Mixologist Danielle Yoon Creates With Love
A blacksmith forges and shapes iron with precision. A wordsmith impresses indelible prose on the page. With a Boston shaker in one hand and a strainer in the other, the drinksmith fashions custom libations in the way of artisans of yore: by hand, deftly mixing homemade syrups, tinctures and infusions with fresh, quality ingredients. “Drinksmiths use flavour as [their] medium to create edible (or drinkable, as it were) art that is accessible to anyone,” says Danielle Yoon, a Toronto-based bartender and the co-founder of Drinksmith, a new craft cocktail catering company slinging imaginative as well as custom-made artisanal cocktails for parties, tastings and other gatherings.
Among Drinksmith’s repertoire: “The Black Samba,” bourbon infused with cacao nibs and cherry juice syrup, shaken with Chambord (a black raspberry liqueur), lemon juice and egg white, and topped with shaved chocolate. The drink, concocted by Yoon’s business partner and fellow drinksmith Stefano Pilla, is not unlike black forest cake in a cocktail coupe, says Yoon, and exemplary of the culinary aesthetic behind the nascent brand.
“Most of my inspiration comes from foods and flavour combinations I’ve had in the past,” shares Yoon. “Classic combinations from other cultures are a great [source] of inspiration too. [For example], the ingredients of Vietnamese cuisine: mint, cilantro, lemongrass, ginger, lime, cucumbers are very distinct and potent but pair naturally with one another — think of a mojito or a gin-gin mule. Another is kulfi — it’s a traditional Indian frozen dessert consisting of pistachio, rosewater, cardamom, saffron, sometimes mango, and condensed milk. I like my cocktails to [have] a punch of flavour.”
Established this past April, Drinksmith came to be when Yoon and Pilla, who met at Toronto’s high-toned The Spoke Club where they previously worked, sought a creative outlet in between freelance bartending gigs. “In creating cocktails for work and competitions, there were a lot of really tasty drinks that didn’t make the cut and I didn’t want to miss out on utilizing these in the future,” says Yoon.
Though Yoon, whose resume includes tenures at Citrus at The Grand Hotel and Suites Toronto and Annette Food Market (where she currently heads the cocktail program), considers herself new to the art of the pour, professionally speaking, Yoon has been slinging her own creations since age 14 for her parents and their guests at the dinner parties they would host. “I was always allowed to taste a little bit as I went,” says the Toronto-born, Vancouver-bred entrepreneur. “In retrospect, a lot of people would probably frown on that now.”
The cocktail that first piqued her curiosity? The Raffles Hotel Singapore Sling, remembers Yoon. “I was 16 years old and begged my mom to go out and buy Benedictine and cherry brandy — though I had no idea what any of the ingredients tasted like.”
Soon after, Yoon worked various jobs at various restaurants in Vancouver, before moving to Toronto to study Food & Beverage Management at George Brown College.
Earlier this year, the WSET Level 3 Wine and Spirits Award recipient was among 13 finalists to compete at the MadeWithLove™ National Finals in Montreal.
As Drinksmith grows, Yoon hopes to expand her pool of knowledgeable bartenders, and somewhere down the line turn “The Forge,” the company’s digital cocktail compendium, into a book of recipes. Ultimately, however, she hopes to see craft cocktails earn a permanent place in the event landscape. “People are really surprised that this is a service that you can bring into your own home,” says Yoon. “I’d love to see craft cocktails for events become more common — partly for the selfish [reason] to go to a party and get a decent drink!”