Vancouver-born Kelsey Ramag, 32, and Aussie Iain Griffiths, 30, met worlds away from their hometowns when they were both working at the iconic (and posh af) London bar Dandelyan. It was here that they began to notice the insane amount of waste the bar could make in a single night of service—and the duo figured they likely weren’t the only ones binning so much rubbish.
That’s when they stirred up a new scheme—and Trash Tiki took shape. As the name implies, the initiative schools bartenders and other industry insiders about how to make bars more sustainable, while still keeping all fun and creativity alive in crafting killer cocktails.
In partnership with Ford’s Gin, Trash Tiki is one part informative tutorial—in which Ramag and Griffiths visit local bars to teach their crews environmentally-friendly recipes, made with everyday kitchen items that would otherwise be thrown out—and another part pop-up bar featuring all their unique cocktails (recipes are available on their website, so you can try them at home).
On offer? Drinks like Trash Tiki’s “Penthouse Smash,” which features “peach pulp beer sizz,” made from a combination of bruised peaches too ugly to use on their own, their take on a simple syrup and flat beer, often collected from the tap overflow of the bar.
We know what you thinking: but what is drinking fruits, citrus and herbs that are destined for the bin actually like in practice? FLARE hit up the Trash Tiki pop-up in Toronto at LoPan cocktail bar (an extension of Asian fusion resto, DaiLo), to see if these cocktails tasted like garbage—spoiler alert—they don’t. In fact, they’re delicious. You’re going to want to make yours a double.
Here, Ramag and Griffiths told us more about their strategy for sustainability while we sipped some trash cocktails.
How did Trash Tiki start?
Griffiths: We kept talking about the insane amount of waste that our bar was producing, and one thing led to the other. It seemed like we both had a real passion about it, and it seemed like something no one was talking about in the drink world. The food world had been talking about sustainability for awhile, but there wasn’t anyone really creating knowledge which everyone could access.
Ramag: We noticed that the drinks industry is developing to a point where there’s more fresh ingredients and more technique being used. We saw a lot of bartenders trying to do certain techniques, but failing to execute them properly. So we started to create a base of recipes that bartenders could continuously go back and reference.
Can you talk about any unconventional ingredients you’re using?
Ramag: Now that we’re on the road, every three or four days, we know we’re going to be in a kitchen, so we challenge ourselves to bring in a new ingredient. In this tour, we really nailed using avocado pits as an orgeat—orgeat being a classic Tiki ingredient using almonds and having that really rich, nutty flavour. Avocados are now on menus around the world, but few people know that the pits themselves have so much flavour and so much potential.
Why do you think its taken so long sustainability to hit the bar scene?
Griffiths: Chefs have been executing sustainable practices in the kitchen for decades now, and we simply haven’t in bars, and we believe it’s a financial aspect. Kitchens have much leaner margins, so when you bring something into your restaurant, you figure out how to get as much flavour (and as much money) as possible.
Ramag: In the bar world, you don’t have those lean margins. Sometimes, you have double the earning capability of the kitchen, so you become a lot more frivolous with what you throw out. That bled into an entire sub-cocktail culture around the world that has single-use ingredients.
Griffiths: We believe that, although financially, it’s not a concern, we should still aim to be as sustainable as possible.
How do you come up with new recipes?
Ramag: With both of us coming from Dandeylan, where all the drinks require some sort of prep and some sort of knowledge about how to properly extract flavour, we both had that knowledge already. All the drinks we make at our pop-up are rooted in classic Tiki drinks, and while we were looking at some of those recipes, we were asking ourselves: “How do we make this out of something we already have, instead of buying something new?” So we’re not so much inventing new drinks as we are reinventing classics.
Do you ever need to change your menu to fit the ingredients that you’re provided at each new venue?
Ramag: Here in Toronto, for example, the guys at DaiLo did save some of their lemon and lime husks for us, but they don’t have a ton of different things. If we ever look at what we’re given and see that we don’t have enough flavours going on, we’ll reach out to nearby coffee shops or other bars and get the community involved, which has been a very fun part of the project.
Griffiths: In Hong Kong, we held our pop-up in a little punk dive bar that was maybe squeezing six lemons and limes each night—they didn’t have that much waste because a lot of people would just come in for beers and spirit mixes. So, the bar put the call out to the Hong Kong community and it was absolutely nuts. There were guys walking out of their bar with tubs of pineapple skins and whatever else they had lying around, walking into the bar to drop it off and say hi. When we landed, we were like “We have no waste, what the f-ck are we gonna use? It’s 36 hours until the pop-up starts” and in those 36 hours, everyone showed up.
Do most people react positively to Trash Tiki?
Ramag: Definitely, and we do notice in the seminars how people come together and want to talk to each other about how to further the sustainability conversation in their communities, which is really cool. You always get a bit of skepticism—I mean, we are the extreme example, since everything is made out of a waste product (except spirit sugar and acid). We definitely get questions or sideways looks, but usually by the end of the seminar—once we’ve explained exactly what we’re doing—people have a real understanding and some level of inspiration, whether it’s a recipe to take home for their own bar or a further understanding of sustainability on the whole.
Griffiths: We see a lot of everyone just nodding and being like, yeah, you’re right. This isn’t a new idea, this isn’t our idea—previous generations just did this naturally. This is much more a re-learning of something everybody did from previous generations. We usually just need to step back and take a minute to realize we’ve become victims of our own convenience.