Duck & Waffle
The Pine Needle Lemonade at Duck & Waffle combines Hendrick's Gin, Pine, Verjus, and Wild Elderflower.

Foraging for Cocktail Ingredients

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By Amanda Baltazar November 2016 Spirits

Richard Woods hasn’t nixed many ingredients for use in his cocktails at the Duck & Waffle restaurant in London, England, but he drew the line at ants. At least initially: “I said. ‘There’s no way I’m putting an ant into a drink.’ But when I learned about the acidity they add, I said I’d give it a try,” explains the head of cocktail development.

Ants are just one ingredient on Woods’ "Urban Foraging vs. Urban Decay" LTO cocktail menu, which launched in July. The menu has an urban foraging side, which features ingredients sourced from the city, such as tree bark, moss and grass, and an urban decay side, which focuses on food­—mostly items the restaurant’s kitchen can’t use—like tomato vines and leaves, burned toast, and banana skins. Many of these ingredients—such as the toast and tomato vines—are not used directly but instead are distilled and flavor is extracted from them.

Originally planned as an LTO for just a few months, the menu has proved so popular that Woods is continuing it. It’s important, he believes, to show customers how they can make a difference through urban foraging or urban decay, or simply by thinking more about using leftovers or practices like composting.

“If everyone makes one small change a day, it can make a huge difference,” he says. “Making people more aware of how simple changes can be is really important.”

Getting back to the ants: Woods has included them in his Woodland Negroni, which takes 24 hours to make. “It’s layers of barks, leaves, moss, ants, and grass,” he says, and the ants are essential to give the drink balance. “Balance is the most vital of ingredients because without that, what could have been an amazing drink is just an OK drink. The ants aren’t dominant … but it’s the acidity from them that lends balance to a sweet and bitter drink.” 

The drink is a classic Negroni, containing gin, Campari, and vermouth. “A cold-brew coffee tower is filled with layers of nature and the Negroni batch is then dripped slowly through these layers, each imparting a varying degree upon the drink,” Woods explains. 

Other drinks on the urban foraging side include Hay, with Jack Daniel’s whiskey, maple, salted caramel, and a hay infusion, and the Ex-Presso Martini, which features Grey Goose vodka, chicory root liqueur, burnt dandelion root “espresso,” and walnut shell. On the urban decay side, there are the Banana Split with Caña Brava rum, spent banana skin cordial, toasted coconut husk, and sour milk, and the Avocado Aperitivo, with Patrón Reposado, chocolate aperitivo, toasted walnut Amaro, and avocado-skin infusion. All cocktails are priced £14 ($18).

To begin the new cocktail menu, Woods went foraging with several of his suppliers in the streets of London. Now, he leaves the foraging up to them.

There is a problem and a blessing with urban foraging, he says. “It can be here today, gone tomorrow. But this is constantly challenging me to come up with new drinks and specials since they’re always bringing in new things. ... It’s a more conscious approach for how we source ingredients, and the importance of this.”