If there’s one man in the drinks industry who can encourage you not only to drink responsibly but sip sustainably too, it is Agung Prabowo.
Formerly of the multi-award-winning The Old Man Hong Kong, the Indonesian bar owner recently opened Penicillin together with his wife Laura and business partners Roman and Katy Ghale. With Penicillin, the drinks industry dream team has opened Hong Kong’s first “closed-loop” cocktail bar, and arguably the most sustainable bar in all of Asia.
Here, we chat to man at the forefront of this revolution, covering all things sustainability in the bar business, but also the greater movement around the eco-conscious consumer. Read on as Agung Prabowo unpacks all about his Alexander Fleming-inspired bar, and how bread and cheese can be used to infuse spirits, lemon peels can be turned into hand sanitiser, and Hong Kong’s neon light signs can be upcycled as clever decor. Inspiring and inviting all at once.
[All images courtesy of Penicillin]
Tell us about Penicillin. What was the motivation behind starting a zero-waste bar?
Inspired by the farm-to-table movement taking the culinary world by storm, Penicillin is Hong Kong’s first sustainable bar that champions a closed-loop model of production. Named after the breakthrough group of antibiotics that heralded an age of medical revolution, Penicillin bar similarly brings a revolutionary take on sustainability in today’s waste-heavy world of cocktail and food creation. The bar’s prized feature, The Penicillin Lab illustrates the behind-the-scenes processes of discovery and experimentation on its path towards minimal waste. With a focus on either locally sourced or up-cycled food and drink ingredients, Penicillin’s bar menu finds innovation in the true flavours of Hong Kong – while working constantly to minimise waste and carbon footprint.
When people come to Penicillin, we want to give them a message that they can become ambassadors for sustainability, so that they can start it in their daily lives – not just follow a trend.
What are some of the sustainable practices you employ?
- Potato peels are upcycled into bar snacks
- Excess pieces of bread and cheese are infused into new spirits
- Waste alcohol and lemon peels are transformed into soaps and hand sanitisers
- Leftover ingredients to the fermentation process (vegetable herbs, seeds, coffee grounds) are used for organic wines or fermentation
- Paper packages from suppliers, paper dockets from bar and kitchen, and mixed leftover ingredients from the kitchen and bar are used to create recycled bottle labels and coasters featuring hand-written descriptions of each cocktail
- Wood from the fallen debris of the typhoon is used to make tables
- Neon lights and neon light signs from local Hong Kong shops that have closed go into our lighting design
Lastly, we also collaborate with and collect waste from other bars, coffee shops, and restaurants, and upcycle them into new products and for our cocktail ingredients. Examples include using avocado pits for replacing ice cubes, using oyster shells to make oyster whisky, using discarded coffee grounds and fermenting them for coffee kombucha or coffee wine, using discarded eggshells for savoury soda water, and using the leftover basmati rice from our neighbouring Indian restaurant to infuse with whisky.
What actually makes it to the trash?
At the moment, Penicillin operates at a level the founders estimate as “80% sustainability” – but our plan is to continue finding new ways to reduce waste and improving practices through 2021 and beyond, all to set a new model for the hospitality industry.
What are your customers like in Hong Kong? Are they eco-conscious or do you convert them?
Hong Kong is definitely getting sophisticated, my team and I are happy to be part of it and learning with Hong Kong people along the path.
The pandemic was a turning point for me and Ghale. Everyone’s mindset changed and we thought, “we need to do something.” And so the idea of Penicillin was born.
How can we be eco-conscious consumers when we visit a bar, or when we’re drinking at home?
Get locally-sourced ingredients as much as possible to reduce carbon footprint and find ways to upcycle them. Get creative.
How do you think the trend of sustainability in the bar industry will further develop in Asia? What are some other big trends you’re seeing?
Sustainability has become a key driver for profitable growth, with most F&B industry stakeholders aware of the continuing tide change towards sustainable products and practices. However, most remain unaware of the motivations, values, and preferences underpinning the trend. The Penicillin team are hoping ingredients with sustainable and ethical supply chains will become more popular as consumers take a greater interest in products’ full life cycles.
Lastly, we hope to see you in Bangkok again soon. We’re looking forward to our bars fully re-opening again soon too. When you visit, where can we catch you?
It will be long bar list to visit as I have many friends from the industry in Thailand. I am going to drink in every bar in Thailand and get drunk! [Laughs]
I want to visit the new Gaggan restaurant (Gaggan Anand) and want to eat at Chef Ton’s restaurants. I also want to try the new place by Chef Anthony Burd, my good friend who helps us for food development at Penicillin.