I'm dating myself, but to this day, when I think of fancy cocktails and mixologists, I think of the 1988 movie Cocktail, starring Tom Cruise as Brian Flanagan, a showy bartender (look it up here, young friends). Maybe because it was the first time I saw anyone mixing up cocktails (I was an innocent non-drinking teen, after all), and it set the tone for what I believed thereafter all cocktails should be: creative, inventive, sexy, fun, daring.
Fast forward to present day. While I have no fear of experimenting in the kitchen and love a good food challenge, I step back and let everyone else make the cocktails. It's never been my thing. I don't know about bitters and liqueur combos and whatnot. I'm no Brian Flanagan.
But, I do enjoy a good creative cocktail, and was absolutely thrilled when I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to get a very special, one-on-one cocktail making lesson from one of the nation's best mixologists, Juyoung Kang, when I was in Las Vegas.
She gave me and my friends some fantastic cocktail tips, which I am excited to share here, along with a couple of cocktail recipes Kang serves up at BLVD Cocktail Company in the LINQ.
Las Vegas Mixologist Juyoung Kang
Juyoung Kang is a rising Master Mixologist star with 15 years experience in the business. A Philadelphia native, before joining BLVD Cocktail Company in Las Vegas, Kang worked at The Peninsula Hotel Beverly Hills, Thompson Hotels Beverly Hills, Comme Ca Las Vegas, Commonwealth and the Laundry Room. She also has been crowned Las Vegas’ Most Imaginative Bartender by Bombay Sapphire.
In person, Kang is everything you want a bartender to be: witty, sharp, friendly, an engaging conversationalist, and lightning fast behind the bar. I swear we would be talking and all of a sudden: poof! Drinks would appear before us. We didn't even see her making some of the drinks.
Bartenders are, after all, magicians. "Good bartenders need to be two things," Kang says. "you need to be a people person, and you need to be a teacher." Kang says she is always learning, and has learned from mixologists like Sam Ross of New York bars Milk & Honey and Attaboy.
Kang is both a people person, and a great teacher. My friends and I learned so much from her in less than a couple of hours.
She started off by giving us some quick tips and then helping us each make a cocktail along with her. She was incredibly patient, and I love how, while she explained each step, she shared why we were doing things a certain way or using specific bar tools.
I'm a far cry from being any sort of bartender (I think pouring a glass of wine will always be my signature bar talent), but now I am armed with some fantastic tricks to help step up my cocktail making game at home.
Here are some of the top tidbits I learned from Juyoung Kang:
- When stirring cocktails, use a julep strainer to pour the drink into a glass.
- When making a drink that is shaken, use a martini strainer to pour the drink into a glass.
- A very skilled bartender should be able to make about four drinks in seven minutes.
- Stir drinks before adding ice to get a good balance of the liqueurs without the drink getting too boozy.
- Add ice at the end to avoid watering down your drinks.
- If you're not familiar with cocktail names or are just not sure what you want to drink, describe the type of taste or the type of ingredients you prefer. The bartender should be able to make you a drink that matches your taste description.
The traditional Boulevardier is made with bourbon and Campari. However, Kang says that while Campari is a common drink ingredient in Europe, it can be a tough flavor for many Americans. To make it more accessible, she makes the Boulevard(ier) at BLVD. Cocktail Company with a brandied cherry liqueur.
I'm a whiskey and bourbon fan, so I love this cocktail.
- 1 ounce Templeton Rye Whiskey
- 1 ounce Brandied Cherry
- 1 ounce Chocolate Bitters
Combine ingredients, stir, and strain into a glass. Garnish with an orange peel and Maraschino cherry.
Aviation cocktail recipe
This classic Prohibition-era cocktail isn't for everyone, but if you like gin with a twist of a little somethin' somethin', then this is for you.
2 ounces gin
1 ounce lemon juice
1 ounce Luxardo
2 bar spoons of Creme de Violette
While there, Kang also expertly made a Lavender Slip (Blueberry Vodka, Lavender, Lemon, Herb Sprig) and The Showgirl (Citroen Vodka, Strawberries, Lemon, Sparkling Asti) for us.