By Jenna Ba, Diageo Reserve
Sure, everybody loves the forests. It would be a post-apocalyptic planet without them. We are losing forest areas, including many virgin ones, at an alarming rate of a football pitch every 1,5 seconds globally. Although not all tree loss is equal, and deforestation has reduced by almost 50% in the last decade. Civil society, private companies and governments agree that forests are a major front of action and all have set out ambitious targets to plant, conserve and restore forests
* this includes Diageo brands – last year Bulleit took a commitment to plant one million trees over the next five years, and Johnnie Walker announced that before 2025, it would be
planting one million trees across the four corners of Scotland. That matters as 80% of earth’s terrestrial plants and animals call a forest home.
What forests can do for you
Every Earth Day (April 22nd), millions of people get mobilised across over one hundred countries in celebrating our planet and putting environmental concerns at the front of attention. Everybody does it in their own way, and everybody’s efforts matter – so do yours!
You can start with “shirin-yoku”, which means bathing in forest atmosphere in Japanese. That process will stir up the best ideas, and you can continue your efforts through raising awareness on forest protection and restoration initiatives, donating time or funds and even creating some drinks that help tell stories of the why and how we need to conserve forests.
“And in the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” John Muir 19th Century mountaineer, environmental philosopher and conservationist who established the Yosemite National Park, said.
What forests mean for bartenders
Through talking with other bartenders it was clear that time spent in the forest helps us unplug, think clearly, stay positive and mostly, get flavour creative. The process is as much the cocktail as the flavour. Being in the woods is about focusing on instincts – my nose is my guide in wondering aimlessly; my ears are delighted with the forests’ playlist, somewhere between trip-hop and jungle; my eyes indulge in observing the fractal lights and being in awe of the textures of the tree trunks. As I gather the earth, old leaves and moss in my hands I can smell the geosmin (a terpene aromatic compound literally translating in earth smell).
It works every single time, opening you for inspiration. If the weather is harsh and the soil slimy as the insides of a passion fruit, I’d keep my boots on, otherwise barefoot promenading is everything. My memories from forests come with scents. The New Forest in England I revive it herby, resinous, almost citrusy in summer. The Cardamom Mountains in Cambodia
summon up eucalyptus, fennel and it’s in the name – cardamom like fragrance. The Black Forest in Germany, with all its spruce, pine and beech had a woody, balsamic, peppermint scent. Trees give us so much, on all fronts. No white oak, no bourbon barrels – the vanilla, butterscotch, coconut, spicy, nutty and buttery flavours from oak lignin, all the flavours that charred American oak gives to whiskey and further whisky.
Some of my favourite flavours come from trees – carob, date, fig, mulberry, mango, tamarind and walnut, to name a few. Maple is great, it even made it on to a flag (!), so its not just in my top favourites. So much aroma can be released from the edible parts of their fruits/seeds/leaves.
There are mountains of reasons to thank trees for what they provide us, and the prospects of the flavours unlocked are remarkable. I’m impressed by the taste of white acacia flower (Robinia Pseudoacacia), leached and pickled acorn and linden infusions. I’m also very curious about forests around the world and the drinks they inspire.
Fun tree facts:
- Probably the oldest and heaviest living organisms, ‘the trembling giant’, is the Pando tree colony in Utah.
- Birch is called a pioneer species, due to its capacity to repopulate land after fire.
- The tree of life, the Baobab can live over 1,000 years and everything it produces is useful for humans. On top it retains and filtrates water in the thousands of litres, sometimes supporting communities in the dry season.
- The tree of a thousand uses, one of them Piña Colada, the coconut tree. What a perfect RTD!
- The first aromatic plants on earth were conifers dating back approx. 280 million years.
Forest-inspired cocktails led by bartenders around the world
Everything is dependent on the health of our natural environment – and making drinks is no exception. Treat ingredients responsibly and safely, and take inspiration from some incredible forest-inspired projects led by bartenders around the world.
Kasia Quinney from Care/Of Cocktails – Malmö, Sweden, World Class 2021
Inspired by the Scottish highlands where he grew up, amongst the forests and the nature and his journey to living in Sweden, a country 70% covered in forestland. “Always striving for natural methods, I took up the 200-year-old tradition of tapping the birch trees after winter. ‘Dricka märg i bene’ meaning drinking marrow into the bone, allowed the mineral and antioxidants of the birch tree sap to come into my drink. The bright taste of spruce is a strong reminder of the constant smell of the woodland around my home and the acid mix brings out those clean and crisp flavours. My home made vanilla bean distillate and Johnnie Walker Black Label makes up my drink.”
Seth Johan – World Class Nigeria Winner 2021
Reminiscent of the Mambilla plateaus baobabs and waterfalls, this drink has Talisker 10 and 50/50 baobab juice, sweetened with a drop of date syrup. “The baobab tree is such a symbol of life and longevity. To make the juice I mixed two cups of baobab powder with vanilla extract, one and a half cups of sugar cane juice and a pinch of nutmeg.”
Lana Lindsley, Bulleit Cultural Ambassador, Austin, Texas
Lana collaborated on a special Earth Day Cocktail Courier package. “In partnership with American Forests, Bulleit Bourbon is planting one million trees in the next five years. We celebrate Earth Day the whole month and wanted to raise more funds for American Forests, hence 22% of profit from each kit sold is going towards their initiatives in slowing climate change and promoting social equity. So far, the response has been incredible. The kits are in high demand across the country, people appreciated the seed paper postcards with recipes and tips on how to approach your home bar with a sustainable lens. The packaging is totally eco-friendly, and even moss played a role in keeping the bottles safe during delivery.”
Claudiu Vacarus – from Trick Shot in Bucharest, Romania
In his Better Drinking World Class challenge Claudiu has partnered with an organisation that manages tree nurseries in raising funds through his cocktail sales. “Reforestation is the most important thing for the Carpathian ecosystem. I aim to keep the cocktail special in the bar until we manage to plant and nurse 1500 trees, the guests have been happy to know that by enjoying a delicious drink they can support a project that ultimately improves the quality of all our lives.”