Bars are trash-generating enterprises, producing waste by doing everything from underutilizing ingredients (squeezing citrus fruits only once, for example, before throwing them away) to contributing to the half-billion plastic straws thrown out in the U.S. each day.
Two top London-based bartenders are seeking to remedy that, shaking up the bar industry by bringing attention to waste reduction and sustainability. Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffiths are the minds behind Trash Tiki, and are currently in the middle of a year-long global tour, doing pop-ups and inspiring local bartenders by demonstrating how an average bar or restaurant’s waste and scraps can be reused to create interesting cocktails. They’re making fun drinks presented in an irreverant way, lightening up the sometimes-too-serious world of craft cocktails and teaching bartenders around the world how to use ingredients that would otherwise go to waste.
It all started when they were both working for Ryan Chetiyawardana, whose award-winning bars emphasize environmental sustainability. Griffiths helped open White Lyan in 2013 (it’s since been replaced by Super Lyan and Cub, which both follow similar sustainability ideals), which shocked London’s cocktail world by eschewing both ice and citrus, instead pre-batching and -chilling cocktails—which, reportedly, reduced the bar’s trash production to just one bag a week. Ramage, meanwhile, was at Dandelyan. “Even though they have multi-use ingredients already in place,” says Ramage, “we were servicing a massive, massive amount that was being thrown away on a daily basis.” It made the pair wonder, How much might an average bar in London be throwing away, and how could this amount be reduced? “We wanted to do away with squeezing a lime once and then throwing it out,” continues Ramage. “We wanted to show people that you can still have flavor; we might call it trash, but it’s new levels of flavor.”
Ramage and Griffiths worked as beverage directors alongside chef Dan Barber at his enormously successful WastED pop-up in London, which similarly sought to show how to minimize food waste, and afterwards embarked on a world tour which is expected to keep going through next spring. It’s in conjunction with The 86 Co, a liquor company that is itself focused on environmental and social concerns.
The goal of the tour is to inspire their bar-industry colleagues to start experimenting themselves, to demonstrate that it’s possible to create fun drinks while repurposing ingredients in new ways.
“Everything we’re trying to do is about finding another purpose” for each ingredient, says Griffiths, “so that we can use it a second or a third time.” To this duo, there’s no such thing as scraps. When limes are juiced, their husks are used to make cordials. Herb stems are employed to infuse alcohol.
In keeping with the sustainability aspect, the Trash Tiki tour is minimizing waste of all kinds: there are no printed menus; the drinks list goes up on the Trash Tiki Instagram account a short time in advance. Coasters and signage are from repurposed cardboard. The drinks are served in glass or metal containers, with reusable bamboo straws. Garnishes range from fruit leather (made from, yes, fruit that would otherwise be destined for a landfill) to, in keeping with the tiki theme, standard paper cocktail umbrellas. “They’re made from recycled Chinese newspapers,” says Griffiths when I ask about these. I guess you learn something new every day.
The drinks menu changes at each pop-up location, and is tailored to the host venue and the ingredients the Trash Tiki pair can repurpose. At Mission Chinese in NYC, for instance, drinks included a Jungle Bird-like concoction made with pineapple skins and lime husks. Another used ginger pulp, lemon husks, and spent coffee grounds.
Trash Tiki gives recipes for repurposed cocktail ingredients on its website—it tells exactly what to do with those pineapple husks. Or, for instance, you can learn how to make a citrus stock made with limes that have already been juiced, or a nutty orgeat made from almond croissants that a cafe might otherwise have tossed at the end of the day.
The duo respect that reducing waste isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition; even a small change can make a huge impact. “The idea is, we’re the extreme example of what can be done,” says Griffiths. “So even if bartenders take one little recipe and bring it back to their bar, they then start to understand that the 20 percent change in their impact is the most important thing.”
But ideally, in the future, the only thing that’ll get wasted at a bar…is you.
Remaining stops on the North American segment of the Trash Tiki tour:
August 23, The Skip, Detroit
August 25-27, Lost Lake, Chicago
August 29, Navy Strength, Seattle
September 2-3, The Diamond, Vancouver
September 6-7, Honeycut, Los Angeles
September 24-26, Mexico City (venue unspecified)