Let’s get one thing out of the way: Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage, the bartenders behind low impact pop-up bar Trash Tiki are not dumpster divers.
It’s a common misconception the cocktails at Melbourne-based Trash Tiki are made with ingredients found in a bin.
“The biggest thing everyone always wonders is whether or not we’ve gone rifling through a dumpster,” says Griffiths.
“We haven’t, just to clarify,” says Ramage.
What they have done, quite successfully, is alter the perception that sustainability can only be sought in what we eat, how we dress or how much water we conserve around the house. Bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts can aim to incorporate sustainable practices into the business of drinking, too.
"I think the biggest thing everyone always wonders is whether or not we’ve gone rifling through a dumpster...we haven't, just to clarify."
According to Griffiths and the Ramage, the idea for Trash Tiki came from long, whisky-fuelled conversations after shifts at London hotel bar Dandelyan about how they could take waste-reduction practices to the extreme.
After a series of collaborations with prestigious chefs (including New York chef Dan Barber who co-owns Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns) – during which sustainability in food was always the primary focus – the pair decided to make a go of it.
“Food and drink are intrinsically linked in our society and it’s about getting people to think about it in that everyday sense,” Griffiths says. “Trash Tiki is about demystifying waste reduction.
“A lot of people perceive a lot of this as being quite difficult. First, it’s actually not – it’s just about not throwing stuff in the bin, and [instead], considering whether there are other uses for it. It’s a common sense, everyday attitude towards reducing your impact.”
"It's just about not throwing stuff in the bin, and [instead], considering whether there are other uses for it."
What started as an online platform to share recipes with other bartenders looking for ways to lower their impact during a shift has since morphed into a fully-fledged pop up bar, currently making its way through a six-city Australia-New Zealand tour alongside whisky brand Jim Beam.
So how do 'trash' cocktails actually work?
“We’ll go into a city and reach out to the bars by asking what kind of stuff they’re throwing away over a normal weekend prep,” says Ramage.
“We’ll ask them to keep it and on Sunday or Monday we’ll get to it fresh and make whatever we can from it.”
One bar’s trash is Trash Tiki’s treasure, it seems. After assessing what they’ve scored and doing their best to flavour match, Griffiths and Ramage craft drinks, like watermelon-rind spritzes and apple daiquiris.
"We feel like bars should just have waste-reduction practices incorporated into regular conversation and regular prep processes."
“If we don’t know what to do with something that we’ve found, we just cover it in sugar because sugar absorbs all the liquid and contains the flavour,” says Ramage.
It’s a process that ignites the fire of creativity in the two bartenders, but there’s a method to the madness.
“If we’re popping up at an existing venue, we’ll figure out what kind of drinks they usually serve because as much as we want to stimulate conversation around food waste, it’s still going to have to meet the expectations of the average person going to drink there,” Griffiths says.
It’s how the pair can go from a “swanky ass” venue in Bogota, Colombia, to a dive bar in Sydney’s CBD without missing a beat.
The ultimate goal for the Trash Tiki team is for the bar not to exist, and Griffiths readily admits this is quite possibly the worst business model in the world.
“We feel like bars should just have waste-reduction practices incorporated into regular conversation and regular prep processes,” Ramage says.
“We’ve seen a lot of bars using our tips across their venues, but there’s still a long way to go.”
“Part of that is getting the consumer along as well,” says Griffiths.
“That’s why we’ve partnered with chefs and with brands like Jim Beam. It’s about getting people to incorporate [waste reduction] as a lifestyle choice rather than just when they’re throwing parties.”
Trash Tiki are currently in Melbourne prepping for their pop-up at small bar Beneath Driver Lane. From there, they’ll travel to Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney before jetting over to North America and Canada. See a full list of tour dates on the Trash Tiki website.