Future 50 Q&A: Kelsey Ramage

Spirit news

Wed 2 Sep 2020

The Future 50 is a new initiative created by WSET and IWSC to select 50 future influencers of the global drinks industry. Find out more and view the final list here.

Toronto-based bartender Kelsey Ramage launched cocktail bar Supernova Ballroom in 2019, but was forced to close it this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Ramage is determined that Supernova Ballroom will live on in new ways, however: “In the new year will come a 2.0 with our same ethos and love of a good time, but a different feel,” she says. The bar’s cocktail delivery service also remains open, and Ramage also heads up Trash Tiki, an online resource for bartenders focuses on the impact of organic waste in the drinks industry.

What do you do?

I opened a cocktail bar in downtown Toronto called Supernova Ballroom last year, and also run a bartender education platform called Trash Tiki that teaches bartenders recipes and techniques to reduce waste in their own bars.

I have a consultancy business as well, helping brands I believe in talk about sustainability and become more environmentally conscious in their practices, pop-ups and operations.

How has your work been affected by the coronavirus outbreak?

I’ve been massively affected. My bar, Supernova Ballroom, has been forced to close as a direct result. Sales in March immediately before the closure were great, and we were looking at what was going to be a great year.

However, I really don’t think that an area like the financial district will recover. Many of the larger offices in the area like TD Bank and Google are making work from home a permanent part of work life. Plus, the majority of our business, doing large private bookings and big Friday/Saturday parties is definitely not something we can do now, nor would I feel right about asking my staff or the public to put themselves in danger by doing so before there is a vaccine. 

How have you spent your time during the lockdown?

Operating our to-go cocktail service, Dolly Trolley Drinks. It was super busy when lockdown first happened but seems to still be trucking along which is really great. 

I also do some work with Pernod Ricard as a sustainability and bar educator, so we’re going to be rolling out a bartender and bar owner/manager education program in the coming months that I’m really excited about. 

What are you most looking forward to as the lockdown eases?

I still don’t feel right about going out – it still feels dangerous and I’ve seen great operators that are taking measures to protect their staff, but also so many that aren’t. I really want to see some more safety measures out there before I would fully feel comfortable. 

However, I’m looking forward to seeing some live music. I know this probably won’t happen until 2021 but it’s such a big part of Toronto’s culture that I’m really missing. 

Any updates since you won the Future 50 award last year?

I am in the process of developing the consultancy side of our business further with a new arm which will help hotels, brands and bars create and implement cocktail programs - looking at locality of ingredients, better bartender training programs, and giving the tools to make better drinks overall. 

What is your proudest achievement so far?

Opening a bar. While I know many have done it, I am so proud of my team for sticking through some of the most challenging times.

Do you have any advice for people starting out in the drinks industry?

Yes! I see this so often with young bartenders, especially given the skills shortage globally that we’ve seen in the past few years with the explosion of the cocktail industry.

Be humble! Find someone you can learn from. Just because you are offered a position in bar management does not mean you stop learning. You need to spend time – like, lots and lots of time – learning about sprits on your back bar, learning new techniques, learning your classics. I’ve been bartending for 15 years and I’m still learning every day.

Also, you will only get out what you put in, and learning takes lots of time, practice and effort. No one else is going to do that for you.

What excites you in the drinks industry right now?

I’m loving the turn to natural wine. The consumer in general is more educated and curious about where things come from, paying more attention to ingredients and spirits. It’s really exciting to see and I think paves the way for more creativity and exploration in terms of drinks and flavour.

How has working with IWSC helped you?

Initially, I used this platform to learn more about wine and to expand my understanding of spirits, which served me to ladder up my career. It’s now helped me become recognised and meet other individuals with similar career goals so we can push forward to make our industry better as a whole.