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Low-Waste Cocktails Are the Next Big Thing

Bartenders are getting creative with their trash

Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffiths at a Trash Tiki pop-up in New Orleans.
Photo by Josh Brasted / Trash Tiki
Monica Burton is the deputy editor of Eater.com.

They may not be advertising it to patrons — there’s nothing like the word “sustainable” to kill a buzz — but, the cocktail world is paying attention to its impact on the environment. As the conversation around food waste reaches a fever pitch, thanks to leaders of the movement like chef Dan Barber, environmentally-conscious bartenders are spreading the word on cocktail waste and implementing changes that go beyond swapping out plastic straws.

The cocktail industry is particularly wasteful, in part because cocktails make use of only parts of produce, according to acclaimed mixologist Matt Whiley, who opened his London bar Scout four months ago with a focus on local produce and reducing waste. “If more bars and restaurants actually spoke to each other there could be ways of actually minimizing [waste] by taking things from other people,” he says. Easy opportunities for reducing waste are as simple as donating the egg yolks leftover from whiskey sours to a pastry chef who could use them.

Bartenders Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage are trying to make that kind of communication happen — at least among fellow bartenders. The London-based duo is in the midst of a multi-city Trash Tiki tour to encourage bartenders all over the world to think about ingredient use. At each location on the 28-stop tour, Griffiths and Ramage collect ingredients for new, anti-waste tiki cocktails. (“Anti-waste” because “we really fucking hate the word ‘sustainability,’” Griffiths says.)

Cups and straws for a Trash Tiki pop-up
Photo by Josh Brasted / Trash Tiki

Trash Tiki posts each night’s menu on Instagram (to avoid paper) and serves the drinks in metal cups with bamboo straws that guests can reuse. In New York, the menu featured a cocktail with used coffee grounds and ginger pulp from pop-up host restaurant Mission Chinese, and another with the juice from fermented pineapple skins.

The goal isn’t to create unique cocktails, though certainly that’s a good outcome; rather Griffiths and Ramage want to share easy-to-replicate waste-reducing cocktail recipes and prep maneuvers with the bartending community. Griffiths notes that with brick and mortar bars, there’s competition, but “by taking [Trash Tiki] on the road, we’re not anybody’s competition,” he says. “We want everybody to copy us. We want everybody to do what we’re doing.”

Environmentally-minded bar managers can carry out many of these techniques with the items on hand already. Ramage describes a citrus stock — made from peels left over from juicing — that is more shelf stable than lemon or lime juice alone, is usable on its own, and can also stretch inventory when added to other juices. “It reduces your consumption, saves you a little bit of money, and also creates another element of flavor in there,” she says.

Although there isn’t a catch-all solution for reducing waste for every kind of cocktail or cocktail bar, Griffiths and Ramage hope to create a new language around cocktail preparation. “Chefs for centuries now have had those classic, simple recipes that allow them to go out there and create so many wonderful dishes,” Griffiths says. “We don’t actually have that in terms of prep as bartenders.”

With the consultation and event production company Tin Roof Drink Community, bartender Claire Sprouse takes a similarly magnanimous approach. Along with Chad Arnholt, Sprouse consults for bartenders and restaurants wishing to improve their cocktail program from an environmental standpoint, and as with Trash Tiki, Tin Drink Community shares best practices with the drinks industry at large. The burgeoning movement will only become widespread “if we take it out of those very precious instances where we have a luxury of designing the bar from the ground up or having a dorky cocktail program with no ice,” says Sprouse, who is also the bar manager at the Williamsburg restaurant Sunday In Brooklyn. “We have to make it accessible.”

Tackling ingredient waste is one of the easiest ways to cut down on environmental impact, Sprouse says, but, at Tin Roof Drink Community, Sprouse and Arnholt think about sustainability in the cocktail industry on on three different levels: water, energy, and food waste. When implementing a new cocktail program, bar managers can take measures in each of these categories. At Sunday In Brooklyn, Sprouse makes cocktails that call for crushed ice because crushed ice machines use water more efficiently than cubed ice machines. Whiley, meanwhile, is in the process of purchasing a bottle crusher and composter for Scout. They both expect initial investments like these to pay off — environmentally and financially.

White Lyan’s Waggle Dance cocktail (tequila, evergreen tea, grapefruit, pollen, buzz bitters).
Photo: White Lyan / Facebook

White Lyan, a London bar that made lowering waste a chief goal of its cocktail program, saw those results. When Ryan Chetiyawardana and Iain Griffiths opened the bar in 2013, they did so without ice or citrus. Chetiyawardana pre-mixed and bottled the “closed-loop” cocktails on-site, some with in-house spirits, which cut down on the need to import liquors (another drain on the environment).

The extreme measures weren’t gimmicks. “I remember texting Ryan and being like ‘Holy shit, dude. We’ve eliminated like 85 percent of waste, and more importantly, we’ve saved ourselves X amount of money,'” Griffiths says. “We never talked about it with anyone else because genuinely, nobody cared — at all.” Until, that is, the Guardian published an article in 2014 billing White Lyan as a “low-to-no-waste cocktail joint.”

Chetiyawardana and Griffiths closed the bar in April to concentrate on other projects, including the classics-inspired Super Lyan, which opened in White Lyan’s basement at the end of April, and Dandelyan at the Mondrian Hotel in London, which opened in 2014. “White Lyan was a very unique and specific beast that ultimately we had to kill to make sure the industry kept moving forward,” Griffiths says. “There’s more conversations to be had about what a cocktail bar can be.”

For bartenders like Griffiths, Whiley, Ramage, and Sprouse, the time for those conversations is now. Years into the craft cocktail movement, bartenders today have the knowledge and experience to actively make meaningful changes. As Sprouse puts it, “We dug into dorking out about all the minutiae and history of our profession, and now we can take a step back and start thinking about it in a greater sense — how we’re not only affecting the small group of people that exist in it, but how we affect our communities,” Sprouse says.

These pioneers hope that environmentally conscious cocktails aren’t just a trend. “This has to be a community action,” Griffiths says. “This has to be something everybody does.”