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Three-Drink Minimum: Bartending With Karen Fu

In "Three-Drink Minimum," we take a look at the drink-making style of some of our favorite bartenders, in three cocktails.

karen fu bartender

This story is published in partnership with Bacardi’s Spirit Forward Women in Leadership series, an annual summit dedicated to championing the spirits trade community and accelerating the advancement of women. For more information, and to find out how you can attend the program’s five-city tour, click here.

Since she dove headfirst into the New York City bar scene—starting at a dive on the Upper West Side—Karen Fu has been sitting comfortably at the forefront of the American cocktail renaissance. From 2009 to 2013, the  New Jersey native worked at PDT, where she quickly picked up the craft—and then went running with it. “Playing around with intriguing ingredients has always steered drink-making for me,” says Fu. “Back at PDT I was interested in testing things like matcha while studying the classics.”

Since her stint there, she’s worked at and managed some of the city’s most respected cocktail programs, including Momofuku Ssäm Bar, The Nomad, now-shuttered Mayahuel, Slowly Shirley and The Happiest Hour, Llama Inn and Donna.

Today, Fu is heading up the Studio Bar at New York’s new Freehand Hotel, where the menu reflects her ongoing fascination with untraditional flavor combinations paired with classic cocktail blueprints.

“I try to make drinks that are fundamentally interesting without too much fuss,” she says. “As a reaction to cocktails being everywhere, and being spoiled here in New York, I’m going back to balance. To what simply tastes good.”

Cel-Rays of Thyme

“This is a tribute to Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray Soda and its rare but celebrated appearance in New York delis. I named it purely for how it sounds, but also because it speaks to Dr. Brown’s timelessness. The celery juice is backed by pineapple, and the Bigallet thyme liqueur mingles well with the peppery heat of St. George Green Chile vodka. I did an agave hybrid of mezcal and blanco tequila, plus a dash of Bittermens Orchard Celery Shrub, topped with fizzy tonic to round everything out.”

Diamonds Are Forever

“Based on a Vesper and named for one of the few Bond movies in which he orders it, Diamonds Are Forever is a restrained drink that relies on the lean berry fruit of Aperol and cherry eau-de-vie by Portland, Oregon’s Clear Creek Distillery. Everything else is about dynamic duos dancing. The salinity of Lustau Jarana fino sherry and citrus peel of blanc vermouth, a touch of Grey Goose vodka and gin for crispness.”

Shipwreck Saint

“The Shipwreck Saint is inspired by my long-standing affair with In Pursuit of Tea. Their South African Rooibos is a lush, full-bodied crimson tea. The aim of this cobbler is to use cocoa nib-infused triple sec to achieve a happy marriage of bitter orange and chocolate, without being cloyingly sweet. It’s best made with Giffard triple sec and lightly toasted nibs. The rest is simple yet delicious: turbinado syrup, lime, pineapple, Banks 5 Island white rum and a dusting of coffee grounds on top.”

Find out more about the Spirit Forward Women in Leadership program here.

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