“Locavore.” What does it mean? A decade ago I would have guessed some sort of prehistoric beast. Back then I was equally unaware of the hipster language used by locavores, trendy phrases like “slow food,” “eat local” and “farm to table.” Yet as I slowly learned the dogma of this esteemed trend, I quickly became one of its most adamant supporters. Some even accused me of soapboxing.
In the current culinary landscape, however, it seems nearly impossible to eat out without being assaulted by this popular philosophy. Every top-tier dining establishment in the country has embraced the ideology by now. The idea that a vegetable as basic as a beet can taste better when eaten just after picking has revolutionized the restaurant business. The problem now is that it is no longer a novel concept and I am also no longer interested in professing its benefits.
I’m over it. Every chef gets it, they all understand. Let’s move on.
Except bartenders. There is one aspect of the farm to table concept that still needs to be promoted. Let’s call it “farm to glass.”
Old school bartenders have horror stories about the ingredients used in the past. Neon green sweet-and-sour-flavored liquid gushing out of a bar gun and into your margarita. An orange liquid that faintly tastes like Tang coming out of the same bar gun behind it. Plastic bottles of low-quality junk strewn across the bar. All of these products, of course, manufactured in God-knows-where and shipped for your convenience at reasonable prices. It’s amazing that this was the scene at even the best bars less than ten years ago. It’s even scarier that many still witness it. One of the most impressive accomplishments of the locavore lifestyle is its profound effect on the ingredients used in quality bars.
These quality establishments that promote the farm to glass concept have thrown away the Rose’s Lime Juice and removed the red-colored liquid from their bar gun lines called “cranberry” and replaced them with fresh, locally sourced goodness. In Hawaii, if you’re pouring pineapple juice imported from the Mainland you are certainly not on the cutting edge. If you can’t source local lime juice, you definitly missed the boat.
At the best bars, farm to glass bartending goes further than simply providing fresh juices and garnishes. Many bar managers have taken pages from the chef’s notebook when sourcing quality ingredients for cocktail creation. A bellini made with freshly picked peaches in California. In New York, mojitos that utilize fresh mint from the herb garden of the restaurant.
Hawaii bartenders have even more opportunity to push the local ingredient concept. Our climate and location affords us the opportunity to amaze the rest of the country. The same coconuts, starfruit, lavender and lilikoi that transform everyday restaurants into Zagat-rated destinations must find their way into bartenders’ shakers and into your bucket glass.
The change in Hawaii’s elite bar programs is slowly becoming more and more noticeable. Recent examples include fresh Kula strawberries in a daiquiri and Chinatown ginger root for a Moscow mule—two relatively boring cocktails transformed by local ingredients. Margaritas made with the Kalamansi limes from Auntie’s tree are enough to change your life. Hawaii’s singular ability to push the envelope of farm to glass bartending is exciting, yet still underused. Now I have a new thing to soapbox about: drinking at your “local” bar.
Jason “Cass” Castle is a certified specialist of spirits and wine and advanced sommelier. Follow @TheWineCastle on Twitter