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Most Imaginative Bartender Canvas Project: David Yee

February 04, 2021

Story: Punch Staff

art: Nick Hensley

David Yee, national finalist in the 2020 Most Imaginative Bartender Competition, on how he approaches the practice of writing and storytelling.

When developing a cocktail, most bartenders start from the inside and work out, building a drink around a base spirit, flavor or ratio. You could say Columbus, Ohio–based bartender David Yee works from the outside in.

“A lot of my process for making a drink is not necessarily imagining the drink, but imagining the atmosphere around the drink,” says Yee. “The drink has to be good enough to live up to the room, you know?” It’s an approach to cocktail creation that borrows from Yee’s literary, scene-setting imagination—he holds a master’s in fiction from Ohio State University, and when he’s not bartending, he’s usually writing.

From writing, he’s learned to chase inspiration until he hits a wall—which is often where the moment of breakthrough occurs. He remembers wanting to create a Daiquiri that would play off the vegetal notes of Wray & Nephew rum by pairing it with Pimm’s, but he kept running up against the rum’s overpowering presence. Taking a step back, he figured he could cut the overproof Wray & Nephew to a half-ounce, and supplement it with an aged rum. The drink fell into place.

Next on his docket? “It’s been a goal of mine to invent the next great trash shot,” he says. “I’m always chasing that drink that’s so obvious that no one’s discovered it yet. That kind of ‘aha!’ moment is the quest of a lot of art.”

David Yee on Writing

About the Canvas Project

BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® Gin, in partnership with Tales of the Cocktail Foundation, is proud to present ‘The Canvas Project’, a content series featuring the creative passions of the 12 finalists in the 2020 Most Imaginative Bartender (MIB) Competition. From photography and videography, to home gardening tips and mindfulness tutorials, the webinars are designed to spark inspiration and discovery, and foster connection by sharing bartenders’ personal passions in times of hardship.

Last year’s iteration of MIB introduced the Canvas Challenge, a $25,000 grant awarded to a finalist to turn their creative vision into reality. This ambitious test further heightened the imagination component of the competition to a new level and served as a reinforcement of Bombay Sapphire’s belief in the innate creativity of bartenders, which often translates outside the glass as much as it does inside of it.

The episodes of ‘The Canvas Project’ are designed around the Canvas Challenge submissions of the 12 finalists, who hail from Portland to Atlanta, Toronto to Miami, giving viewers a peek inside the inner workings of the program.

Read More About David

This Is What Creativity Means to David Yee

The Ohio–based bartender on his literary approach to bartending, the “aha!” moment at the core of great drinks and the recipe for his Short Story cocktail.


Short Story

This wasabi- and ginger-laced long drink recounts David Yee's memory of eating sushi for the first time.


Meet the Most Imaginative Bartender National Finalists

The 12 bartenders from the U.S. and Canada advancing to the MIB national finals.