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Kim Haasarud: What Phoenix's Cocktail Scene Needs and the Perks of USBG Membership

As a mother and Phoenix's U.S. Bartenders' Guild president, Kim Haasarud is used to wrangling and organizing. Her experience in cocktail bars began as a way to supplement her income in the '90s. Since then, she's become a well-known player in cocktail scenes from New York to L.A., putting her at the forefront of cocktails' resurgence.

With eight published cocktail books, a nod for her mixology work from the James Beard Foundation, and a mixology column in Redbook, Haasarud might just be one of the most knowledgeable people in the Phoenix cocktail community, but unless you're an industry-type, it's unlikely you have heard of her. It's time to change that.

See Also: Old Town Farmers Market Cocktail Competition (SLIDESHOW)

You may not know her by name, but for spirit enthusiasts, Haasarud's work has expanded the cocktail culture in Phoenix exponentially in the four years she's lived in the Valley. As current USBG president and organizer for Arizona Cocktail Week, she's infused her energy and momentum into planning events, tastings, competitions, and seminars for people in the industry and cocktail enthusiasts who are just looking to learn more.

Admittedly, USBG membership seems a little inside baseball, but Haasarud explains that the $100 annual fee easily pays for itself if you're looking to attend seminars and workshops throughout the year. Plus, the AZCW discount for members is pretty good too.

Expanding USBG membership is one of Haasarud's main goals right now. Events like last Saturday's cocktail competition at the Old Town Farmers Market help burgeon interest in the guild with free public tastings and an insight in the creative process behind the bar.

At the event, teams of three had $50 to spend on raw ingredients from the farmers market. They then had 30 minutes and their choice of Finlandia vodka to craft an aromatic, fresh, and locally-focused cocktail that was both visually appealing and tasty. With ingredients like duck eggs, basil, peaches, honey, and more, teams juiced and mixed off the cuff.

In the end, the winning cocktail was a powerfully flavorful, yet still balanced, combination of Finlandia grapefruit, fresh grapefruit, date syrup, lemon juice, ginger, and a foam made from eggs, honeydew melon, and La Bella Terre's grapefruit and hibiscus sugar. Haasarud says you can see the craft in these events, with bartenders using torches to brulée and a focus on making things from scratch.

"The role of the bartender has changed back to more of what it was when it was seen as a prestigious career," she explains. "There's more synchronicity between the bar and kitchen."

However, Haasarud also says these events just help promote Phoenix's bartending scene in general.

"Events like this raise awareness and help elevate the craft" she says. "It's really all about education and putting Phoenix on the map for cocktails."

When Kim Haasarud joined Phoenix's USBG chapter, there were about 25 members. Now, she's proud to say there are about 150 guild members, though she's always looking to include more. While cocktail enthusiasts get access to events like cocktail dinners and more if they join, Haasarud says the more bartenders that join, the better the cocktail scene will be for everyone in town as well.

The future of Phoenix's USBG will focus on expanding and collaborating with bars in Tucson and Flagstaff, forming a novice-level educational series, and working on consistency and standards for bars in town-- even the divey ones.

Upcoming events include the Bombay Sapphire competition sponsored by GQ that pretty much launched local cocktail legend Jason Asher's career in 2010 as well as a Veev poolside pitcher cocktail competition. Some past favorites include tiki, ice cutting, and punch seminars led by L.A.'s Marcos Tello.

For more information on joining the USBG and its events, you can visit the organization's website.

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