Sweet as honey – how Bar Trigona found its muse in bees to drive its successful sustainable strategy

Mark Sansom - 23/04/2020

For the second consecutive year, Malaysia’s Bar Trigona has netted the Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award in Asia’s 50 Best Bars, after receiving the highest marks in an audit conducted by Food Made Good Global. 50 Best speaks to its bar manager Ashish Sharma about holistic philosophies that underpin Bar Trigona as it prepares to reopen after lockdown

You’d be right to think that is unusual to find one of the world’s most sustainable bars operating within the structure of a multinational hotel group. Bar Trigona occupies a space in Four Seasons Kuala Lumpur, but in terms of its thinking and ideas, its reach stretches far beyond the five-star walls.

Such has been the success of bar manager Ashish Sharma in driving forward Bar Trigona’s eco-credentials, he has started to influence global policy for the Four Seasons group, which has 117 properties in major cities dotted all over the globe. After progressing through the ranks in hotels across Asia, he now travels to sites across the world to promote sustainable practices and influence purchasing decisions. 

Sharma was part of the Manhattan bar team that won The Best Bar in Asia award in 2018 and has consistently achieved through his tenures in Mumbai, the Maldives and Singapore. Speaking to us in lockdown from his home in Kuala Lumpur, he’s excited that restrictions in the Malaysian capital are likely to be lifted soon. “This week has been a good one,” says Sharma. “First, I get the news that we have won the Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award again, and then we hear from the government that our Covid cases are lowering significantly and that we should be coming out of lockdown on 29th April.”

Team Bar Trigona

Each bar in the Asia’s 50 Best list has the opportunity to be audited by sustainability organisation Food Made Good Global to assess their principles agasinst a fixed set of criteria. Last year, Bar Trigona topped the list, narrowly beating Vijay Mudaliar’s Native. This year, Bar Trigona extended the gap, having introduced a hive of new programmes over the course of the past 12 months.

The bar takes its name from the stingless trigona honeybee that’s native to South East Asia. After a foraging trip introduced Sharma and his team to the sweet-sour nectar before they opened in 2018, not only did the bees lend the bar its moniker, but they acted as a tangible touchpoint that would go on to influence its sustainable efforts. “It has been great to learn more about the guys who harvest the honey from our unique bees,” says Sharma. “It gave us the idea to introduce a Save the Bees scheme, where guests to the bar can adopt a hive. For 500 ringgits ($150), you get a hive under your name and six jars of the trigona bees’ honey, which has a very high value. From the money raised, 100% goes to the farmers to build more hives and improve their cultivation.”

To further bring the bees to the fore, Bar Trigona’s team will also conduct impromptu honey flights with guests. “One of the team will pop over and offer people a tasting of the honey, free of charge,” says Sharma. “It’s a great and relaxed way to introduce a bit more about us, the bees and our concept. Out of 50 people we serve, maybe 10% show an interest. It doesn’t sound great, but I know that those five people will spread the word because they’re engaged – and that’s exactly how projects like these grow.”

The team has also implemented a new scheme that’s growing in traction across Asia called ecoSpirits. A relatively simple but extremely effective solution, it means that spirits the bar uses arrive in larger volumes – either 4.5 litres or 25 litres – and are decanted at the bar. “The numbers are astonishing when you look at them,” explains Sharma. “The average high-volume bar will throw away around 40,000 to 50,000 bottles a year. For the cost of each bottle, around 50% to 70% of the money is spent on bottling, packaging and transporting the produce – the liquid is actually very cheap in comparison.”

The bar world continues to push forward in its attempts to become more sustainable. Plastic straws are now a rarity everywhere from restaurants to cafes, while the majority of quality cocktail bars have a programme that looks to help them operate with a greater awareness of the environment. “Five years ago, no one had really heard about anything relating to sustainability,” says Sharma. “Now, people are popping up with all sorts of concepts and ideas and that’s what’s really exciting.

“Basically, we need to take sustainability into all aspects of our lifestyles. It’s a case of thinking about everything that you do each day and ask yourself the question: ‘If I continue doing these things, will my child or grandchild be able to this in 40 years’ time?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then what you are doing is not sustainable.”

A bar that is buzzing with new ideas to further its sustainability credentials, Bar Trigona is a worthy winner of the Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award 2020.

Be sure to tune into the 50 Best Bars YouTube channel to follow the virtual ceremony for Asia's 50 Best Bars on 14th May.