Trash Tiki: Sustainable Cocktails With Attitude
Trash Tiki is the travelling popup bar and online movement of Dandelyan alumni Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage. Giving sustainability a punk makeover, the pair aim to reduce waste in bars. We caught up with them as they prepared for the next leg of their world tour.
“Admittedly, we didn’t make it easy for ourselves with our big BCB party,” says Ramage, a bubbly, blue-haired Canadian. After hosting the BCB version of their Trash Tiki talk (and the all-important mid-BCB party), we meet in London. They’re about to head to South America and Australia, where they’ll be for the foreseeable future. The only European return date on their agenda is one year away, at next year’s BCB. “It’s weird to say goodbye to people when we don’t know when we’ll see them next,” Ramage says with a sigh.
Trash Tiki: Back to the start
If you’re unaware of what’s taking these two talented bartenders zigzagging across the globe, prepare to have your expectations about sustainability turned upside down. Trash Tiki is a surprise bartending phenomenon – a roadshow devoted to cocktails made out of waste products, one that eschews preaching in favor of punk and espouses #drinklikeyougiveafuck as their slogan.
Working together in London’s Dandelyan on the pioneering bar’s third menu – Griffiths is a co-founder of the Mr Lyan group, and Ramage was the then-head bartender – they’d learned a lot through Dandelyan’s focus on sustainability. But they felt like things could be improved. Their lightbulb moment came in mid-2016 on seeing a whole host of lime husks in the bin and thinking, ‘does that have to all go to waste?’
“It was originally just meant to be an online reference point for bartenders,” says Griffiths. The duo decided to host their first popup in London in October 2016, at the Spirit of Tiki showcase at the Langham London, without a name for the project or any idea of where it was going. One of their offsiders spray painted “Trash Tiki” onto a piece of cardboard and pinned it to the wall. From that point onwards, things skyrocketed and they were soon planning a world tour. “Things got out of hand really quickly,” Griffiths says, laughing.
Sustainability, Cocktails, and a Punk Rock Attitude
As Griffiths and Ramage explained in their bartender-focused talk at BCB – which included recipes for eight different classics, from the Trash [Mai] Tai to the Piña Colada – there are many ways to use waste in your cocktails. Unappetizing dried almond croissants and matcha cake from local cafes come in handy. Avocado pits, too. Griffiths and Ramage also advise you to keep your egg yolks. Just avoid cherry pits – unless you want cyanide in your cocktail.
Trash Tiki admits following all the rules is extreme – but why not go for one or two things? “It’s our end game that everybody attending picks up some aspects of our talk and implements it,” says Ramage. All recipes featured are also available on their website, alongside some funky Trash Tiki merch.
Although sustainability is obviously an important topic for bars to consider, sustainability has yet to shed its impractical, hippyish image. Trash Tiki has traded kaftans for tattoos and a brash swagger. The pair admit they can be somewhat profane – “our parents complain we swear a lot” – but say the harsh language is a way of demystifying sustainability. “We can be blunt and rude, but we are honest,” Griffiths says. Their Trash Tiki popups also feature punk music blaring from the speakers and, defying tiki stereotypes, a range of gin cocktails. In their minds, tiki needn’t be so rum-focused. As well as being sustainable, attending a Trash Tiki popup is a rollicking night out with rich, flavorful cocktails.
“Do you not think we’ve missed the boat with cocktails?” Ramage asks, thinking about the way the bar industry communicates with its audience, particularly about sustainability. Unsurprisingly, she thinks there’s room to try something different. It’s a fair point. Cocktail drinkers rarely show the level of enthusiasm for sustainable creations that beer geeks do. “Craft beer, in the way it talks to its customers, exceeds cocktails 10:1,” Ramage says. Griffiths sounds a note of caution, in typically vulgar style: “Well, not everybody, obviously – I fucking hate Brewdog.”
Sustainability Saves, But Money Talks
The Trash Tiki talk at BCB was the latest version of a presentation that’s been refined for over a year now. It’s particularly notable for its focus on economics as much as ecology – and how you can save money following the Trash Tiki tricks. “It’s a twofold thing,” Ramage says. “What we realized early on, is that the biggest question is ‘why.’ We have to appeal to bartenders who want to save the environment, but they have to talk to their bosses too.”
Sustainability issues are still prominent in their minds – they drop the shocking statistic that the UK spends more than £1 million per year on bar napkins – but saving money is something every bar owner is keen to do. “You could be a complete asshole, but it will still appeal to you,” Ramage says. They’ve got some impressive data to back it up. In the Trash Tiki presentation at BCB, they claimed bar owners can save €6000 per year by following their zero-waste recipes for the classics.
But as for sustainability beyond the bar, surely flying around the world leaves the pair with a big carbon footprint. “We are talking about carbon emissions with companies and charities, to which you pay money for carbon offsetting,” Ramage explains. “Then we will pay the money at the end of the tour.”
Thinking about the carbon footprint, Griffiths sighs. “It’s not perfect,” he says. “But this is the best way to get into people’s faces, to go one-on-one.” Ramage nods in approval and says they skip air travel when they can. “We also take trains and cars sometimes, but that’s also because by this point we are so bored of airports,” she says, smiling.
Trash Tiki’s Growing Fan Base
The Trash Tiki project seems to be working – and on a global scale. There’s one bar that they single out. The Chicago outpost of Broken Shaker has put together an entire menu of sustainable cocktails made using the waste generated by the drinks on their main menu. “We even went down and helped them out,” says Griffiths.
The duo receive “around 10-15 emails a week,” with people saying they decided to try different aspects of their program. There’s the bartender from Auckland who, inspired by them, implemented an entire anti-waste staff training system. Or there’s the guy in Curaçao, who runs a tiki restaurant, and actually uses Trash Tiki’s zero-waste Curaçao cocktail. Ramage beams. “We’re stoked by the response.”
The Trash Tiki duo can’t travel forever. Or perhaps they can. Their playful friendship – “we haven’t killed each other yet!” – seems to be another of their sustainable creations. Griffiths admits they’d like something in bricks and mortar soon, most likely in the US. But they can’t say when. Or in which city. What they can say for sure is that their punk-inflected war on waste isn’t slowing down any time soon.
Foto: Photo via Trash Tiki.