Kim Haasarud knew she wanted to make a career of the food-and-beverage business when she graduated high school, only she had no idea what a circuitous path she’d be taking. For cocktail aficionados and aspiring mixologists, we’re glad she took the road less traveled.
The Phoenix, Ariz., resident is now among the most respected beverage consultants and cocktail celebrities. The author of six drink guides and a James Beard-honored mixologist, Haasarud began her career as a bartender while enrolled in pre-med at the University of Kansas. She continued bartending after moving to New York City, where she worked for a TV casting director. She eventually became a producer and casting director for an indie production company. Even while working on several shows for HBO, Haasarud keep her feet firmly planted behind the bar.
“I loved being behind the bar, plain and simple. I’ve had the great advantage of working both in chain restaurants — the Olive Garden in Kansas City and Houlihan’s in Times Square — as well as some fine-dining establishments. I also worked for the Fireman’s Group in NYC, which is where I really started to hone my craft. As a challenge, I used to ask guests to request an abstract cocktail idea, like ‘…make me a Frosty Cloud on a Summer Day.’ I’d run back to the kitchen, raid the walk-in and pantry and the proceed to make the cocktail. That’s when I learned to rely on using fresh ingredients and premium spirits.”
Working in the entertainment industry, Haasarud attended numerous movie premieres. She was struck by how much money and resources were invested in the food, décor and entertainment, while the drinks were pretty much a bore. Yet, when she looked around the room, every single person had a drink in his or her hands. The drinks never really matched the greatness of the event.
“I recall thinking that if event coordinators just put a little creativity into those drinks, they could really enhance someone’s experience tenfold and make the event that much more memorable," she says. "So, I moved to Los Angeles and shortly after started my consultancy, Liquid Architecture.”
Right off the bat she began creating cocktails and coordinating the beverage catering for such companies as Warner Bros., Comedy Central and HBO. She also traveled with Maxim working most of their big parties. One of her most memorable events was Maxim’s Super Bowl Party in San Diego.
“They literally took over the old Wonder Bread Factory and converted it into ‘Maximville.’ The interior became an entire city with its own barbershop, sports bar, red-light district, candy store, movie theater and convenience store," she says. "I created the drink concepts for each area: The sports bar featured several beer cocktails, the movie theater had popcorn-infused Rum and Cokes while the convenience store served alcohol slushies out of a machine. It was a huge success and a tremendous opportunity.”
After coordinating events for several years, Haasarud started generating publicity and grabbed the attention of liquor companies and national accounts. She started working with them to develop cocktail programs for multi-unit operators, which has now become her primary focus.
“I do everything from drink development, creating full mixology and training programs and developing marketing strategies and initiatives. The more hands-on I can be, the better. One of my core philosophies in my consultancy is riding that fine line between being innovative and creative, but also understanding the operations side of it, especially on a large scale.”
Haasarud developed a program for OMNI Hotels called Home Grown Cocktails. Bartenders from around the country created drinks inspired by ingredients and flavors from their region.
“I’m a native Texan, and I know the people from Texas to be casual, unpretentious, like bold flavors and have a great sense of humor. So we combined those things with local ingredients to create an adult milkshake called Dr. Woodford Bell. It’s an altogether delicious drink made with Dr. Pepper and Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream and graham crackers — all staples in the state of Texas.”
In turn, she was retained by Texas-based Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille to develop a set of specialty drinks conducive for their high-volume bars. The goal was to create dynamic cocktails that the bartenders could execute with precision — even at peak demand. What she developed was a cocktail batching program in which the majority of the cocktails were batched at the service bar. By preparing the recipes in batches, she took drinks that normally require six steps to prepare and reduced them down to three quick steps.
“Many innovative cocktails often take six, seven or more steps to prepare,” she says. “At a big, busy bar that’s just not practical. Whenever feasible, the bartenders make the cocktails from scratch and only use the batching system when the bar gets busy. If a guest has to wait more than 7 minutes for their drink, they use the batch. The program has been a success in all respects.”
The Sanctuary Resort is a luxury resort and spa situated on the northern slope of Camelback Mountain between Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz. High among its many points of distinction is its own microclimate, which means things can grow in the area that don’t normally grow in the desert. Haasarud recently was hired to develop the resort’s “garden-to-glass” drink program.
“I am working with their horticulturist in planting different herbs, vegetables, fruits and spices throughout the resort. As things ripen, they will be harvested by the gardener and brought to the bar where the staff bartenders will incorporate them as ingredients in the cocktail. It’s been a marvelous experience teaching the bartenders how to best use these fresh products into cocktails.”
Haasarud contends that with each project, she grows as a professional. “It’s kind of funny, the longer I’m in this business, the more I realize just how much I don’t know. If someone has an idea or a new way of doing something, I’m all ears all the time.”
And there in a nutshell is one of the tenets of success.
Dr. Woodford Bell
Specialty at OMNI Hotels.
1.5 ounces Dr. Pepper
1.5 ounces Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Generous scoop of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
2 graham cracker squares
Dash of ground nutmeg
Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add a half cup of ice and blend again until smooth. Pour contents into glass and serve. Optional: Rim glass with graham cracker crumbs.
Specialty at P.F. Chang’s.
1.5 ounces SKYY Infusions Dragonfruit
0.5 ounce St-Germain
1.5 ounces Yuzu Luxe Sour
Splash of pomegranate juice
Raspberry mint garnish
Combine all of the ingredients (except the pomegranate juice) in a cocktail shaker. Top with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Add a splash of pomegranate juice. Garnish with raspberry mint garnish.
Bitter Peach Bellini
1 ounce peach puree (e.g., Perfect Puree White Peach puree)
0.5 ounce Aperol
0.5 ounce lemon juice
0.5 ounce simple syrup
Dash of Peychaud bitters
3 ounces Moet & Chandon Imperial
Lemon twist, for garnish
Combine the peach puree, Aperol, lemon juice and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Top with ice and shake vigorously. Pour chilled Moet & Chandon Imperial in a chilled Champagne coupe glass. Strain shaken contents into the glass. Garnish with lemon twist.
Specialty at Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille.
1 ounce Belvedere Pink Grapefruit Vodka
0.75 ounce New Amsterdam Gin
0.25 ounce Aperol
1 fresh basil leaf
8 small grapefruit chunks
0.75 ounce lime juice
0.75 ounce simple syrup
0.25 ounce agave nectar
Garnish with a grapefruit chunk and basil leaf.
In a mixing glass, muddle the grapefruit chunks with the basil, lime juice, simple syrup and agave nectar. Add the pink grapefruit vodka, gin and Aperol. Top with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with grapefruit and basil leaf.
Chocolate Blood Orange Cocktail
1.5 ounces Hennessy Black Cognac
0.5 ounce Frangelico
0.75 ounce 70% chocolate and Guinness Stout reduction*
0.25 ounce agave nectar
0.25 ounce half & half
10 drops Queens Creek Blood Orange Olive Oil
Garnish with an orange twist
Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, including the extra virgin olive oil. Top with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
*GUINNESS CHOCOLATE REDUCTION — Combine 2.1 grams 70% chocolate (six squares of a Lindt 70% chocolate bar) and 1 cup of Guinness Stout in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce by half. Take off heat and let cool before bottling.
Pineapple Saffron Cocktail
1.5 ounces SKYY Vodka
2.5 ounces fresh pineapple juice
1 ounce saffron syrup*
0.75 ounce lemon juice
Dash of Dandelion & Burdock bitters (optional)
Garnish with 2 saffron threads
Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Top with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with 2 saffron threads.
*SAFFRON SYRUP — Combine approximately a half-teaspoon of saffron threads with 1.5 cups water and 1.5 cups sugar. Bring to a boil. Let cool and sit for at least an hour. Bottle and refrigerate. (Do not strain.)