Tropical thunder

Kristi-Leigh Akister expands The Union’s bold, exotic repertoire

In Vancouver, you’re more likely to inherit an incredible cocktail program and back bar these days than have to build one from scratch. That said, there’s always room to improve.

Take Union bar manager Kristi-Leigh Akister. The vibrant young bartender stepped into the role established by Cascade bar manager Nick Devine and 17-year industry veteran Arthur Wynne just over a year ago, and has since established an innovative new cocktail menu and rotating draft list to pair with the restaurant’s Pan-Asian bibimbaps and bahn mis.

From only the freshest fruits and herbs, such as Thai basil, coconut, coriander, pineapple, galangal, Kaffir lime and more, Akister and her team create an ever-changing assortment of drinking vinegars, tinctures, teas, infusions, purées, juices and syrups to elevate the menu’s exotic theme. Managing those complex flavours, though, came with a bit of a learning curve. 

“I had to sort of learn everything as I went,” the blue-eyed, Alberta-born bartender admits, with a laugh. “There was no bar manager at the time when I came on, so it was a huge trial and error as I painstakingly learned the flavour profiles, how they worked together and the different spirits that they complemented as well.”

But all that research paid off. Lately, Akister, the Cascade Company’s first and only female bar manager, has been experimenting with a dynamic lapsang souchong syrup, as well as working on a wolfberry and hibiscus shrub to add depth to certain cocktails for spring. She hails the return of the shim—a low-alcohol cocktail—for the warmer months, but also hints of the possibility of beer cocktails joining the restaurant’s menu in the coming weeks.

“Craft brewing is the darling of the liquor industry right now, and I think we might see beer showing up a little bit more in cocktails,” she reveals. “Beer brings depth to a drink that isn’t normally achieved in other ways.”

The Union,
219 Union St.,

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