How Bars are Reusing Alcohol to Reduce Waste, Save Money

Not only is wasted booze a tragedy, but it costs bar and restaurant owners big money. But some bar owners and chefs are reusing alcohol in creative ways.

Not only is wasted booze a tragedy, but it costs bar and restaurant owners big money. But some bar owners and chefs are reusing alcohol in creative ways.

If you crack a bottle of wine at home but don’t finish it, chances are you’ll cork it and have another glass tomorrow or even the day after. At most bars and restaurants, though, that’s not an option. At the end of the night, leftover wine goes down the drain, even if they were only able to pour one glass from the bottle, because exposure to oxygen impacts a wine’s flavor. That’s not a big deal in your own home, but customers paying expensive by-the-glass prices expect the wine to taste the way the vintner intended.

A few bar owners are fed up with all of that waste, though, and they’re looking for ways to reuse alcohol that they can’t serve to customers.

Reusing Alcohol for Fun and Profit

A new restaurant in San Francisco, Bellota SF, is planning to turn leftover wine, beer, and liquor into vinegar. Executive Chef Ryan McIlwraith’s goal is to make enough vinegar from the bar’s leftovers to completely stock his restaurant. He’s also planning to use leftover booze in his cooking. He told NPR’s The Salt, “A lot of this will be a learning process for us, but there are a lot of ideas to play with for how to use up our alcohol without throwing it away.”

St. Louis’s RED Bar serves yesterday’s wine as today’s sangria, and in Chicago, The Sportsman’s Club mixes up leftover liqueurs as a base for their own herbal bitters. RED Bar’s alcohol reuse actually makes them an extra $130 per month in profits.

Some bars are getting proactive to prevent waste. While wine gets poured out daily, liquors that lose popularity or never catch on also end up wasted. That’s where flights come in handy, says bar manager Donny Darling. He told US Food, “Offering rum flights definitely helps people try something that they may not have ever had before because you’re not paying for a full drink, you’re paying for a half-ounce pour of three different rums.”

Keg beer is probably the least wasteful drink at the bar. There are no leftover cans or bottles in the trash, and as long as the keg is kept cold, the bartenders can serve that beer until the keg is tapped. Even better: breweries often reuse their kegs.

Keg reuse unfortunately isn’t a given, though. One-way kegs, like the Key Keg, are becoming more and more popular. These are disposable kegs with a plastic bubble inside that can’t be recycled, but they do save brewers the trouble of picking up their empties. Some plucky crafters are reusing bubble kegs to make things like terrariums. Crafty reuse is definitely good, but old-fashioned, reusable kegs are better in terms of preventing waste.

I think there are some great things that consumers can learn from these practices. Next time you have a bottle of wine that’s been sitting open too long, you can add some juice, liqueur, and fruit to make sangria. And if you want to really get serious, try making your own wine vinegar! Got leftover beer? Use it to make beer mustard! Your avocado sandwiches will thank you.

Do you have any creative ways to use up beer, wine, or liquor? I’d love to hear more ideas in the comments!

Written by Becky Striepe

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  1. Extremely interesting post! It is great to read that there are restaurants concerned about wasting and are looking for ways to reuse some food and beverages. I admire their campaign and wish many other restaurants to take example from their behavior!

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