Juyoung Kang spent a year leading up to the 2014 Bombay Sapphire bartending competition, planning her submission. She’d placed fourth the previous year, and she says, she spent each mixing and remixing her idea. She won “most imaginative bartender” that year with a a variation on a Ramos Gin Fizz, an 8-spice syrup, garnished with little micro-flowers.
Kang is now a bartender and the lead mixologist at Emeril Lagasse's Delmonico Steakhouse in Las Vegas, Nevada, and one of hundreds of thousands of bartenders in the U.S. For The Atlantic’s series of interviews with American workers, I spoke with Kang about how she creates new drinks, misconceptions about the difficulties of bartending, and how the beverage industry has changed over her 17-year career. The interview that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Adrienne Green: What inspired you to start bartending and then to become a mixologist?
Juyoung Kang: I started in the food-and-beverage industry when I was 18 years old in Philadelphia. There was an ad for a job in the newspaper and my sister and I both went to an interview. I basically told the general manager that if he didn’t hire me then no one was going to give me the start to learn. One day one of the bartenders forgot to show up, and there were 300 people there for a wedding. My bar manager was like, “Hey, you're smart enough. You get behind the bar." I learned the little things, but I didn't know anything about it. I would go to the liquor store to find out what brands were vodka, gin, rum, and write them all down.