Its fitting that the punk aesthetic would be such an integral part of Trash Tiki – the anti-waste, “sustainable” cocktail movement started by Kelsey Ramage with partner Iain Griffiths. From the slogan – #drinklikeyougiveafuck, to their choice in music (see Kelsey’s favourites below), or edgy pop-up decor, Trash Tiki is bold and proactive.
Ramage started bartending in 2005 in Vancouver, before hopping on a plane to London. As Ramage puts it, “I wanted to work in a bar that I considered to be the best, and be a part of the team that led it to become successful”.
Previously of Vancouver’s The Oakwood, Ramage was determined to work at acclaimed Dandelyan in London, England. Ramage knocked on the right doors to secure her spot there. In 2016, Ramage was part of the team that won the Spirited Award for Best Menu and then Best International Bar Team, Best Hotel Bar and World’s Best Bar in 2017.
It was at Dandelyan that the inspiration for Trash Tiki first came, and where Ramage be met her future Trash Tiki partner, Iain Griffiths. After witnessing the waste created within the bartending industry for years, Ramage and Griffiths began discussing “a project we could take on the road where we could play the music we wanted and start breathing some life back into the word ‘sustainability'”.
And they did just that! Trash Tiki toured the world bringing exciting pop-ups featuring cocktails made from ingredients that may otherwise be thrown away. Now, the pair are concentrated on The Trash Collective– their consultancy group that allows them the opportunity to share what they’ve learned with other industry players.
We had the chance to chat with Kelsey about Trash Tiki, her history with bartending, what she likes (and dislikes) about the industry, and her favourite spirits. Here’s what she had to say:
Tell us about the first cocktail you ever created?
The first one I can still remember was a pretty basic vodka highball (it was for a vodka competition) with lemongrass, kaffir lime syrup, lemon, orange bitters, and soda.
There may be another one that I made so long ago, I don’t even remember what was in it and honestly, that’s probably for the best!
What spirit do you most enjoy working with?
It definitely changes for me but at the moment I’ve been running into Brandies quite a bit! We just came back from Chile, where we had a fair bit of Pisco as well, but this winter had me reaching for Cognac and Armagnac a lot – I think it’ll be a big spirit this year.
Latest flavour combination you discovered?
We were at a bar in Santiago, Chile called Peumayen Ancestral Food, an incredible place that is keeping alive the food preparation, techniques, and ingredients of pre-Hispanic Chilean food.
The menu there is unreal, and the upstairs bar- Chharqu, is run by Michelle Lacoste who pairs cocktails alongside each course. Michelle makes use of the amazing ingredients that are available in Chile; she used cucumber, tomato and coconut in a cocktail for an unexpected and a really amazing play on the savoury/sweet combination.
Favorite song when shaking?
I don’t think I have a shaking song per se, but I do like bartending to stuff like Pup or Pkew Pkew Pkew. Music is essential to the Trash Tiki pop-up experience, I still go back and listen to the Trash Tiki tour playlist and even though we’ve played it a lot, I still love it – it’s on Spotify as Anti-Waste Tour by Trash Tiki.
What’s your go-to garnish?
Being creative with garnishes can really be a challenge, we really don’t want to pop something on top for the sake of it “looking pretty”, only for it to be tossed out directly after it’s used. I’m a big fan of making edible garnishes from ingredients that otherwise may have been tossed out, and, that actually bring out a certain flavour in a cocktail. This could be a candied glass on top of a drink, a dehydrated fruit leather, or using the pulp left over from juicing to make a crisp.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to a young bartender?
Find a mentor. Mentorship has been so key in my career and it’s not just coming from one person either. There have been so many people who have been influential to my bartending career over the years. It might not be a day-to-day mentorship either, but having different people in your corner that you can talk about your next steps can be so beneficial.
What do you do to ensure that you have a good work/life balance?
This is something that has taken a while for me to figure out. Iain and I make sure that we take at least one day off per week where we don’t touch the laptops and get a good night’s sleep. It can be difficult when you’re running your own business to justify taking that one day off, but damn if it doesn’t make us way more productive for the rest of the week. When we’re on shifts as well, I make sure to get time in the morning to head out for a run, or get some gym time in before shift, it just makes you feel so much better overall.
What’s your all-time favourite cocktail?
I feel like this changes on a weekly basis! If I want something citrusy and fresh, I’ll do a mai tai with a bit of cachaca in there for body, or a boozier Japanese cocktail with Cognac, orgeat and orange bitters. We make an avocado seed orgeat that goes great in both to replace the almond version.
Where do you find inspiration when creating cocktails?
Inspiration comes from a lot of different things, reading about different chefs’ philosophies- Douglas McMaster, Dan Barber and those farm-to-table founders are where we really find a lot of inspiration. We also look into what is growing in different areas and experiment with those ingredients. Discovering who is behind growing the produce that you use, and where and why it has come to grow there, just makes for better drinks and better inspiration. I also take inspiration from ingredients I already use by exploring different methods of extracting flavour from them – be in through fermentation, or preservation, or just time.
What cocktail book would you recommend to new bartenders?
What’s your most essential bar tool?
Ice, if you have shitty ice, you have shitty drinks. I’m not particularly tied to my bar stuff but you need a good scales for making ingredients and jiggers that you can be accurate with – I use Japanese jiggers. Accuracy is important.
If you could change anything in the hospitality industry, what would it be?
This idea that we get anything from anywhere without regard for where it comes from. We don’t consider the ingredients we have in our backyard but the cocktail industry thrives on daiquiris and margaritas made with citrus that is grown and shipped from places all over the world. Why are we all using the same things?
What do you most admire about the bartending profession?
The idea that you can travel and go anywhere in the world and find like-minded people that will take you in and show you so much hospitality. We’re really lucky to have such a close global network of people who take care of each other.
What three trends do you see shaping the cocktail world over the next year?
I think we’ll see more bars paying attention to how spirits are made, and where they come from. As a result, we’re going to see more locally-made distillates and as a result, more brandy-based cocktails.
What’s your favourite advice or quote?
“Waste is just a lack of imagination.” – Doulas McMaster
Tell us about something we haven’t asked. Anything!
A little about out the Trash Tiki philosophy: While this may be surprising, we honestly try to steer clear of the word ‘sustainability’. It’s a dangerous word because it refers to so many of the multi-faceted aspects of reducing your environmental footprint.
There is no ‘we are sustainable’ or ‘most sustainable’. People who understand sustainability also understand that it is a journey that we are only scratching the surface of. You can implement one or two practices, but to think about every facet of a business as making a mark on a planet, you really see how little we’re actually doing and how far we need to go.
To read a full profile of Trash Tiki, head over here.