From mini bars to Toronto’s first mega cocktail-centric retail store, Kristen Voisey, owner of BYOB Cocktail Emporium, knows a thing or two (or three) about your barware. Hailing from Newfoundland, and coming to Toronto to study Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson, she’s surprisingly never worked behind the bar. But who ever said that honing one’s knowledge and palate as a patron wasn’t adequate?
A chronic collector of vintage glassware, a designer of home bars (especially for condos), a lover of tiki, and a curator of fine bitters, all of Kristen’s passions have been poured into her Queen West shop. The first and most robust of its kind in Toronto, she was inspired by a store called Barkeeper while spending time in Los Angeles.
Drawing inspiration from all over the map, Kristen’s lust for travel helps her line the shelves with a vast array of fine drinking vessels – an integral part of any cocktail. The art of everything from a cocktail menu to the presentation of a drink becomes part of a production, which is positively shaping much of the mixing world.
“I think glassware is such an important aspect of cocktails,” she lauds. “If you order the ‘Hemingway’s New Fashioned’ at Hemingway Bar in Prague, the bartender gives you an empty glass with an ice chunk. When you ask where your drink is, you’re presented with a book. Inside you see a gold flask where your drink is prepared and you pour it into your own glass! Drinking is becoming such an artistic experience.”
While presentation is always important (whether you’re a professional, or just putzing around at home) what goes into the glass is of the utmost importance. Bitters have gone increasingly mainstream over the past number of years despite their centuries-old use. BYOB stocks over 100 kinds of bitters, and Kristen admits that she continues to find a new variety almost every day.
The tincture that’s taking hold of the market, however, is shrubs – a blend of fruit, berries or aromatics, sugar and vinegar. Shrubs have a distinct tangy bite with the sweetness of fresh fruit and they’re great for adding a unique element to mixed drinks.
“We have some [shrubs] at the Emporium now in peach, blood orange, grapefruit, rhubarb, spicy ginger and honey. A lot of bartenders are making their own unique flavors such as cucumber, pear, apple, etc… They are delicious!” Kristen admits.
Though biters and syrups are amongst the most popular purchases at BYOB, their immense selection of accessories – from Boston shakers, jiggers and bar spoons to muddlers, strainers and both vintage and new glassware – make any visit to BYOB interesting.
Kristen’s personal favourite tool is her Japanese cocktail shaker. She imports all of her Japanese products directly from the producers overseas – like long elegant bar spoons and etched mixing glasses.
As far as the future of BYOB goes, Kristen hopes to one day design her own line of barware and glassware. She’s also constantly toying with the idea of opening up a tiki bar in Toronto.
“Drinking out of a parrot or shark is so fun. The garnishes are way over the top and gorgeous like flowers, umbrellas, fruit pieces, etc. It’s a great escape from Toronto winters sipping on a Mai Tai.”
Though seasonal inspirations may find their way into your bar, no matter the season, Ms. Voisey and BYOB have got all levels of cocktail enthusiasts in Toronto toasting to her existence.