Kim Haasarud never planned on making a career out of cocktails, but the Fordham University psychology grad and former entertainment industry pro turned what once was a bartending side job into titles such as cocktail author, Arizona Cocktail Week co-founder, and mixology consultant, as founder of Liquid Architecture. The 42-year-old Mesa resident has worked with big-name brands such as Applebee’s and P.F. Chang’s to perfect their cocktail menus and keep drinkers happy.
Haasarud is working on a new book she hopes to be released next year — all she’ll say is, “A blender might be involved” — and she’ll be at Arizona Cocktail Week February 14 through 21 — get details here. Learn what drives Haasarud’s passion for crafting the perfect drink, and check out a video of her naming her five favorite reasons for loving living in the Valley, too.
What brought you to Arizona?
My husband’s family lives in Phoenix. I lived in New York for 10 years and in L.A. for eight. We got married and had two children, and we wanted to be close to grandparents and a major airport so we could be close to L.A., and we moved here in 2010.
I was born in Nacogdoches, Texas. That’s way, way East Texas, and I was mostly raised in Dallas. I also lived in Kansas City, Kansas, where I went to Blue Valley High School, before attending Fordham University in New York City, where I got my Bachelor of Science in psychology.
How did you get involved in the mixology industry?
I always loved the entertainment industry and moved to New York to be an actress when I was 19. I did that for a little while and learned I liked the production and behind-the-scenes a little more, so I worked in casting and did some work for a production company as an associate producer. I was always a bartender to supplement my income. I really loved the craft of bartending but didn’t think it was something I was going to do for a living.
I was fortunate and lucky enough to go to movie premiers and industry parties, including the Sundance Film Festival. I was always blown away by how much money and how many resources were put toward the food and décor. Producers would spend a million dollars on an event, but the drinks were always a last resort. They never matched the greatness of the event, yet you’d look around, and everyone would have a drink in their hand. I was always thinking, “If someone had just put a little creativity into those drinks, you could really enhance someone’s experience tenfold.”
I really loved the craft of bartending, and that was the genesis of how I started my consultancy with Liquid Architecture in 2001. When I moved to L.A. with my then-boyfriend, now-husband, I started my business, because I already had a lot of contacts in the industry and started doing some events there. Maxim magazine was one of my first big clients, and I’d travel with them to parties. I always approached cocktails from a culinary point of view and always wanted to use fresh ingredients. Whether it was an event for 100 people or 3,000 people, it was always fresh-squeezed, and the drinks matched the event.
I love hospitality and the service industry and pleasing people. That, coupled with creativity, is a big match for this career. This isn’t really a job you can go to school for or plan for in advance. It just kind of happened — doors of opportunity kept opening.
What makes a great bartender?
It is someone who, first and foremost, listens to the guest. I don’t think a great bartender is someone who necessarily makes a great cocktail. That’s why there are so many bars out there that don’t make great cocktails but that are wildly successful. The bartenders listen to the guests and are great communicators.
That, coupled with an understanding of the craft and the knowledge to make a great cocktail, is a great match. And, with the industry growing like it is, if you don’t understand the craft of cocktailing, the younger generation is going to catch up and take your job. It’s already happening. For so long, the bar industry has had this “fast food” mentality. It’s now catching up with the food side of things.
What’s your typical week like with Liquid Architecture?
There is no typical week. Every week is a little different. I work with a lot of big accounts, such as P.F. Chang’s, Omni Hotels & Resorts and Fleming’s Steakhouse. One week, I might be in Kansas City presenting to Applebee’s headquarters, the next day doing drink development for P.F. Chang’s. The next week, I’ll be doing everything from work for Arizona Cocktail Week, to creating trend reports for a major liquor brand, to volunteering in my daughter’s kindergarten class.
As my kids are getting older, I’m trying to work on more nonalcoholic stuff. Last year, I taught my son’s kindergarten class about balance and sweet and sour and making sure you have that right combination to make a great lemonade. We had little jars, and we made fresh strawberry lemonade they got to take home. I’d love to start doing more stuff like that. I’m trying to put something together for the Arizona Science Center, a mixology program for kids, and am still working on it.
What goes into writing your cocktail books?
I just came out with my eighth book, 101 Shots, this past spring. I have 101 Margaritas, 101 Mojitos and Other Muddled Drinks, etc., and people ask me, “How do you come up with that many cocktails? It seems like a lot.” It’s actually really easy, because I always use fresh ingredients as my foundation. I will go to the farmer’s market or grocery store and pick out fresh, seasonal ingredients and build a drink around that. I start with the ingredient first, and if you do it that way, it’s easy to create a recipe for that ingredient.
Why are fresh ingredients great for cocktails?
They make a cocktail healthier, make it taste better, and make it easier to work with. What I find difficult to work with are shelf mixes, because 99.9 percent of them are not very good. It’s hard to make those mixes taste good, and that’s a lot more challenging.
If I start with a fresh mango, then it’s super-easy to muddle it up or make a puree with it and add a little bit of rum or vodka to it. That’s a lot easier, more healthful and more flavorful.
What’s your process for devising new cocktails for clients?
When I meet with a client, I want to hear about their philosophy and methodology. I’ll talk to the chef to see where his or her inspirations are coming from, since a restaurant usually starts with the food and not the bar. You have to really come up with a program that complements the food and the chef and the restaurant’s philosophy of work. I’ll have really detailed conversations with them and try to incorporate ingredients they use and a lot of the same philosophies and techniques they use to make it synchronous.
What are essentials for at-home bars?
Besides copies of my books—I’m kidding—one of the most critical elements is a jigger, or a measuring device. That is probably one of the essential components that a lot of bartenders don’t have but is very easy to use. A lot of bartenders look at it as a beginners’ tool and free-pour spirits or mixers, and I think that’s such a big mistake.
I compare preparing a cocktail to cooking and baking in that it has to be precise. In baking, if you overshoot your baking soda or flour, your bread’s not going to rise. It’s the same thing with mixology. If you’re not following a formula and using those precise measurements, it’s going to be off. If you’re using lemon juice, which is very acidic and volatile, if you’re off by a quarter of an ounce, you throw that whole cocktail off.
If you follow a very specific formula and use that jigger, you can really find that balance every single time. Then, if you do that, it becomes a lot like cooking, where you can throw in some mango or some mint and take some liberties, but it’s really important to follow a very specific formula balance first.
Next to the jigger, one of my favorite bar tools is a muddler. It’s fun. Ten years ago, you could really only get bar tools at a restaurant supply store, and now everyday stores have some great bar tools. I like it because I’m getting the best of the fruit right there.
For example, if I muddle a lemon wedge, I’m not just getting the juice from the fruit, but I’m also getting the oils out of the skin, which is very aromatic. I can muddle berries, cucumber, whatever.
What’s your favorite cocktail?
That’s a loaded question because I’m an equal opportunity drinker. I drink anything and everything – at least once. What I order really depends on what time of year it is, where I’m at, who I’m with, the time of day and the time of year.
If I had to choose my desert island spirit, it would probably be tequila or mezcal. It’s a beautiful spirit with a lot of history, and I’ve been to Oaxaca, Mexico before and have seen some of those villages where mezcal is made.
When I go to a bar, I like to talk to the bartender. If they’re engaged with what they’re doing, I want to know what they do best. I’ll say, “Make me something you know really well,” because I like to hear their story and see what they do.
If I’m at a bar and don’t have time to do that, one of my favorite cocktails would be an Aperol spritzer. It’s super-simple to make. Aperol is a bitter from Italy, kind of in the Campari family but not nearly as bitter. To make the spritzer, the Aperol is mixed with a little bit of Prosecco and club soda and garnished with an orange slice.
If I’m at a good cocktail bar, one of my go-to’s is a Hemingway daiquiri.
How would you recommend making a drink with tequila or mezcal?
Mezcal can be polarizing for a lot of people in that it’s really smoky. If I’m making something for people, and they’ve never had mezcal and want to try it, I might make a margarita. I love a great, simple margarita, with two parts tequila, one part lime juice and one part simple syrup. Keep it really simple. I think simple cocktails are great because I can really taste the spirit and the complexity in there. But, then I might add a float of mezcal, a teaspoon’s worth.
Do you ever get sick of drinking?
No, but ironically, on a social basis, I probably don’t drink that much. Because I do so much with drink development with work, when I go out or am with my family, the last thing I want to do is drink.
Since you’re making drink recipes for your kids now, what’s a good nonalcoholic drink to make?
I love doing the lemonade, because both of my kids are extremely picky eaters, but they both really like lemonade and apple juice. Doing a cider where they get to throw in the spices and fruits is really fun.
With lemonade, I like making a little cocktail shaker out of a mason jar, where they can put in their own fruit and shake it up to get that fresh fruit flavor in there.
What can people expect from Arizona Cocktail Week?
We have so much going on. The whole genesis and reason for Cocktail Week is really to raise awareness of cocktail culture. We have a huge educational component. For the first three days, Saturday through Monday, February 14 through 16 at the Hotel Valley Ho, there are educational seminars, ranging from an Irish whiskey seminar with The Dead Rabbit, a mixology bar out of New York City, who will be talking about the different styles of Irish whiskey; to a culinary cocktail class with Kathy Casey, the Liquid Chef out of Seattle, on how to raid your pantry and refrigerator to make great cocktails at home; to some fun cocktail techniques, such as cocktail foam; to a seminar by Riedel glassware on making sure you have the right glassware for the right spirit.
We’ll have a Cocktail Carnival, too, with drinks like the Mind Eraser and B-52 and Sex on the Beach re-imagined. It’ll be from 7 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, February 14 at OH Pool at the Hotel Valley Ho. Sunday night, February 15, we’ll have an Arizona Storytellers event with a chef and mixologist and a cocktail-paired dinner, along with storytelling. At the Hotel Valley Ho, we’ll also have Top Bars of America, or pop-up bars featuring some of the top mixologists from around the country and here locally.
The rest of the week, February 17 through 21, we’ll have wristband activations, where you can go to 75 to 100 bars or restaurants and get hugely discounted cocktails. The wristband also gets you into the Artisanal Spirit Cocktail Market, which takes place Monday, February 16 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Sands building at the Hotel Valley Ho. That is like a farmer’s market, but it’s more beverage-related, with a lot of craft boutique spirits and bar tools.
What is your favorite local cocktail brand?
Arizona Distilling Company is based out of Tempe, and they’ll be participating in Arizona Cocktail Week.
What are some of your favorite local bars for cocktails?
One of our partners for Cocktail Week is Ross Simon, who owns an amazing bar in downtown Phoenix called Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour. He’s put years of thought into his menu, which is really creative and whimsical.
Bar Crudo is another one. Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn does a great job with their cocktail program. The Second Story liquor bar is a great one, and so is The Mix Up Bar at Royal Palms Resort & Bar. Culinary Dropout, The Little Woody — there are so many.
How would you characterize the Valley’s cocktail culture compared to where you lived in New York and Los Angeles?
I’d say we’ve come a long way over the past few years. There’s a lot more awareness happening. I’m president of our local United States Bartenders’ Guild chapter, and when we first started, we had 20 members. Now, we have 150. That’s a great organization to be involved with if you are a beginner bartender, or if you’ve never bartended before but always wanted to, or even if you’re a cocktail enthusiast. We have multiple events going on monthly. Definitely check us out and get added to our mailing list. People can send us an email at Phoenix@usbg.org, and we’ll add you.
Do you have any hangover prevention tips?
One of the biggest reasons people have a hangover is dehydration. It’s such a simple method, but if you have one glass of water with every cocktail you have, that’s an immediate prevention method right there. Have a glass of water by your bedside when you get home. Drink water before you go to bed, and take a multivitamin, because alcohol depletes your system.
What are your goals?
I’m going to continue to try to put Phoenix on the map as a cocktail destination. The more education we put out there, the more people will be involved with the community. I’ll continue to work with local restaurants and bars and grow the USBG. We’re launching a whole educational platform to teach about spirits in classes.
What advice do you have for bartenders?
Join your local chapter of USBG, which also has a lot of resources on a national level, including a master accreditation course to get your Master Mixologist certification.
There are a lot of great books out there. Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail is a must-read for any aspiring mixologist. The Modern Mixologist by Tony Abou-Ganim and The Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan are also great ones, and Imbibe Magazine is a great resource.
What’s the hottest cocktail trend right now?
I would say there is going to be a big explosion in Irish whiskeys. For about the past 100 or so years, there were really only three major distilleries, but we’re definitely seeing that change now. We’re seeing a lot more craft Irish whiskeys come about, and more distilleries are opening. We’re going to see a lot more brands come to the forefront.
Irish whiskey is a great one to explore if you’re not a whiskey drinker. It’s a great first step because it’s light and floral and not as heavy as a bourbon or scotch.
How would you distinguish a mixologist from a bartender?
It’s interesting, because I think for awhile, a lot of people thought a bartender could be anybody, whether you had experience or not, and a mixologist was someone who really understands balance. But now, there’s been a movement of people not using the term “mixologist” and going back to “bartender,” because the craft of bartending has taken a huge leap.
A bartender really encompasses hospitality and is a profession behind a bar. It’s something that should be taken more seriously, and it is. That’s one of the exciting things about working in this industry. The bartender is now seen as a vocation and not just an occupation. People are pursuing it as their career, and not just as a way to get through college.
For me, since I don’t work at a bar anymore, I would say I’m more of a consultant or mixologist, but the craft of being a bartender is something I also teach.
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