The Basics Tips & Tricks

The Book Every Bartender Needs to Read This Month

Less waste, more drinking.

Optimistic Cocktails book cover, dark seventies orange with light pink retro text
Image: / Laura Sant 

When Claire Sprouse’s Brooklyn bar and café, Hunky Dory, closed in mid-March of 2020 due to the pandemic, Sprouse began cooking at home more than usual. And, for her, that meant more food waste. So she found a scrappy way to turn that glut into a fundraiser for the bar industry.

A Group Effort

A longtime advocate for sustainability in bars and restaurants, Sprouse reached out to fellow bartenders around the country, inviting them to send cocktail recipes that utilize kitchen scraps. The result is a self-published e-book: “Optimistic Cocktails: Reimagined Food Waste & Recipes for Resilience” ($15). The first volume launched in April 2020 with two subsequent volumes released over the following months. Proceeds will be divided among the 19 contributing bartenders, who either have established support funds for their bar’s staff or plan to contribute to undocumented worker relief funds or other charitable organizations. Sprouse says 200 copies sold within the first 48 hours.

“Thanks to quarantining, organic waste is surging across the country,” says Sprouse in the book’s introduction. “We are reimagining this food waste and turning it into new flavors and new opportunities to learn.” The book also is intended to help raise awareness about food systems as well as “the journey that food takes to get to our plates and cocktail glasses.”

Common Threads

The collection also provides a window into trends in the bar world. For example, banana cocktails had been popping up on cocktail menus prior to the bar shutdowns, and the fruit is featured in this book, too. For example, Brooke Toscano of Pouring Ribbons creates a “banana tea” using oven-dried peels, adding it to rye whiskey and cacao liqueur for her Topsy Turvy cocktail. Meanwhile, Kim Stodel of Los Angeles’ Providence makes a syrup with banana peel and cinnamon for his rum-based Banana’s Pajamas cocktail, and The Dead Rabbit’s Samantha Casuga nods to baking banana bread during lockdown as an inspiration. Her Baker’s Syrup simmers banana peel with baking spices to flavor a Gin Fizz variation.

Savory drinks are another recurring theme. For her Teeny Pickles drink, Ashley Kirkpatrick of San Francisco’s True Laurel offers a pickling brine to increase the shelf life of perishables and yield a Gibson-worthy garnish. Similarly, Maggie Morgan of New Orleans’ Jewel of the South uses the “butts” of onions and bell peppers in a savory syrup for her Rule of Thirds drink, made with either tequila or gin plus a dash of celery bitters. She says the combination is inspired by the “holy trinity” of Cajun cooking: bell pepper, celery and onion.

Coffee also yielded multiple creations, such as a “leftover coffee-citrus” mix for the Dark Corners drink created by Andrew Volk of Portland Hunt + Alpine Club. The technique is “aimed at those readers who make a pot of coffee and don’t drink it all,” says Volk, plus the spent citrus hulls can “add depth of flavor to your coffee later.” In St. Augustine, Florida, Breanne Rupp of Boat Drinks turns leftover coffee grinds into a coffee liqueur to add flavor to her rum-based Speedboat Captain.

While the book represents a clever pivot while most bars are idled during the pandemic, it’s also a window into how bartenders are thinking right now about making drinks at home, often without benefit of all the bottles and tools so readily available at bars. 

“I gave them complete freedom to submit what they wanted,” says Sprouse. “It’s interesting to see the common threads in a few recipes while having very different approaches.”