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.
“Head Bird” at Wildhawk in San Francisco, Karri Kiyuna’s background is layered: the grit of working at an Irish pub in Savannah, Georgia, combined with the funk of slinging beers at a sports bar in Noe Valley in SF. But the appeal of both was meeting people. “My husband was a customer before he was my husband,” she says. (He worked down the street from the sports bar as a sous-chef at Front Porch.)
When cocktails began creeping onto the scene in San Francisco, she heard about Comstock Saloon—now a cornerstone of the OG cocktail scene—and knew she wanted to work there. “Comstock felt like the Wild West, but everything was so on point. Jeff [Hollinger] and Johnny [Raglin] were changing things, and I knew I wanted to learn from them,” she says of the saloon’s owners and keepers.
Having gained an education in serious drinks, Kiyuna remains a devotee of barroom conversation and general fun making. “Drinks are great. I’d rather hear about your day,” she says. At Wildhawk, a lounge-y bar with tin ceilings and polished wood whose staff leans female (“We have a man, too!” she says), the focus is on both socializing and delighting. “You’ll probably get a drink in a ninja cup or a panda head.”
Lately, she’s been experimenting with low-ABV cocktails and amber vermouth. In fact, much of Kiyuna’s drink making style has been heavily influenced by the influx of vermouth to the American market. She’s dedicated an entire section to not only vermouth cocktails, but vermouths by the glass, an idea that would have been unheard of in the Wild West days of the cocktail.
“I love a whisky highball. Like, a lot. It’s cold, refreshing and such a treat. For this variation, I went for something a little more wintery…The buttery caramel and vanilla of Dewar’s is perfect for a highball and stands up to the deep saffron and earth of the M&R Bitter. This is my little shout-out to all the Bettys who love their whiskey. (And it’s pink.)”
“A vermouth cocktail is great in the afternoon, as an aperitif or whenever really. The M&R Ambrato vermouth has such a rich honeyed flavor and texture, and it’s a fun introduction to this style of vermouth. It’s named after my grandmother Dolores. She liked to do things her way, and though she was not a big alcohol drinker, I think she would have enjoyed the bright flavors in this low-ABV, floral cocktail.”
“This is a variation on a classic Daiquiri, with the addition of vermouth to show how it can brighten and lighten up a familiar drink. Incorporating vermouth into a familiar cocktail is a great way to highlight its diversity. The bianco vermouth supports the funk of the Banks rum while filling in some brighter botanicals and melds nicely with the vanilla.”