Behind the Bar: Mixologist Liberty Quihuis of Kai
Liberty Quihius has found her spot at award-winning Kai at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, and it's behind the sleek bar mixing and stirring cocktails. She recently celebrated her three-year anniversary, having started as a hostess at Kai before moving on to the beverage arena, where she is now responsible for creating cocktails and managing the bar program. This talented, industrious young woman attends Arizona State University while working five nights a week at this five diamond, five star restaurant. Guests of Kai are introduced to her gift via delicious libations that express her creativity with local ingredients and quest in "making classic cocktails that are true to the restaurant itself." "I’m working while I go to school and I just love it here, you can’t leave," she tells me, as we sit down for an interview.
What’s your favorite part of working with cocktails? How much fun you can have with it! Who doesn’t love a good cocktail?
Do you have a favorite spirit? Either gin or whiskey. I like strong flavors. I think you can put strong flavors together and mellow them out and add unique characteristics just based on things like mesquite honey or sage.
You must like working with local ingredients. I do. I’m a sustainability major at ASU so I really like fresh, local, organic ingredients. Chiles, pink peppercorn, sage, mint, and a lot of fresh fruit. We’re in such a beautiful place that it’s hard not to be inspired by those sort of things.
Is there a best seller at Kai? A tie between the Pima Bear, Grapefruit Martini, or the Kai Old Fashioned. The grapefruit one we took off the menu but people kept requesting it so we brought it back. People love that one.
Tell me about your creation, the Mesquite Rouge. I start off with muddled Luxardo cherries and sage. The sage adds a richness and earthiness. Then some Templeton rye and a little bit of Lillet Rouge.
Some lime, and then mesquite honey, which is one of my favorite ingredients to use. It adds a nice sweetness to it but it’s really mellow at the same time.
Do you have a favorite drink you’ve created? The Blue Mountain. It’s similar in nature to the Mesquite Rouge. It’s muddled blackberry, mint, and cucumber, nothing too heavy, a really nice sweetness at the end, but nothing overpowering. I make it with Junipero gin, Lillet Blanc, mesquite honey, and lime juice.
How often do you change your menu? We try to do it seasonally, about three times a year, and then we add a featured drink every month.
Do you work together with the chefs? Yes. For this month's feature [made with candied pecan-infused Woodford Reserve] part of it came from them. They have those pecans, so I was able to steal a few, and then we made the bourbon together. We bounce a lot of the ideas off each other. It’s definitely collaborative.
Every once in a while, we’ll get a cocktail pairing so that’s always fun. There is so much that goes into creating a dish here at Kai. I can kind of mimic the same thing, though not on the same level, obviously, but I think you can pair things quite well and complement each other. Chef Swanson tries every drink before we present it, and so do all the other chefs, so there is a lot of input that goes into it as well.
What do you enjoy the most about being behind the bar? I think when you can just have a real conversation with someone and you’re able to make them a drink that they’re really enjoying and you can have a connection, whether that be where they’re from or places that you’ve been. To just kind of share a moment in time, if you will.
What do you like best about working at Kai? The entire family that we have here at Kai. Everyone is here for each other, supports each other, both at work and outside of work. It’s really unique and it’s special.
What do you see for the future? I watched "Hey Bartender", and there is a line in it where someone says, “You don’t choose the industry, the industry chooses you”. Although I’m studying economics and sustainability, I’m doing this and loving it.