Trash Collective has always been scrappy. From 2017 to 2018, former Lyan group bartenders Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffiths sold out bar venues around the world by turning stale croissants into orgeat and infusing rum with discarded pistachio shells.
A year earlier in London, where Ramage was the head bartender at the now-shuttered Dandelyan and Griffiths was a business partner at Lyan bars, the pair became disheartened by a lack of waste management programs in the city. They started to develop tropical-leaning recipes that made use of bar scraps like citrus husks and watermelon rinds. One night, over drinks, they came up with the idea for a blog called Trash Tiki that would serve as an open-source forum for other bartenders looking to reduce bar waste.
That blog evolved into a global tour that began in Great Britain and ended in Australia. Ramage and Griffiths quickly became rock stars of the drinks world, packing venues where they would blast punk music and repurpose scrap cardboard into coasters. Their zero-waste drinks were equally resourceful. Over the course of the tour, they developed more than 500 recipes, many of which “were fabulously shit,” says Ramage, with a laugh. But plenty became instant successes.
“I still go into bars and have servers tell me what citrus stock is,” says Griffiths, referring to one of their original recipes, a liquid made by extracting flavor from juiced citrus fruit and combining it with boiled water and malic and citric acids to extend its shelf life.
Bar Lab beverage director Christine Wiseman remembers lending the duo ingredients from Broken Shaker when they were on the Los Angeles leg of their tour, and the experience has stuck with her. “I have always tried to have a recipe at Broken Shaker that incorporated some sort of leftover from our outlets,” she says. Her experiments have included a take on a White Russian that employed spent espresso grounds turned into a cordial, inspired by a Trash Tiki recipe.
While zero-waste drinks garnered early publicity, Ramage’s current approach is more holistic. (Griffiths took a step back from the company earlier this year.) The first step was to change the name to Trash Collective, out of respect for the origins of the word Tiki, but also to reflect the company’s expansion into consulting and the conversation it has started. “Over the course of the tour, we had been creating a community around sustainability and opening doors for people to talk to each other and make introductions,” says Ramage.
As Pernod Ricard’s global sustainability ambassador, Ramage has partnered with the brand for its Bar World of Tomorrow course, with the goal of training 10,000 young bartenders by 2030. Lessons span beyond bar basics to include topics like sourcing sustainably made spirits, reducing single-use packaging, and reusing ice to cut down on water usage.
Original Trash Tiki recipes still find their way into Ramage’s drinks. At Earls, a restaurant chain in her native Canada, Trash Collective eliminated the need for lemon juice in a vodka pink lemonade slushie by introducing its citrus stock and reduced the compost wastage of the drink by half.
But Ramage’s latest approach to drinks-making is mostly guided by seasonality and local environments. For a Kimpton Epic event in Miami, that meant a rum-and-amaro drink employing South Florida Florigon mangoes. Further afield, she’s working on a line of spirits made sustainably in Argentina, which will be distilled with botanicals grown by local Indigenous families. For the reopening of her Toronto bar, Supernova Ballroom, which closed during the pandemic, Ramage plans to let Canadian ingredients take center stage.
In turning to the backyard instead of the back bar, Trash Collective’s approach continues to embrace the scrappy spirit that made Trash Tiki famous.
“I don’t want to stop people from looking at classic cocktail books, because I think that the history and knowledge are important,” says Ramage. “But you don’t have to make a recipe exactly like Jerry Thomas or Donn Beach.” Instead, she encourages people to look around and use what is available to them.
“Sustainability and looking local and seasonal are not limitations,” says Ramage. “They force you to be more creative and dig a little bit deeper.”