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Can zero waste cocktails save the world?

Eating & Drinking
Long read

Georgina Wilson-Powell

23 June 2017

In short probably not. But bored of self-righteous sustainable solutions, cult cocktail maker, Iain Griffiths, has channelled his DIY punk spirit into a zero waste tiki bar he's taking on the road to help change the drinks industry. Say cheers to Trash Tiki.

Iain Griffiths is off on a mission. It’s a mission with a ghoulish punk rock tour poster that looks more like a garage band from the 90s is coming to town. He’s had enough of the mountains of waste in the drinks industry. Single use ingredients, straws, napkins, plastic stirrers... cocktails aren’t exactly raising a toast to our environment’s future.

“I hate the word sustainability. It’s become ubiquitous, it makes people disengage and tune out. People imagine hippies debating environmental consciousness. But that’s not it at all. We’re angry, we listen to punk, we want to have fun, and we don’t want to wreck the planet. We created Trash Tiki to reflect all these things,” he says.

“It’s about anti-waste drinks that taste OK and won’t fuck the planet. We all know about the environment and that we should be doing more but we want to prove there’s no sacrifice in luxury and you can still spend your time having fun, without fucking stuff up.”

Hey, ho, let’s go

His concept Trash Tiki, a raucous pop up bar that makes zero waste and low impact cocktails from recipes he’s created, has become an international tour, taking in some of the most forward thinking cocktail bars in the world. Over the next year, Griffiths and his partner Kelsey Ramage, will be showcasing what can be done with hyper local ingredients, left over food waste and a healthy dose of ‘fuck it, let’s shake some stuff up’.

“It wasn’t even going to be a bar or a pop up,” Griffiths says. “Our industry has stopped listening to each other, it’s all about competition not collaboration. My partner and I wanted to make some cool zero waste recipes and put them online, we didn’t want to be a permanent place and be competition, otherwise bars aren’t going to learn from us and share.”

“But then we did a pop up and it was fun, we did a few more. We got a gig offered to us in Asia, then in North America and then one in South America and then we got drunk one night and thought we could tour the world with this, paying for it and organising it ourselves. So we sold everything and we’ve hit the road for 10 months.”

"It’s about anti-waste drinks that taste OK and won’t fuck the planet"

He acknowledges that there’s obviously an environmental effect in travelling the world.

“We’re not experts but we’re carbon offsetting the flights. But at what point do you stop living your life? That’s not what this is about. 

I don’t want to charge for helping to grow social consciousness,” he adds. “The first thing people usually ask is, 'Who’s paying for it?' Well, we are. We’re partnering with a brand in America but they’re helping with marketing rather than paying us as we suck at that. We pay our own supplies and then it’s a profit share with the bar. It’s like the Vans model for bands…”

Trash Tiki’s world tour started with a bang with an invitation to host a pop up at James Beard Week in Chicago in May with the city's awesome Broken Shaker bar.

“They’ve got a new menu of by-product cocktail drinks, so they’re hopefully going to keep some of ours on the menu too.”

Trash Tiki's a zero waste pop up on a world tour

Doing good is not the same as being good. Trash Tiki's a whole heap of fun.

Let’s talk about waste baby

Every Trash Tiki night has the potential to be different (“Well, there’ll be punk music and a blow up doll” admits Griffiths). The couple will use ingredients specific to the city as well as the usual suspects when it comes to bars’ waste products - pineapple skins and lemon husks.

“Here we make an almond croissant spirit with the old croissants from a bakery across the street. We’re looking at a ramen shop when we’re at Houston, Texas and in New York we’re at Mission Chinese so it’ll be great to see what waste products they have.”

Trash Tiki's zero waste cocktail line up
“If people would stop stealing shit from bars, it would be better. Then you’d have metal straws and beermats that you didn’t use once and throw away”

Straws suck ok?

Changing the ingredients is only half the battle. It’s estimated that America uses 500 million straws a day. And that’s just America. Every single one takes 200 years to break down. The cocktail industry plays a big part in all of that.

“Lipstick and crushed ice, they’re the only reasons you need straws in cocktails,” says Griffiths. “You’d need lips like Angelina Jolie to get anything from crushed ice without a straw, but we need to look at waste. If people would stop stealing shit from bars, it would be better. Then you’d have metal straws and beermats that you didn’t use once and throw away. But the age old rule is that if it’s not nailed down it’s going to be stolen.”

Griffiths wants that to change. He’s looking into bamboo straws and then will open source the results alongside his zero waste cocktail recipes and anything else he finds. In his eyes, this is about sharing information and helping an entire industry change its plastic habits.

“Our recipes are online - go and do better,” he challenges.” We’re laying a foundation and changing the industry. Think you can go and do better then go and do it. We want to reach a point where people are copying us so Trash Tiki isn’t needed any more.”

Trash Tiki's Iain Griffiths making zero waste cocktails

This ain't no fancy pouring. It's about fun, garish, spirit soaked drinks with a punk rock attitude

#Drinklikeyougiveafuck

Griffiths has got serious cocktail form. Half of the award-winningly inventive White Lyan and Dandelyon team (with Ryan Chetiyawardana from Mr Lyan), he oversaw their involvement in Dan Barber and Selfridges’ WastED programme in the spring. He and his team put a zero waste cocktail in front of 6,000 people in six weeks and he found an unlikely partner in Patron tequila after first approaching them to use their leftover agave fibres to make paper. They flew him out to see their ultra-sustainable, collaborative tequila production site in Mexico and a seed was planted in his consciousness.

“I was wildly sceptical about everything they said before I went out there, but I’m used to brands competing for everything. When I was there I saw they’re really co-operative.”

"A lot of people come in and expect the five minute explanation and lovely service. We’re a Tiki pop up, it’s loud, it’s busy, we can explain it if you really want but they’re just good drinks"

He then partnered with them again for their Secret Dining Society that also brought in zero waste chef Douglas McMaster from Silo in Brighton for a series of pop up suppers.

But if cocktail lovers are expecting his previous fancy mixologist shtick at Trash Tiki, they’ve got another thing coming.

“We did one in Edinburgh recently and made 400 cocktails in three hours and got three noise complaints,” he says. “A lot of people come in and expect the five minute explanation and lovely service. We’re a Tiki pop up, it’s loud, it’s busy, we can explain it if you really want but they’re just good drinks.”

It’s time to #drinklikeyougiveafuck. We’ll cheers to that.

Want to join in? Here are the Trash Tiki tour dates.

Feeling thirsty? Check out our review of Nine Lives - a zero waste cocktail bar in London.

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