'I’ve been obsessed with gardening and botanicals all my life,’ Dan Dove, founder of Amico’s Cocktail Bar, told Imbibe. ‘They’re always at the forefront of my mind when it comes to flavour manipulation and innovation in drinks, and that’s what’s driven my interest in this technology.’
Technology and gardening may seem unlikely bedfellows, but for Dove the two are inextricably linked by his desire to introduce novel flavours, ingredients and garnishes to his drinks without racking up a hefty carbon footprint.
Already in use by a number of Michelin-starred chefs, Evogro is in essence a super high-tech heat lamp that allows plants and herbs to be grown from seedlings in two to three weeks, as opposed to the same number of months in a natural environment.
‘We wanted to have seasonal ingredients out of season,’ Dove explained. ‘With this, you’re able to create perfectly flavoured herbs of any species in the middle of December.’
This may not sound like the epitome of sustainability when you think of the bars that focus on local, seasonal ingredients, but when you consider the food miles accrued by herbs travelling from greenhouses in Holland or hotter climates, it’s a major saving. And, thanks to the introduction of solar panels at the Essex bar, the technology will be carbon neutral.
Approximately the same size as an under-the-counter bar fridge, the system can hold 16 different pots of herbs at one time. The levels of light and temperature are controlled remotely by Evogro, while an in-built camera allows the company to monitor the plants and send instructions every couple of days.
Unusual herbs and botanicals that Dove is in the process of growing include red komatsuna, curled chervil, lemon gem tagetes, bulls blood beet and red garnet amaranth. The project is a partnership with Diageo vodka brand Ketel One, for which he has created a range of sustainable cocktails.
‘One of the cocktails I’ve made uses the red rubin basil, which has a red tint and flavour profile that’s a cross between mint and basil,’ Dove enthused. ‘We’re using it to create a pesto with salted pistachios and toasted pine nuts, then turning it into a drink with Sicilian lemon and Ketel One Citreon.’
While chefs using the technology tend to use the herbs at the two-to-three-week mark, Dove grows them for 10 days longer, until they are mature enough to be added to the ‘edible garden’ on the terrace in front of the bar.
Another of the cocktails combines 'completely unique and organic' honeysuckle oil with Ketel One vodka, Essex honey, lemon, cardamom and rhubarb soda. The honeysuckle from which the oil derives was grown using the technology and now flourishes outside in the garden.
Dove is also looking to grow stevia, the zero calorie, natural sweetener to use in his cocktails in response to demand for healthier drinks.
‘A lot of bartenders are interested in stevia as a source of sweetness, and while you can get stevia in the supermarket, it’ll often have other ingredients added,’ he said.
‘It’s typically around 300 times sweeter than sucrose, but if you grow it and powder it yourself, it’s more like 50 to 100 times and that makes it much easier to work with, otherwise you’re looking to use about 1/2ml to get the correct sweetness.’
There are currently around 150 different plants and herbs in Ketel One and Amico's edible garden, however, the long-term plan is to have 300 different plants there by 2020.