As lead mixologist at Delmonico Steakhouse, Juyoung Kang has a lot of ground to cover. In addition to knowing her wine and cocktails, she is also in charge of maintaining the restaurant's famous whiskey list -- which features selections that are nearly impossible to find anywhere else.
"We're a steakhouse, so a lot of martinis go out. At the same time, people know we have whiskey, so they come here just for the whiskey."
The demand for whiskey, bourbon, and rye carries over to the cocktails, including traditional favorites -- like Manhattans, whiskey sours, and Old Fashioneds. The latter is crafted with house-made cherry bitters and orange citrate syrup. "Right now, our Old Fashioned is probably the most popular drink that's on the menu," says Kang. "I usually make the syrup for it every week, but right now, I’m making two batches every week."
Kang broke into the business in Philadelphia. She learned on the job, including at a wedding gig where she was so green she "didn't know the difference between a stout and a lager." Her love of spirits developed when she attended tastings for both Robert Mondavi and Johnnie Walker and "had way more fun" at the Johnnie Walker tasting. She refined her craft at "really crazy martini bars," and relocated to Los Angeles, where she worked at five-star resorts before moving to Las Vegas. She helped open the Cosmopolitan, then made a name for herself at Commonwealth's Laundry Room before taking the Delmonico job at the Venetian.
"I'm really organized," says Kang. "I bartend blind -- meaning I have to know where that product is. When I pick it up, I know that is where lime juice is. I don't have to read the label over and over again to know it's lime juice. I know what it looks like just by touching it and feeling it. I don't have to actually look at it."
She also isn't above having a little fun. She recently added a Midori sour as a "guilty pleasure" for those not so ultra-serious about their whiskey drinking.
Is Vegas underrated as a craft cocktail city?
Juyoung Kang: Yeah. Everyone goes to the casino bars, and thinks the bars aren't that good. They're not meant for that. They’re for the general public. If you want specific stuff, you go to specific places. There's tons of talent in the city itself who want to do more. They just don't have the support. I'm lucky to have that.
When you're not at Delmonico Steakhouse, what are some of the places in Vegas you like to go for a good drink?
Kang: Bound at the Cromwell; they do a good job. Sand Dollar is a small dive bar and the bartenders are really good there. Everyone goes to Herbs & Rye… if you want something classic, they have stuff you've never heard of before.
What trends do you expect to see in 2017?
Kang: Using different liqueurs -- and even wine -- in cocktails. You can't always use the same things. In order to change it all, you have to change the flavor profile itself. Sherry was really big for a while, and port tried to catch on, but it didn't have quite enough depth for a cocktail, but I think a lot of people are working in that direction.