In a twist on our usual approach to Planet Champions, this month we’re featuring a product…
In the second of our special series of articles, we sat down with ‘Discarded Spirits’ Global Brand Ambassador, Sam Trevethyen, to find out how this innovative brand makes delicious products from the waste produce that no one else wants.
Discarded Spirits – or ‘Discarded’ for short – is part of UK-based Drinks Company, William Grant & Sons, a family-owned Scottish business, famous for Hendricks Gin and Glenfiddich Whisky. The business has an Innovation Department with a mission to ‘Build the Brands of Tomorrow’. Always looking for exciting new opportunities, both in flavour and creativity, the issue of food waste was consistently front of mind.
The real lightbulb moment came after a serendipitous moment between William Grant & Sons team member, Joe Petch, and a friend who had some cascara – or coffee cherry – and thought Joe would “like how interesting it was”. Coffee beans are actually the seeds of the coffee cherry, and cascara – which means husk in Spanish – is the surrounding fruit that often gets thrown away once the seeds are removed.
Joe had the idea that cascara could work well with vermouth, so infused some off-the-shelf liquid with the fruit to see what would happen. The results were too good to keep to himself and he shared his creation with the Innovation Team, and during the meeting, the phrase ‘the Discarded fruit of the coffee cherry’ kept getting used. On being inspired by reusing waste ingredients, and transforming them, the team worked on creating the brand using this ethos, leading to its first product, Discarded Sweet Cascara Vermouth.
Springwise: So, how does Discarded make vermouth from cascara?
Sam: All our products follow a similar formula in how they are created – they each have a Discarded ‘base’ and a Discarded ‘flavour’. As part of the coffee process, the fruit is dried out and once it’s dry you can easily remove the seeds and they get processed. Some cascara is used a bit for animal feed and fertiliser, but it has caffeine in it, so that use is limited. Large quantities of it get thrown away. Originally, we sourced our Cascara from Guatemala, working with a London coffee roaster. Due to the fact, often overlooked, that waste is a fresh, seasonal product, and was leading to inconsistencies between different batches, we moved to a Colombian cascara, sourced through a flavour house in the Netherlands. We extract flavour from the cascara by soaking it in alcohol to create a cascara extract.
Our base for the vermouth is a sherry-style spirit wine, that is a by-product of flavouring whisky barrels, specifically. In between whisky going into a barrel, the ‘sherry’ needs to inside to ‘re-season’ the barrel. Once that’s done, the leftover sherry typically isn’t used much. Some goes to sherry vinegar, however the vast majority of the liquid is disposed of. To build our vermouth, we use it as a base and add the cascara extract, along with cinnamon (it works so well with the dried red fruit flavours of the cascara) and wormwood, which is the bitter herb, and required for something to be called a vermouth. The final result is a long way away from a traditional style vermouth, less herbaceous and bitter, with much deeper red fruit and sherry notes.
Springwise: If the Cascara Vermouth came about due to a chance encounter, how did you decide to make a Banana Rum?
Sam: After we realised that the concept of creatively repurposing waste into something exceptionally tasty was a hit, we started looking at what other cask liquids we had, like the sherry. Occasionally, whiskies are ‘finished’ in an unusual barrel for a short amount of time, and that means we had access to a unique rum that was being used as a cask liquid. Taking the same approach as with the Cascara Vermouth (Discarded base plus a Discarded flavour) we took this blend of three Caribbean rums as our base. We wanted to pair it with something we thought would work but that would also be instantly recognisable to customers as ‘waste’, and a banana peel is obviously a waste product. It’s also where a lot of the banana flavour is, which really works well with the toffee and fudge notes of the rum.
Springwise: How do you go from peel to flavour?
Sam: We work with a flavour house in the Netherlands who would otherwise throw the peels away once they’re finished with them. They dehydrate and grind them for us. We then take the peels turn them into an extract, which we soak in alcohol (in a very similar way to extracting flavour from the cascara) and then blend with the rum. The end result is something that tastes like liquid banana bread, in the best way possible!
Springwise: Tell us about the grape skin vodka…
Sam: The vermouth and rum were born from spirits bases in our supply chain, things we already had access to. With the vodka we wanted to show that the methodology we’d applied to creatively repurposing waste into something superior worked with things outside of our supply chain, and after spirits the next logical step is wine. Our vodka is made from pomace, which is the solid remains of grapes used to make wine (the seeds, skins and stems). Millions of tonnes of this is produced annually by the wine industry. Some is used for agriculture, a small amount some is used to make grape skin spirits, such as grappa from Italy, however a lot of it is disposed of, which we think is quite literally a waste.
Springwise: How is it made?
Sam: The grape skins are fermented, and this is distilled up to 96.3 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV), making it a vodka, and the Discarded base for this variant. The Discarded flavour is wine essence, also known as wine alcohol, which is derived from the process of dealcoholising wine (often by vacuum distillation). You apply a vacuum to the liquid to induce boiling point at a much lower temperature, which means you can preserve more of the aromatics. The bit that comes out of that is the wine essence, which is pure liquid flavour and texture, loaded with aromatics, and we add a tiny bit back into the vodka. As both parts are made using Chardonnay grapes, from the west of Madrid, the end result is very smooth and smells of grapes, apples, pears, and almonds, among other things.
Springwise: A growing number of consumers are looking for more sustainable options – what does Discarded offer them?
Sam: The superpower of this brand is that we can offer low- and zero-waste twists on classics cocktails, which means that consumers win, as they are drinking good, and doing good. The bars win because they are able to market around zero-waste cocktails, or perhaps talk about some the amazing work they are doing behind the scenes. The ability to take something, to think about it a little bit differently, and transform it into something better than it was before is at the core of who we are. As our good friend Douglas McMaster, owner of zero-waste Green Michelin-Starred London restaurant Silo, likes to say, ‘Waste is a failure of the imagination’. Or, as we like to say, ‘Waste + Creativity = Cool Sh*t’.
17th January 2024