my business plan. It’s just that we all spend so much time looking for the perfect balance and flavor profile, and people just order something because it has a fancy garnish. We need to encourage guests to look at what’s in the glass, not what’s on the glass.