Straight, No Chaser: the Keefer Bar’s Amber Bruce talks high-test, tequila, and Miami bars

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      Straight, No Chaser looks to Vancouver’s talented mixologists for stories from behind the stick. We find out how they create, what they love, where their favourite bar is, and what they grew up watching their parents drink.

      Who are you

      Heya, I’m Amber Bruce, the bar manager at the Keefer Bar. You can find me behind the bar making drinks four nights a week and on the other side of the bar every other night.

      My parents mixed

      Mom doesn’t drink much but has a penchant for proper Champagne, and dad always had a two-four of Extra Old Stock in the garage and the next batch of home made wine, or “plonk”, on the go.

      The creative process

      I look for inspiration in everything under the sun. Whether it be a poem, a moment in nature, a scent on a breeze, an old legend, or a great meal—there is an opportunity to find a flavour palette you might have never considered before. Because of this, I don’t really have a formula for making drinks. Some take longer than others and some get nailed right on the first shot. Some never get past the drawing board. There’s nothing like the feeling of getting the mix just right—it’s pretty magical.

      Best drink I ever had

      Oh boy, so many great drinks. I have to say at the top of the list has to be the Tsukemono made by Tyson Buhler at Death & Co in Manhattan. I had just come off of the World Class National finals and had been out touring around drinking all the things and needed something low ABV (alcohol by volume). He must have read my mind because this drink was light, refreshing, and zippy. It reminded me of a sunomono salad, something that I go gaga for. Whether he used telepathy or just nailed it by a fluke, it was an unforgettable experience.

      World’s best bar

      Currently my favourite bar has got to be the Broken Shaker in Miami. They’re situated off the beaten path, about a 20-minute walk from South Beach, and they’re built into the Freehand Hostel. The little cocktail bar opens into an inner courtyard fit with a pool, bocce, games, outdoor furniture, and another little satellite bar that serves up only one or two cocktails per day. There is also a great restaurant with another cocktail bar just on the other side of the courtyard. Each of the bars specializes in fresh, tropics-inspired drinks, using odd ingredients like chiles, chorizo, and purple cauliflower. World-class cocktails, cheap accommodations, and a pool are a recipe for perfection.

      Signature creation

      I make up a lot of cocktails, but usually I’m working with a guest one-on-one to create something that suits their tastes. It can be quite personal and intimate, so it’s best to dive into their favourites, what sort of mood they’re in, and ask about any flavours that they don’t particularly like. From there I will dive into classics, contemporary classics, and make minor twists along the way. I, personally, am quite partial to tequila, so I usually try to turn people on to agave-based cocktails. That and cocktails with more than one type of spirit as a base. Using multiple spirits as a base of a cocktail can create incredible complexity in a relatively simple cocktail recipe.

      I’d love a cocktail with

      Oh man, I would be happy to grab a drink with any one of our Canadian Professional Bartenders Association (CPBA) members and shoot the breeze on anything. These are incredibly passionate people who share my interest in growing our little community, so we’d have plenty to rap about. If I had to pick one it’d be the CPBA president Trevor Kallies. He’s just got it all together, the full arsenal. Every time I chat with him I walk away incredibly inspired and asking myself how can I do more.

      After taking home the Canadian title in Giffard’s Iron Mixologist 2017 competition on March 6, Amber Bruce will represent Canada this June in the Giffard West Cup in France. The Keefer Bar is located at 135 Keefer Street.

      Amber Bruce talks to the Straight about her go-to drink, what she'd order at a dive bar, and more.
      Amanda Siebert