Iain Griffiths started bartending in Brisbane when he was just 18 years old and from creating his very first cocktail which he admits, “probably wasn’t great”, he went on to co-develop two of the UK’s most dynamic bars: White Lyan and Dandelyan with collaborator Ryan Chetiyawardana (a.k.a. Mr Lyan).
In 2014, Griffiths and Mr. Lyan were awarded co ‘Innovator of the Year’ at the Imbibe Awards. In that same year, White Lyan was also crowned ‘Best New International Cocktail Bar’ at the Spirited Awards and then number 20 in World’s 50 Best Bars. After Dandelyan opened (to much acclaim), it took the number three spot in World’s 50 Best Bars in 2016. Just two short years later, Dandelyan would score first place at The World’s 50 Best Bars awards. Working at one of the world’s best bar is a far cry developing ‘probably not great’ cocktails!
It was at Dandelyan that Griffiths met Canadian-born bartender Kelsey Ramage; and one night, over a few late drinks the two came up with the idea that would later become Trash Tiki – an anti-waste movement to bring awareness to the rubbish created within the bartending community.
These talks resulted in their first Trash Tiki pop-up event hosted at UK bar Harvard Stone. The pair developed a punk-influenced aesthetic for a bold, in-your-face pop-up event featuring cocktails made with ingredients that may have otherwise been tossed out in the garbage. In just one month, Trash Tiki grew from an underground pop-up movement, into a 10-month world tour that would take them to five continents and over 40 cities.
Today, Kelsey and Iain are continuing to preach the anti-waste initiative with The Trash Collective, a consultancy group that allows them to share their knowledge and teach other industry players. In 2019, Iain and Kelsey were named Global Sustainability Ambassadors for Pernod Ricard with a key ambition of the role to train 10,000 bartenders by 2030 on the bar of tomorrow.
We got the chance to chat with Iain about the first cocktail he ever created, the advice he’d give a new bartender, and about what he likes (and dislikes) about the hospitality industry. Here’s what he had to say:
Tell us about the first cocktail you ever created?
Ugh, whatever it was it probably wasn’t great. Would’ve been for a competition for sure, so I’m gonna say it was either a take on a ‘stinger’ using Jagermiester, or a cocktail with 42 Below Feijoa, pear jam, and probably five other ingredients that had no business being in a tin together.
What spirit do you most enjoy working with?
Scotch (& Scotland) is my one true love but I definitely wind up cranking out a lot of tequila drinks when it comes to creating for a menu.
A lot of tequila drinks I find on menus I don’t really rate, (spicy & pineapple is the 2008 balsamic & strawberry of this decade) as I feel bartenders still think they have to keep the flavours super basic to get anyone ordering tequila, but that to me just feels like a dog chasing its tail, holding back the whole category.
Latest flavour combination you discovered?
Caper berry with fresh elderflower from the wonderful Michelle at Peumayen in Santiago, Chile. The combination was awesome and the ingredients so brilliantly balanced each other.
What’s your go-to garnish?
My rather pragmatic/minimalist self doesn’t really come through in my bartending, except in how much I hate garnishes. Most are so unnecessary and only there to increase the guests perceived value of the drink. I don’t agree with that kind of pandering; the value is in the glass, not the ‘gram you take of it.
I sound like an old prick, don’t I?
What is the one piece of advice you would give to a young bartender?
Stay out late, make bad (but not stupid) choices, and put the fucking cocktail books down. Knowing your classics matters, being an interesting human with good stories and the ability to make your guests laugh matters way more.
What do you do to ensure that you have a good work/life balance?
Have more AFDs (alcohol-free days) than not and have friends who aren’t in the industry. Learning about anything that isn’t making drinks or food, and try to fit in as exercise (of any kind) as you can.
What’s your all-time favourite cocktail?
A Pan-American Clipper. I remember the first time I had it and everything. Perfect classic.
Where do you find inspiration when creating cocktails?
From everywhere and everything but other bartenders! I think the biggest thing holding back our industry is the lack of original thought. You’re not going to come up with something new if you’re simply watching what everyone else does.
What cocktail book would you recommend to new bartenders?
There are three that I consider to be really the only ones you need to make it the first five years or more in this game: The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morganthaler, Meehans Manual by Jim Meehan, and Cocktail Codex by Alex Day.
Read those and you really can’t go wrong in terms of working technique, classics, and variations. They still are nothing more than accompaniment to working four or five shifts a week in the end; there is no book on that for good reason.
What’s your most essential bar tool?
A decent pairing knife. Not some douchey, Japanese crafted metal- as gorgeous as that is, it’s impractical and most bartenders can’t even use them properly. I know I certainly don’t when in the middle of service!
If you could change anything in the hospitality industry, what would it be?
Ummm, almost every aspect of our culture?!
I think we’re finally (albeit, slowly) addressing the many, many problems in the hospitality industry; from the lack of intersectional equality, to our disregard for the planet (despite our entire industry requiring agricultural ecosystems to function), to the way we praise working 80-hour weeks and belittle those with other interests or aspirations.
Really- that’s barely scratching the surface.
What do you most admire about the bartending profession?
Bartending requires so much mental aptitude because every shift pushes you. Yes, you can diversify your career but great bartending and hospitality demands constant focus night after night. I like this aspect because the moment you’re done or ready for something else, it shows and keeps everyone honest (mostly).
What three trends do you see shaping the cocktail world over the next year?
While certainly not a perfect human in all manners, the recently departed Karl Lagerfeld once said, “trendy is the last stage before tacky” and to that end, I tend to steer away from trends and look more towards what positive evolutions I can help shape with the companies I work with, or within my own bartending practices.
What’s your favourite piece of advice or quote?
“You’re a shit kicker until you’re told otherwise.” – My mum
Tell us about something we haven’t asked. Anything!
A bar blasting angry punk, serving people drinks made of garbage, and featuring signage of spray paint on old boxes makes for a super fun pop-up but a horrible permanent venue idea.
For a full profile of Trash Tiki and their eco-friendly movement, head over here.