We often hear the same names of bartenders and their exploits in media features, press releases, and cocktail competitions. But there’s a growing pool of young, talented barkeeps in Vancouver, and their time is now. This series of interviews looks to introduce our readers to this new breed.
We begin with Amber Bruce. Though no stranger to notoriety and competitive success, she just opted out of the #1 spot at Cuchillo to take a lesser role at The Keefer Bar, where she could learn from an old Jedi or two, namely Keenan Hood and Gez McAlpine.
First bartending job? Moxie’s day bartender. I unintentionally wore a similar uniform to the bartenders on my first training shift. They asked me if I had ever considered bartending. The rest is history.
The moment that it went from a part time “gig” to a career? I had just graduated from UBC and got a job at the Irish Heather. I fell in love with whiskey. Shortly after that I met some amazing people who introduced me to the tight-knit bartending community. I love being part of such a diverse community of people with similar interests.
Career highlights to date? Hanging out at Hennessy in Cognac, travelling to Stockholm with Absolut, and getting hired at The Keefer Bar.
What you like most about your new gig? Being surrounded by uber-talented people and the never-ending opportunities to learn new things.
Mixologist or Bartender? Seriously?
Favourite 3 Bartenders you’ve ever worked with? H (Notturno)– you either get it or you don’t. There is no in between. Julia Diakow (Tacofino) – all hail the Queen. Randy Gaudreau (Shebeen) – whiskey knowledge for days.
Table or bar? Bar – as close to service station (aka gossip central) as possible.
3 Bartenders you’d like to work with? Mike Shum (Fairmont) – the perfect combo of poise and fun. Trevor Kallies (Donelly) – he seems good at reaching things off the top shelf. Jeffrey Morgenthaler (Pepe le Moko, Portland) – I don’t have daddy issues, I swear.
Negroni, up or rocks? Rocks.
Your go-to bar for good times in Vancouver, and what you’re drinking? Fairview pub – beers and Buck Hunter.
A good lesson you’ve learned behind the bar? Be ready for anything, and stay cool. Panicking won’t help get the job done.
Can of beer or bottle? Can.
A trend that should have been 86’d a long time ago? At the risk of being excommunicated from the bartending community – I’ve never really been into Fernet Branca.
Accomplishment you’re most proud of? Placing second in my heat of the Barate Kid Bartending Competition qualifier. I was coming from a place where I rarely made those classics, and had next to no free pouring experience. I didn’t see that one coming.
Bourbon or Scotch? Scotch.
What brand? Something salty, Clynelish, Jura, Talisker.
Your favourite bar tool, and why? A good playlist – nothing like getting into the zone to the right music. Or tongs, I fucking love tongs.
Jigger or free pour? Jigger…for now.
Good customer who doesn’t tip well, or douchebag who tips huge? Douchebag – thickens the skin and the wallet.
Twitter or Instagram? Instagram – a picture’s worth a thousand characters.
Your post work drink. What is it, where is it, and who’s making it? Chocolate “milkshake”, McDonald’s drive-thru, made by the hero that didn’t shut the ice cream machine down before 2am.
Note: along with Max Borrowman of Torafuku, Amber will be representing BC at the upcoming Beefeater 24 Cocktail Canadian Championships in Toronto on Oct. 19th. Try your hand at the drink that got her there…
45 ml Beefeater Gin
30 ml lemon juice
30 ml mint pea, caper and malt shrub
90 ml Pilsner
Shake gin, lemon and shrub over ice.
Fine strain into tall glass.
Top with beer.
Garnish with mint