trash tiki
Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage founded Trash Tiki to make sustainable drinking a whole lot more fun. (Photo: Josh Brasted.)

Bartenders Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage aren’t afraid to say their drinks are made of trash. In fact, they tour the world, popping up in bars and restaurants as a duo named Trash Tiki.

Formally of Mr. Lyan and Dandelyan (which was just awarded the World’s Best Bar title at this year’s Tales of a Cocktail), respectively, Griffiths and Ramage have done away with the ultra-posh lounges and are asking host venues for their garbage. Juiced-out citrus husks and discarded pineapple skins are given a second chance to be consumed by thirsty bar-goers. And it doesn’t stop at simply pouring drinks. Ramage and Griffiths also offer seminars for industry folk to further talk about anti-waste and sustainability, because what fun is it if you’re the only ones at the party? After touring through Asia and Europe, Trash Tiki set out for U.S. and Canada for the summer in partnership with Fords Gin. (Check out their site for tour dates.)

We sat down with Ramage and Griffiths in New York City, where they called Mission Chinese Food home for two nights, to talk about how they feel about sustainability, how to incorporate avocado pits into drinks and what the word “trash” translates to in Korean.

Where did the idea for Trash Tiki come from?
KR: It came from when Iain was working for Mr. Lyan and I was working at Dandelyan. They’re both sustainability-focused bars already. We were seeing what we’re throwing away on a nightly basis, even having some of those practices in place, and it was pretty astronomical. We thought we could do something with that, and we wanted to show a way to travel and change the model of how a guest chef works. Instead of having the brand pay for everything, we do a revenue share with the venue, meaning we usually take a back room that’s not being used or on a little bit of a slower night like a Sunday or Monday, so it benefits everybody.

How do you source your ingredients? Do they always come from the venues?
IG: It’s different in every city. In New York, Mission Chinese Food is a restaurant, so it hasn’t got as much of the typical waste that you see at a bar. A lot of the time it ends up being a collaborative effort. For this pop-up, we had waste from Mission Chinese, but we also have [stuff from] PDT, Sunday in Brooklyn, Dutch Kills and Diamond Reef. Then we’ve also had some commercial businesses that were also happy to give us trash as well. We had Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur give us their ginger waste and the guys from White Moustache, which is a yogurt company down in Red Hook, gave us whey from their production as well. It changes all the time. In Miami, we were able to get all that waste from The Anderson, which was great. [Bigger] cities will have a more collaborative effort like in Hong Kong, where we had nine bars donate waste. There isn’t really a formula to it.

What does typical waste in bars and restaurants look like?
KR: We always see citrus husks that are leftover from juicing. That’s the number one single-purpose ingredient bars will bring in, use it once and then chuck it away. We use the husks from that in a couple of different ways. We make something called stocks and that’s where we take them, boil them down for about five minutes, reduce that water by half and add a little bit of sugar and acid from there so you get something that resembles citrus but it’s a lot more fragrant and it’s a little different. We use pineapple husks and pulp to make cordials. We can use whatever pulp to make cordials, or syrups or little bit of added flavors. We ferment the skins from pineapples into tepache, which is a traditional Mexican recipe.

IG: We also always have avocado pits, which is always a nice one. It seems a bit weird, but they bring a lot of nuttiness and texture to a drink, which in Tiki drinks is pretty traditional.

How are you using the avocado pits?
KR: We give them a little toast on a stovetop, we’ll cut them into little bits and it’s really nice to fuse back into rum. At this pop-up we’ve done an orgeat, which is usually made with almond but we’ve done the same method, we just replaced the almond with avocado pit.

 Add some anarchy and intense party vibes to it all. We’ve done parties where we made 600 cocktails in a single night. I think it’s fair to say that part of that is because people drink a lot faster when they’ve got the Sex Pistols and all these other bands kind of screaming in their face for all of it.

What’s the weirdest ingredient you’ve put in a cocktail?
KR: We’ve done a number of things that kind of come along the way. A lot of weird and wonderful things came from the Asia leg of the tour. We were sitting at the bar right before the pop-up in Hong Kong and the bartender came over with this snake wine, which is usually used in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s kind of like a vermouth. It’s been infused.

IG: Yeah, it’s got a vermouth or chartreuse element to it all. It’s not really a waste product, but it’s pretty cool. In Seoul, we got access to this berry called the omija berry. Omija means “five,” so this berry stimulates all five senses. It’s incredible. We got to make a grenadine syrup out of that. That was unreal. In Seoul, as well, we had a purple cactus, which was really weird, but we got to make this frozen purple tequila slushie, which was really cool.

KR: It was really good.

Is there a single drink that you’ve made on tour that you’d want to remake?
KR: We do have a couple that seem to follow us around.

IG: We’ve made a real focus of the North America tour of doing a lot of gin tiki drinks. I think a lot of people associate tiki with that sweet, sugary puree kind of flavor, but there are a lot of more delicate elements in there. That’s kind of why we’re doing gin tiki because our drinks come out more delicate and balanced on the fresher side. Gin actually pairs with it all really well. The Jungle Bird is like a super-classic tiki drink, usually made with rum, but we’ve come to do that always with our tepache, Campari and using one of the Ford’s Gin, brings out a wider, more elegant side in the whole drink.

So, you guys have done tours in Asia and Europe, now in North America. Have you experienced different attitudes towards sustainability in the different places?
IG: [laughs] Well, it turns out when we got to South Korea there actually isn’t a word in the language for “sustainability” or “environmental consciousness.” That made our presentation pretty difficult. Also, “trash” translates into a word more offensive than “fuck.” Once we got there, it turned out that was a really big challenge to talk about who we were without offending everyone. [laughs]

KR: It wasn’t really a new idea there. They reuse a lot of ingredients inherently because of their food and their culture. After the war they were using a lot of whatever resources were available. So, it’s already part of their culture. But to use it in bars and not just food was a pretty new idea. It was really well-received, even from the people coming into the bar. We take over the space completely, so the bar doesn’t sell their regular drinks. People are sort of forced to either have one and learn about the idea or just have beer or leave. [laughs]

IG: That interaction invokes some really interesting results. In Singapore, there’s a local Whatsapp [group] for it that every single bartender’s a member of. So, we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of bartenders. They’ve always used that to communicate about what bar is doing what event and who’s in town at the moment. By virtue of doing this, they’ve suddenly turned it around and now they’re using it as a base of going, “Hey, I have this waste product. Who would want to use it right now?” Which, seeing things like that, it’s fantastic. It’s brilliant to see that it’s resonated with the community enough that they’re all sharing that ideology.

There’s a punk vibe to you guys. Veganism and other causes resonate in punk culture as well. What do you think it is about the punk community that lends itself this sort of activism?
KR: Yeah, it does kind of all falls into it. The reason that we did it, it’s something we’re both into, but it’s also a way to make it fun. I think a lot of bartenders hear the word “sustainability” and because it’s so commonly used in branding or like trying to sell you something, that it’s become a little boring and dead and just this overused marketing buzzword. What we want to do is make it tangible and give people an actual fun event to come down to.

IG: Yeah, like the whole, “Oo come down to this really sustainable cocktail bar.” That’s dull and boring as hell. We were like, “Well, if we’re going to do this and travel the world, then let’s do something that’s very true to who we are. Let’s do it as punk.” That’s something where we can swear and be ourselves. I mean, you couldn’t ever write “Drink like you give a fuck” on a menu at Dandelyan. It’s also a chance for us to step out and show a lot of who we are and sort of charge the industry with like, we don’t always have to be this polished and perfect experience every single time. Add some anarchy and intense party vibes to it all. We’ve done parties where we made 600 cocktails in a single night. I think it’s fair to say that part of that is because people drink a lot faster when they’ve got the Sex Pistols and all these other bands kind of screaming in their face for all of it. It’s always turned to be a lot of fun.

Do you have any deep-seeded feelings about sustainability and environmentalism?
IG: [laughs] We actually fit this in our second slide of our presentation, but we kind of want to kill sustainability. I guess one of our biggest deep-seeded emotions is that it’s a boring, shitty word. It has no resonance with a bartender.

KR: It has no actual meaning. If you can think about one thing that you can apply sustainability to, it crosses so many facets that it doesn’t actually mean anything.

IG: As a bartender, we have to arm ourselves with our interest of work, we have to step back and rest the psychology of what is anti-waste, what is environmental consciousness and then go out there and recreate our own rules, because “sustainability” has no meaning. You can’t say it to a guest. Guests go, “Oo, yeah that’s great.” We have to kill that word and create our own language around it all so that guests are interested in it. Chefs in the kitchen have been sustainable for years and years and years, but they’ve never had to use that word. They just are incorporating better practices and using every single ingredient multiple times. Bartenders need to step away from that word as a marketing tool and start going out there and doing our thing. We need to be anti-waste.