Slane Irish Whiskey’s SuSLANEability cocktail competition tasked bartenders with crafting a sustainable cocktail (puns optional). Imbibe joined the winners on their victory trip to Ireland to witness sustainability in action
The operations team here might hate me for it, but my goal is to use anaerobic digestion for energy at the distillery,’ says Alex Conyngham, co-founder of Slane Irish Whiskey, with a sly smile. He’s standing outside the 250-year-old farm buildings that house the Slane Distillery, pointing to a nearby silo against the grey backdrop of the Irish sky.
Inside, his team is working tirelessly to implement a system that will make the distillery’s waste a viable source of power. It’s just one of the numerous ways that Slane Irish Whiskey is taking its sustainable approach to whiskeymaking to the next level. It helps that the distillery is situated on the vast grounds of Slane Castle in County Meath, Ireland, complete with a bustling farm that grows its own barley, supplies produce to nearby restaurants and has access to the crisp waters of the Boyne River.
Since Conyngham co-founded Slane Irish Whiskey in 2017, he has made every effort to harness these resources to create a closed loop of production. The distillery has set up a heat recovery system, as well as a system to recycle rainwater for production so less is drawn from the river. It has installed a salmon ladder to encourage local fish populations. Ultimately, the whiskeymaker is striving for more than just zero waste – it wants to have a positive impact on the land that supports it.
From bottle to bar
But Slane Irish Whiskey is also looking beyond its distillery to spread this message of sustainability. As Conyngham explains his vision for an anaerobic digestion system, three bartenders are listening intently. Tom Sutton of HMSS Bristol, Jack Riley of Present Company in Liverpool and Leon Wilkes Back of Artesian in London have all travelled to Slane as their prize for winning the SuSLANEability cocktail competition earlier this summer.
The comp tasked bartenders with channelling the distillery’s environmentally friendly ethos to craft a Slane cocktail celebrating sustainability. Finalists then presented their serves during impressive rounds in Bristol, London and Liverpool, where Sutton, Riley and Back prevailed.
And the distillery visit is only part of their spoils – the three-day trip to Ireland boasts an itinerary designed to make any whiskey-loving bartender swoon. It’s complete with a full tour of the castle and distillery, an in-depth look at the triple-cask process used to make Slane Irish Whiskey, a tasting and a stay at the sustainable Rock Farm 'glamping’ site run by Conyngham’s wife, Carina.
After exploring the grounds and immersing themselves in Slane Irish Whiskey’s sustainable mission, the winning bartenders travel to Dublin to put their own green practices into action at a takeover of the newly opened bar 1661. 'Dublin has a really tight-knit cocktail community, and 1661 is a great example of that,’ explains Slane’s UK brand ambassador, Michael Brown, who has accompanied the bartenders on their Slane adventure.
By Tom Sutton, HMSS Bristol
Method Stir and strain over ice.
40ml Slane Irish Whiskey
30ml reclaimed cordial*
*Muddle 50g spent mint, 100g lemon husks, 100g lime husks and 50g orange husks with 250g sugar. Add 500ml spent prosecco and place in airtight container. Use the heat from glasswasher to infuse. Strain.
COFFEE SHOP BLUES
By Jack Riley, Present Company
Glass Nick & Nora
Method Stir and strain. Garnish with three drops of coffee-infused walnut oil.
45ml Slane Irish Whiskey
20ml spent-coffee-infused Martini Bitter*
15ml tropical cordial**
2 dashes bitters
*Combine 100g of spent coffee grounds and 700ml of Martini Bitter. Allow to infuse for one hour. Strain through a coffee filter.
**Combine 700ml Giff ard Banane du Brésil with 1% salt and 1% malic acid by weight.
***Sous vide spent coffee grounds in walnut oil at 60°C for 24 hours. Transfer to a Thermomix set at 50°C for one hour to fully incorporate.
By Leon Wilkes Back, Artesian
Method Shake over ice. Strain over cracked ice topped with tonic water.
50ml Slane Irish Whiskey
40ml cold brew made from spent coffee grounds
15ml coconut simple syrup 10ml Martini Ambrato Vermouth
10ml PX sherry
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Tonic water, to top
At 1661, Sutton, Riley and Back craft their winning drinks for the thirsty people of Dublin. Each of their cocktails uses inventive techniques and creative methods of closing the loop behind the bar, much like Conyngham is striving to do at the Slane Distillery.
Back’s drink, for instance, brings new life to spent coffee grounds – from both roasted and green unroasted beans – to create a cold brew, which he uses in a refreshing riff on an espresso and tonic with Slane Irish Whiskey. He has chosen to call it Little Winner as 'a reminder to celebrate the little wins that we have throughout the day’.
Sutton also finds a way to revive ingredients that would otherwise be binned. For his Castaway cocktail, he takes leftover flat prosecco and citrus wastage to make a cordial that, when paired with Slane Irish Whiskey, forms a seriously delicious cocktail. ‘Sustainability isn’t just using local honey or other ingredients, it’s what you do in your own environment, within the four walls of your bar,’ he says. 'It’s a practice and an attitude.’
Riley demonstrates his own attitude towards sustainability with Coffee Shop Blues, a drink with Martini Bitter infused with spent coffee sourced from a café near his bar, Slane Irish Whiskey and a tropical cordial.
During his presentation in the Liverpool round of the competition, he even impressed the judges by calculating the carbon footprint that the three winning bartenders would accumulate on the SuSLANEability trip, then offsetting it by funding a tree-planting project.
Through these drinks, it’s clear that the missions of Slane and the bartenders who champion the whiskey are one and the same: to make a liquid that’s both undeniably delicious and uncompromisingly sustainable – and one that always accompanies a good time.