Before you sit down at Skye Haneul Kim’s bar, she has a warning.
“My drinks, they are boozy,” she says with giggle. “They are sweet and fruity, but they are ‘lady killer’ drinks.”
The Vancouver mixologist is one of nine local bartenders competing in this year’s Night on the Pier event at the Harmony Arts Festival in West Vancouver. The festival, which kicks off next week (Aug. 3), showcases music, film, art, literature and culinary delights — including cocktails.
“I like nice, pretty drinks,” Kim says. “I like mixing very simple ingredients.”
With a friendly manner and sporting a martini tattoo on her wrist, Kim serves up a winning combination of amicability and ambition.
The 24-year-old started bartending in Korea five years ago, as soon as she was of legal age to do so (18). Her mom, who wasn’t thrilled about her daughter’s vocational choice, can blame Tom Cruise.
“I was inspired by that bartender movie (Cocktail),” Kim says. “I said, ‘one day I’m going to do that.’
“In real life, it was so hard,” she says of the fine art of flinging bottles in the air. “I got injured a lot when I tried that.”
Broken glass and bruises notwithstanding, Kim’s outgoing rapport with customers got her noticed, and she was soon working as a manager of a whisky bar while continuing to hone the craft of mixology. She moved to Canada a year ago and completed a one-year bartending course.
Currently, Kim is a bartender and mixologist at Cacao Progressive Latin restaurant in Vancouver. She loves what she does (“I didn’t think it would be my real job”) and has won her mom over with her success.
“Now she’s proud of me. She didn’t think I’d make it in Vancouver.”
So what’s the difference between a bartender and mixologist?
“Anybody can be a bartender if they have a small amount of knowledge about drinks,” Kim explains. “To be a mixologist, you have to know how to create your own drinks. It’s tricky. It’s harder than people think.”
Also a graphic artist and photographer, Kim brings a creative eye to her signature sippers.
“Art school helps me to better imagine drinks (in terms of) garnish, colour,” she says.
Kim also conducts a fair amount of research, she admits, laughing.
But travel is also part of her investigations.
“It feels like a kind of a journey… to find the right drink for my customers,” she says.
For Night on the Pier, which takes place Aug. 9 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Ambleside Pier, Kim will present a drink inspired by a recent trip to Peru.
“The cocktail’s name is Atardecer en Ica, or Sunset in Ica,” Kim says. “Our restaurant’s chef Jefferson Alvarez helped me (come up with the) name.”
The cocktail is based on coconut-infused Pisco, a grape brandy produced in wine-making regions of Peru and Chile, along with Aperol (a brilliant red-orange apéritif), real mango puree and guanábana, a spiky exotic fruit also known as soursop.
“Coconut, mango and guanábana are very common ingredients in Latin countries, and I think they’re good for summer drinks, too,” Kim says. “The competition is almost at sunset, so I wanted to make an image of sunset in my drinks too. ... I added dash of Aperol for colour and flavour as well.”
For a further “wow” factor, “my cocktail’s speciality is using molecular foam,” Kim says. “Molecular foam is very smooth and soft, so when people do first sip on drinks, they can feel like they are eating clouds. I will add guanábana molecular foam on top for sweetness and texture.”
Then, as a finishing flourish, Kim will add some sprinkles of Marcelita, a Mexican-style chili sugar.
“It’s sweet, but has some spicy notes too, so people can enjoy many flavours and textures in one drink.”
Kim will be among nine of the Lower Mainland’s best bartenders serving up unique concoctions during The Harmony Arts Festival’s Night on the Pier. At the event, each mixologist competes to create innovative, daring and bold drinks which are paired with catered food and a stunning waterfront view.
“It’s an honour to be competing with so much talent,” Kim says. “It’s going to be very fun.”
Amber Bruce, Keefer Bar (Giffard & Torres Pisco)
Robyn Gray, Prohibition (Mount Gay Rum & Southern Glazers)
Max Borrowman, Juniper Kitchen and Bar (Campari & Grand Marnier)
Matthew Benevoli, Nomad (Southern Comfort & Charton Hobbs)
Skye Haneul Kim, Cacao Progressive Latin (Tacama Pisco)
Sabrine Dhaliwal, Belvedere Brand Ambassador (Moet Hennessy & Belvedere)
Souhail Rostainajad, Milestones (Bacardi)
Levon Culbertson-Bottomley, Edible Canada (Sheringham Distillery)
Daniela Campos, Feast The Neighbourhood Table (Aviation Gin)