A July afternoon isn’t the most appealing time to ride bicycles across New Orleans. With temperatures averaging 91 and heavy humidity, most people don’t want to do much of anything outdoors, except maybe sit on a porch.
Nevertheless, at the 2019 Tales of the Cocktail conference, held in New Orleans July 16 to 21, Trash Collective’s Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffiths spent much of the week on bicycles with trailers hitched behind them. Clad in disco-ball helmets, they whizzed from pop-up bar to brand activation to tasting room, gathering empty bottles and carting them to their recycling container. It was dizzying feat, especially considering the number of drinks poured over the week. But New Orleans doesn’t have a public recycling policy, and the duo was committed to making the conference a little more sustainable.
Such is a day in the life of Ramage and Griffiths. They have spent most of the last three years feverishly traveling the globe, preaching the gospel of sustainability to bartenders and drinkers at Trash Tiki pop-ups.
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Education sessions disguised as punk parties, Trash Tiki’s mantra is “Drink Like You Give a F*ck.” For these pop-up events, Ramage and Griffiths commandeer bars, ramen joints, restaurants, or whatever they can get their hands on, and churn out zero-impact cocktails. Their specialty is highlighting closed-loop ingredients usually left to the trash at the end of a shift, such as fruit peels and pits. At Trash Tiki pop-ups, DJs spin, and decor might consist of spray-painted cardboard and a disco ball or two. Guests stumble out sweaty, smiling, and, hopefully, a little more conscious of the world around them.
Trash Tiki was born behind the bar at Dandelyan, Ryan Chetiyawardana’s groundbreaking London establishment, in 2016. Canadian-born Ramage and Australian-bred Griffiths worked alongside Chetiyawardana to create menus.
“We often discussed the massive number of drinks we had pumped across the bar on Friday and Saturday nights, and what had to be thrown away before, during and after those services,” Ramage says. “It was shocking, especially given that we were working with a menu that already reused many ingredients.”
They came up with the idea to create an online database of minimal-waste recipes (rums flavored with pistachio shells and avocado pits, citrus salts made from lemon rinds) as a global bartenders’ resource. “We needed a way of showing the craft cocktail industry that those would-be waste ingredients could still be used for flavor, in an open-forum community that was non-preachy and could actually be a lot of fun.”
Their first foray into events was a one-night-only pop-up at Los Angeles’s Harvard & Stone in December 2016. From there, Trash Tiki accelerated at a frenetic speed. Birmingham, U.K., was next, then London, Paris, Stockholm, Singapore, and Hong Kong. “We still have many of these ‘Wow, we pulled it off’ moments,” laughs Ramage. “There was so much more demand than we ever planned.”
Initially, they focused on tiki drinks — a style Ramage and Griffiths love — but they eventually expanded to all styles in order to show bars and brands the adaptability of sustainable thinking. “We knew we could have more of an impact if we let go of ‘tiki’ and took a broader approach to sustainability,” Ramage says.
In March of 2019, they partnered with spirits conglomerate Pernod Ricard on a “Bars of Tomorrow” program, an ambitious initiative to train over 10,000 bartenders in sustainability practices. Their goal is to convince bartenders and patrons alike that “these ingredients aren’t ‘trash,’ but are things that still had flavor and were being wasted,” Ramage says.
“This is about so much more than replacing plastic straws and having a few recipes on your menu that reuse ingredients,” Ramage adds. “It’s more about using compost systems that give waste back to local community gardens that need them, finding the best possible use for wastewater and coming up with solutions for reducing water and energy usage.”
Now, the duo is taking on a new challenge. In late summer 2019, they are debuting Supernova Ballroom, a cocktail bar in Toronto, and their first initiative that doesn’t get torn down and packed up after last call. Located in a 20th-century home in Toronto’s financial district, Supernova Ballroom will feature ingredients available throughout the Canadian province and specialize in sparkling and spritzed drinks.
“Think nerdier bottle ferments, fully carbonated tap cocktails, as well as a bomb signature French 75 (on Cognac, of course),” Ramage says.
Ramage and Griffiths have been fielding questions about their choice in locale — why not move to New York, London? — but, after years on the road, it’s a place that stood out the most. “The attention this city and country’s bars have received is a fraction of what it deserves, and as the quality and volume continue to grow positively, we’re pumped to be here and become a part of that. Don’t sleep on Toronto, ’cause the scene here is doing everything but that,” Ramage says.
Of course, putting down roots doesn’t mean they are by any means slowing down. Supernova Ballroom will act as a command center from which they plan their next wave of parties, partnerships, pop-ups, and more. “This is only the beginning,” Ramage says with a wink.