When life hands you lemons, add some zest to your cocktail. Then, reuse the rind. That’s the message of Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage, two trash-talking bartenders from London who founded Trash Tiki in order to expand our global conversation about food waste. The duo has spent the better part of the last year traveling the globe serving up delicious, custom cocktails that incorporate what would otherwise be discarded food items like used coffee grounds and upcycled fruit rinds.
To learn more about what makes Trash Tiki tick, we caught up with Ramage as she and Griffiths ready for another burst of pop-ups throughout Australia.
GREEN MATTERS: You saw firsthand the wastefulness of bar culture. Was there one particular aspect that bothered you the most?
RAMAGE: There were honestly a lot of different things. Iain and I both come from countries with great waste and recycling programs, so moving to one that did not have the same systems in place—also, seeing many cities all over the world now that struggle with waste management—was pretty eye-opening. We were really just seeing the massive amount of waste produced in cocktail bars on a nightly basis, that's where it all started.
These fruits for a lot of bars need to be shipped long distances. To just use them for 15 milliliters of juice and toss them seemed a bit wasteful. We want to do away with what we call "single-use ingredients" in favor of making use of fruits two, three or four times before we toss 'em. It make sense for our environment, but also saves the bar money in the long run!
The basis of your cocktails lies in the idea of stretching the full potential of flavors from every ingredient. It seems like a sensible, obvious idea that would be beneficial for cocktails—but also for preparing meals at home. Why do you think this basic concept is lost on so many people?
The idea has been around in food for centuries, born first out of necessity but then became this idea of nose-to-tail cooking, or root-to-fruit, using everything before throwing it out. A lot of drink culture follows food and cooking so it was a natural progression; especially since the drinks industry is finally listening and trying to change its formerly wasteful ways. It's really good that people are finally listening and changing the way they make drinks.
Besides your efforts to reuse ingredients like coffee grounds and fruit peels, how do you work to reduce other waste behind the bar, such as those obnoxious cocktail napkins and straws?
Really we use these waste challenges as a jumping off point for inspiration. A great chef who we both know and respect said, "Waste is just a lack of imagination." If you don’t wait to use cocktail napkins, then start by looking to what is available around you in your environment to look for something reusable or compostable. In Singapore there was a bar using lotus leaves cut into circles. Obviously that wouldn't work in London, but you could have fabric ones made. There is also a supplier out of Brighton that is making coasters from old plastic bags. We try to use bamboo straws whenever we can, depending on location. It's really about using what is available to you and being creative with it.
What is your favorite Trash Tiki drink?
In each city, we change the menu, based on what would-be waste is available to us. There was one that made an appearance on many of our menus: the JB Gin Swaz. It's a take on a jungle bird but using more delicate flavors, gin and tepache. Here's the recipe, you can find recipes for the ingredients on our website www.trashtikisucks.com
7.5ml Blackstrap Rum
20ml Tepache Cordial (1:1 Tepache and sugar)
15ml Lime Stock
Build on crushed ice in a highball glass, churn. Garnish with a bamboo straw and a pineapple leaf.
Have you had to deal with any negativity regarding your efforts to make things better?
We did have some tiki-shirted naysayers at the beginning saying that we "weren't really tiki," or some people questioning our methods. But we haven't really engaged that side. The people who are driving the industry forward, getting on board and making those changes in their bars, however small, are the ones who are truly inspiring to us. The response from the industry has been amazing.
We are now seeing people tagging us in their cocktail programs on Instagram, either using our recipes or creating their own ways of making use of multi-use ingredients and reducing their bar's consumption. That’s the cool s**t and it's happening everywhere. It's amazing.
Any notes from the road you'd like to share? What has tour been like so far?
We have been everywhere! From six cities in Asia to the North America tour, then to Mexico back to London and Berlin, to now in South America. Initially, being on the road was an adjustment to say the least. You crave being back somewhere you can unpack but somewhere along the line that feeling faded. Getting to see this many cities, we get excited about seeing each one, especially now that the tour has slowed down a little.
A piece of advice and something we did, was make time every two or three cities to have a break time, shut off and just explore (or sleep!). We have put taking care of ourselves before anything else.
There have been a lot of cities that have really amazing cocktail scenes that we weren't expecting too, especially in South America. We are definitely grateful we have had time to check them out in each city. We can't wait to come back here next year.
What have you noticed about people showing up for your tour? What is it about Trash Tiki people seem most enamored with?
Trash Tiki has really been gaining traction among the bar community since we started; and seminars are getting bigger, which is amazing. I think because we post everything on our website, we are completely open-sourced and are just a pop-up (i.e. not competition for anyone in their bars), no one is threatened by it at all. Questions come in pretty freely... the response has been great!
We get a good bunch of bartenders that come in before or after their shifts, which is awesome, but also more and more we are getting customers who sometimes have heard of us through an article they read and want to come down and see what we're all about. Because we also take over spaces that are already operational bars, we get a good amount of their regular guests who haven't heard about what we're doing, but the response from them has been really positive as well.
We explain the concept if someone asks, but you can also come down to our pop-ups and just have a great time, have a couple of drinks and leave it at that. We're certainly not pretentious and really just want to have some fun with this notion of sustainability.