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Meet the mixologists behind the ‘most sustainable bar in Asia’

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(CNN) – At first glance, penicillin is like any other luxury bar: dimly lit with a few green velvet benches around the coffee tables, guests sipping cocktails and snacking on bowls of savory chips, with a smother cold jazz in the background.

But there are also some not-so-conventional parts of this bar. Its white, tile-lined entrance also functions as a “laboratory” where its mixologists experiment with new flavors and, behind it, a “fermentation room” containing jars of homemade beer.

Everything is part of a broader concept, from beverages to furniture, based on reducing waste and reducing carbon emissions.

“What we do here is a little different from the rest of Hong Kong’s bars and restaurants,” says Agung Prabowo, who co-founded the bar in November 2020 along with business partner and fellow mixologist Roman Ghale, and his wives, Laura Prabowo. and Katy Ghale, respectively.

From left to right: Co-founders Agung Prabowo, Laura Prabowo, Katy Ghale and Roman Ghale opened the bar in November 2020.

From left to right: Co-founders Agung Prabowo, Laura Prabowo, Katy Ghale and Roman Ghale opened the bar in November 2020.

Penicillin Hong Kong

Not even six months in operation, the bar debuted in # 30 to the list of 50 best bars in Asia 2021 and won the Sustainable Bar Award.

Describing itself as Hong Kong’s first “closed loop bar,” penicillin works toward zero waste and hopes to inspire other places to do the same.

A culture of convenience

Also the brain behind The Old Man, The best bar in Asia 2019, veteran bartenders Agung and Roman have witnessed first-hand the waste from the hospitality industry during their four decades of combined experience. Its goal in penicillin is to reach a maximum of zero waste, says Roman.

Hong Kong is not the easiest place to start a green business; it has a culture of convenience that is creating a crisis of sustainability.

In 2019, only 29% of nearly 5.7 million metric tons of Hong Kong waste was recycled, and there appears to be a downward trend. Government data shows that Hong Kong recycling rates have fallen over the past decade, meaning that while less waste was produced, the amount destined for landfill still increased by 21%.

For the Penicillin team, the goal is to turn the disposable culture in the head and the team is constantly looking for new ways to reuse, recycle and minimize waste. Lemons, for example, are extracted by their juices and the remaining pulp, seeds and skin are separated to make them into a sparkling lemon “wine” in the bar’s fermentation room or dried to garnish cocktails. , according to Agung.

From cocktails to furniture, the Hong Kong Penicillin Bar is creative in reducing waste and minimizing carbon emissions.

“We have to think twice before putting anything in the trash,” he says. “You can pick things up for the next ingredient instead of buying it new.”

It’s not just the drinks, designed by architecture firm Collective, sustainability has been incorporated into the bar’s fundamentals with locally made furniture and accessories from recycled materials.

Trees rooted during the 2018 Typhoon Mangkhut have been turned into tables and finished with cans of recycled aluminum soda, while LED wall lights are tubes rescued from Hong Kong’s iconic neon signs. Every detail, from recycled paper business cards to bespoke recycled cotton uniforms, has been carefully studied.

“There are actually fun ways to do sustainability,” Agung says.

An eco-spirit solution

Penicillin is not the only business working to clean up the beverage industry. While bars and restaurants around the world try to recycle and reduce waste, many of the most unsustainable elements of the industry are found in the manufacture and transportation of alcohol.

This was where EcoSPIRITS, the Singapore startup, saw a gap in the market. Its closed-loop distribution system processes premium spirits directly from distillers into its EcoTOTE, a tamper-proof 4.5-liter refillable bottle. The bars can then fill the brand’s spirits bottles and, once empty, is picked up when the new order arrives.

EcoSPIRITS helps the bars reduce the carbon emissions associated with the transport and production of disposable packaging with its closed-loop distribution system.

EcoSPIRITS helps the bars reduce the carbon emissions associated with the transport and production of disposable packaging with its closed-loop distribution system.

Dan Hodge / CNN

This eliminates the need to create new carbon-intensive branded glass bottles, says Paul Gabie, founder of EcoSPIRITS.

“Not only do you reduce supply chain costs, but locals get the same spirit at a lower cost,” says Gabie. “You have this very powerful and quantifiable reduction in physical waste and the CO2 footprint, and these are easy proposals for the industry.”

EcoSPIRITS claims that its process can save 90% of the CO2 footprint of packaging and the delivery of spirits, which also helps in the conclusion. Gabie estimates that bars save between 10 and 25% on spirits, as manufacturers save during production and distribution, which means they can offer locals a more competitive price.

Penicillin is one of nearly 700 bars in the Asia-Pacific region that works with EcoSPIRITS, which helps them save 150 grams of carbon emissions per cocktail, according to Penicillin. One of his drinks, “A penicillin, a tree,” actually goes back to the environment, with a tree planted in Borneo for every purchase.

A community effort

While some companies are reluctant to adopt sustainable solutions because of the perceived expense, Roman says installation costs are comparable to any other bar, with more long-term savings potential. “There’s always talk that sustainability costs a lot, but it’s not really,” he says. “Even though it consumes a lot of time, you have to have a lot of self-discipline.”

In collaboration with local businesses, the bar extends its mission of sustainability to the community, such as reusing avocado pits from a Mexican restaurant as ice cubes.

In collaboration with local businesses, the bar extends its mission of sustainability to the community, such as reusing avocado pits from a Mexican restaurant as ice cubes.

Dan Hodge / CNN

Penicillin is now trying to include the community in its sustainable solutions through collaborations with local businesses, which include collecting oyster shells from a local seafood restaurant to distill them with whiskey for cocktail tinctures and the reuse of avocado wells from a Mexican restaurant as ice cubes. They now also make hand soaps and hand sanitizers at home with residual alcohol and lemon peel, says Agung.

The team hopes other people in Hong Kong’s food and beverage industry will be inspired to make sustainable and positive changes.

“We want to do something for nature other than ourselves: something for our children, a step forward,” Roman says. “That’s why we want to make these things sustainable.”

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