Cocktails on a Budget: How to Save Money in your Home Bar

MIXOLOGY TALK PODCAST #194

Sustainability has been a trending topic in the service industry for a few years now, but there are still so many common practices that need to change for bars and restaurants to meet sustainable standards. That’s why we’re super excited whenever we hear of a company really embracing what it means to “be green.” 

Today, Chris is chatting with Whit Rigali, co-founder of Misadventure Vodka, the first vodka distillery to use surplus baked goods as their spirit base. Talk about sustainable ingenuity!  Not only is it interesting to learn about such an inventive, waste-saving process, but Whit also has some tips on maintaining sustainability behind the bar and in everyday life

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INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 1:19– Whit’s history in distilling
  • 3:30– Sustainable approach to distilling (Comparison to traditional distilling at 7:10)
  • 12:42— Foraging and stewardship programs to source ingredients
  • 15:55– Misadventure Vodka’s “hedonistic sustainability”
  • 17:55– Hardest aspects of sustainability & other sustainable distilleries (21:45)
  • 25:10– Tips for being more sustainable at home and behind the bar
  • 29:45– Promotions

MEET WHIT!

Whit Rigali is the co-founder of Misadventure & Co. He has a BFA from UMass Amherst, which led to a great career in hospitality. He spent a decade working in bars in Mammoth Lakes and San Diego, California before beginning his distilling career in 2013. In 2017, he and his business partner launched Misadventure Vodka, the world’s first vodka made from surplus baked goods.

SUSTAINABLE DISTILLING: TURNING WASTE INTO PRODUCT

With his background in bartending, Whit’s jump to distillation makes a lot of sense. But it’s the devotion that he and his partner, Samuel Chereskin, have for sustainability and the environment that set their company apart. 

The Natural Resource Defense council came out with a study in 2012 about how much food we waste globally— a whopping 40%!. But  there is so much other waste in food production, not just the food itself: The land, resources, and water to grow those crops are also wasted, not to mention the packaging and the fuel used for transportation. This study greatly affected Whit’s and Samuel’s outlook on distillation and their eventual production.  

“Talking about how much food that we waste globally […] that’s actually 40% of all food we grow remains uneaten and ends up in the landfill.  […] And then once food ends up in a landfill, it actually decomposes into methane, which is 25 times more damaging than greenhouse gas and CO2. And so, [sic] seeing this big, massive problem, we [sic] asked ourselves, like, ‘Is there something we can do about this?’ And when we started [sic] looking at the food groups that had the most waste, baked goods in particular is one of those things. […] It’s loaded with starches and sugars, so as an alcohol maker, those are the things you want to make alcohol. But again, this is being tossed away. So that was our big lightbulb moment.” –Whit Rigali

Originally, Whit and Samuel wanted to distill whiskey and package it in reused wine bottles, but it wasn’t financially viable for them because you have to age whiskey. So they needed something that would take 7-10 days to make, making them look to clear spirits instead of whiskey. 

Once they decided to make vodka, they practiced their techniques while working at the California Spirits Company in San Marcos, CA. Eventually they were ready to launch their new, revolutionary business, using donated baked goods like Twinkies and packaged cupcakes to create their spirit.

MISADVENTURE VODKA’S SUSTAINABLE DISTILLING PROCESS

Misadventure Vodka’s process is similar to traditional distillation, except they don’t use typical ingredients. Instead, they rely on which baked goods that the local food banks are throwing away! After sourcing their starch, the process isn’t too different from other distillation practices, although they do have to manually remove the products from their packaging. 

The process:

  • Break down the baked goods
  • Heat the mash to a pasteurizing temperature
  • Pitch the yeast with enzymes
  • Let the mixture ferment

SUSTAINABLE MOVEMENTS: FROM TRASH TIKI TO FORAGING

There are several sustainable movements in the food and service industries, although a lot more can be done to move forward with sustainable practices. Check out Trash Tiki for ideas about using local ingredients and other things that would otherwise get tossed (think coffee grinds!) to create cocktails.

FORAGING FOR INGREDIENTS

One interesting technique to make your food and drinks more environmentally viable is to forage for your ingredients. 

“It’s an age-old practice of picking from farms’ fruits and vegetables that have fallen to the ground that are still good. Traditionally, it was given back to the needy. But here in San Diego, there are so many ornamental farms around that have thousands of pounds of citrus and produce that they don’t pick. And so, for example, we have an organization here called Produce Good that goes around and picks these and gives these to the needy and to food banks.” –Whit Rigali

There are stewardships all around the United States that guide foraging and can educate you on the process. So how can you get started, you ask?

  • Do an internet search for “[your city] foraging stewardship” or “ [your city] gleaning.”
  • Go to your local farmers and talk about what’s in season when, the right time to pick certain produce, what’s around in your area, etc. They may have programs available for you to come forage on their properties as well.
  • Take a class about foraging— Don’t just read a book and go outside and start foraging. You’ll learn much more about foraging in your area from a local practice.
  • Remember: Safety first! Foraging can actually be quite dangerous if you don’t do some research first. If you forage near roads or highways, the food you gather will be soaked with CO2 and all the smog from those cars— You do not want that going into your cocktails!

USING LEFTOVER AND LOCAL INGREDIENTS TO MAKE LIQUOR

Similar to Misadventure Vodka’s vision, there are also companies making whey vodka from excess whey that cheese producers would otherwise throw away. Obviously throwing out the whey is wasteful, but it’s also expensive to dispose of it properly, so the vodka companies and the cheese producers both win– as does the environment! 

“In the long run, [sic] using these excess ingredients is actually better for the environment than growing something new.” — Whit Rigali

Combining local ingredients with leftover product, a San Diego whiskey distillery, Henebery Spirits, partners with local breweries and uses their beers to make some of their whiskey batches. Just the idea of using local ingredients rather than ordering from across the country or even the world makes a huge difference when it comes to climate change. (Think of all those transportation emissions you’ll avoid by buying local.)

HEDONISTIC SUSTAINABILITY: MAKING SUSTAINABILITY FUN

Borrowing the term from Danish architect Bjarke Ingles, Misadventure Vodka embraces the idea of “hedonistic sustainability,” as Whit explains:

“The idea behind that is trying to make sustainability accessible and fun and enjoyable as opposed to kind of what it was in the past when you’re asked to sacrifice something. You know, in the past, sustainable products used to cost a lot; you had to pay 5-10 more dollars for sustainable products. Or the quality wasn’t there. […] And then there’s accessibility. […] So what we try to do with hedonistic sustainability is make sustainability an easy choice and a fun choice.”

If sustainable alternatives were more accessible, affordable, and high-quality, then hopefully people would choose the one that is bettering the world instead of damaging it. The more companies produce sustainable products that are just as good as the traditional options, the more options we’ll all have to make more mindful purchasing choices. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

WHY SUSTAINABILITY CAN BE DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN

Although choosing sustainability sounds obvious, it isn’t always easy for companies to achieve. There just aren’t a lot of sustainable products available to help with the process, so businesses have to invent their own sustainable processes… which costs money. Of course, small businesses and start-ups usually don’t have an influx of money!

Most spirits are made by giant companies in giant factories, causing a scaling issue, as Whit explains: 

“If sustainable practices can’t scale up and consumers aren’t demanding that change, they’re not going to make those changes.”

But changes are happening in the industry, albeit a little slowly. If bartenders and consumers make conscious decisions more often, Whit says, then we’ll see changes more quickly. 

One easy thing that Misadventure Vodka and other distilleries do, for example, is donate their “spent grains” to local farmers and compost facilities. You just have to look at your business and evaluate which areas of sustainability you can focus on to make effective changes; ask yourself how you can divert or monetize your own waste.

TIPS FOR SUSTAINABILITY IN THE SERVICE INDUSTRY

So now that you want to make some changes, either at home or with your beverage program… Where do you start? Here are some tips to help you go green:

  • Use all parts of your ingredients, including fruit rinds and coffee grinds, rather than automatically throwing away those extra bits. Think “How can I get more value from this ingredient?”
  • Choose local! Help lessen your carbon footprint by supplementing great local products for mass-produced ones that have to be shipped. Bonus: Supporting your local economy helps make your community more vibrant and successful!
  • Engage your local community and talk to anti-food waste organizations to spread the word about sustainability and get tips on what else you can do.

JOIN US IN THE SUSTAINABILITY CONVERSATION

This was recorded before the holidays, so the promotions Whit mentioned may be a little outdated, but check out Misadventure Vodka’s website for great products (including hand sanitizer!); and if you’re in San Diego, (safely) check out some of the eateries that serve their vodka and swing by their tasting room once it reopens. 

You can also follow them on Instagram to keep up with all their latest (mis)adventures in distilling; every season features a different baked good, so check out what they’re brewing up right now. 

As always, we invite you to hop over to our community page to share what you’re brewing up, too! Have a Misadventure Vodka cocktail you want to share? Have tips on sustainability or foraging? The Craft Cocktail Club is a place to come together and discuss all things cocktail, so come join us! 

And of course you’ll need quality barware to make all those delicious cocktails, and you can find everything you need in our shop. We just introduced our new stirred cocktail kit, so go check it out! Until next time, keep crafting and keep it green, my friends!

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Melanie Tornroth

Melanie Tornroth

A former English teacher, Melanie optimistically embraces the struggle that is work-from-home parenthood as the in-house writer for A Bar Above. When not responding to “Mom” and writing articles for ABA, she also runs Goodnickels Photography, loves to cuddle her cats, and is perfecting the art of keeping her pandemic “fermentation babies” alive.

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