Potato peels, day-old bread, unwanted apples from that tree in the backyard—food waste is an an inevitable byproduct of the food system.
Thanks to an increasing environmental awareness, simply tossing all that waste in the trash is looking less appealing. Composting is one good option, but some local businesses are taking a more creative approach: turning food waste into unique alcoholic beverages.
At Urban Forage Winery & Cider House on Lake Street, preventing waste is the crux of owner Jeff Zeitler’s business plan. Here, unwanted produce—including apples, pears, and cherries—is sourced from the backyards of Twin Cities residents and then made into cider and wine.
“There’s a ton of fruit growing in the city,” says Zeitler. “There are a ton of fruit trees planted decades ago that people don’t utilize fully.”
Homeowners with unwanted fruit can email Urban Forage, and Zeitler and his crew will come out to harvest it. This year alone, they picked fruit at dozens of locations in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Woodbury, Mendota Heights, and as far away as Buffalo. (He couldn’t give us an exact number, estimating it was between 50 and 100 places—“I really need to put this in a spreadsheet!”) That was enough produce to make about 700 gallons of apple cider and 120 gallons of pear cider.
“If we hadn’t picked the fruit, some people pick it and put it into the trash,” says Zeitler. “We’re saving stuff that would otherwise go into the waste stream.”
Roseville’s Bent Brewstillery is also creating drinks out of something that might otherwise be discarded: Bent Anchor poitín is made with potato peels from The Anchor Fish and Chips.
“Actually, pretty much every distilled product on the market today has its roots in food waste,” says owner Bartley Blume. “Even bourbon was developed because corn was going to waste, fermenting in the silos. Distilling is the last line of defense to make something taste good.”
In the case of Bent Anchor, it started as an experiment. Irish-raised Kathryn Hayes, co-owner of The Anchor, longed for poitín, a traditional liquor from her homeland. Blume offered to create a version that utilized the restaurant’s potato peels. The initial batch was a hit, and the spirit has gone on to win awards in every competition it’s been entered in.
“It’s very earthy due to the potato peels,” Blume explains. “I also add in some potatoes for more starch and molasses to add a finishing sweetness. And I add a handful of fresh sage right before I turn on the still. The earthiness of sage and potato peel work well together.”
At Bardo in Northeast, managing bartender Zach Sapato specializes in unexpected, less-waste flavor pairings. He works with the kitchen to create infused syrups for cocktails with unused food. “We bake buttermilk rosemary bread fresh every day, so we don’t serve the day-old bread,” he says. But rather than tossing it, he soaks the bread overnight in simple syrup, then blends the mixture with an immersion blender and strains it several times to remove the solids.
“We have what used to be a simple syrup and is now a very complex syrup,” he explains. “It’s aromatic, smooth, delicious, with rosemary notes and butter and salt—it has a beautiful texture.”
Sapato also strives to incorporate food waste created within the bar program. For example, lemon peels get a second life in making oleo-saccharum, a flavorful syrup in which sugar pulls oil out of the lemon skins. He’s also working on a “closed-loop” cocktail. “It’s similar to nose-to-tail butchering, but with a pineapple. We use everything about that pineapple: The skin is used in the syrup, the juice and pulp are used in the cocktail, and the frond is used as garnish.” Excess pineapple pulp is made into a puree and dehydrated into fruit leather, which also serves as a garnish.
Besides reducing food waste, these businesses have taken other steps to be more environmentally conscious. Urban Forage’s taproom is furnished with second-hand building materials including reclaimed tile and shelving made from a repurposed packing crate. Pomace—the solid material left over after pressing apples—is composted, and during this holiday season, six-packs of cider are available in a reusable tote.
At Bent Brewstillery, Blume reuses the ethyl alcohol left over at the end of a distilling run in the next batch. “It saves in waste and creates more depth of flavor,” he says. “It also has meaning—batch 100 of rye whiskey still has some of batch one in there, because we keep putting it back it.”
Barrels, too, are reused to reduce waste and add an additional depth of flavor. Dark Fatha stout is aged in bourbon barrels, and one of those barrels was then used by St. Paul-based Isabel Street Heat to age their sriracha hot sauce. Eventually, the barrel made its way back to Bent Brewstillery, where it helped create FlameBringer, a hot pepper-infused rum.
“If you’re just going to throw away your barrels, you’re missing out on a lot of good flavor combinations,” says Blume. “The only limit is imagination.”
At Bardo, Sapato is using his imagination to reduce the cocktail menu’s carbon footprint. Due to the distance involved with transporting lemons and limes to Minnesota, citrus juice is responsible for releasing a lot of greenhouse gases. So instead, Sapato tries to use acids that can be sourced closer to home, like tomato water made by straining “tomato guts,” and verjus, a sour juice made from unripe grapes.
He’s also conscious of the waste created by ingredients like cranberry juice, which typically is sold in single-use plastic containers. That’s why you won’t find a Cosmo on the menu: “It’s a great cocktail, but I personally don’t like throwing away three jugs of plastic every bar shift,” he explains.
“When you look at the state of the world at the moment, there’s a ton of waste that can be prevented,” Sapato continues. “As people in charge of a small little piece of the world, we can have a small little impact. Trying to be better to our world is something we should all figure out ways to improve.”