Sheila Rabala is excited to meet Yvonne Wairimu, the mixologist who is redefining what it means to be a woman behind the bar.
There’s an energy around Yvonne Wairimu that is purely infectious. One of the leading female bartenders in the country, it is immediately apparent from the minute she walks behind the counter that this is a lady in her zone.
With many achievements already under her belt including earlier this year when she not only represented Kenya but Africa at the annual prestigious “Tales of the Cocktail”, a premier series of cocktail festivals which was held in the United States highlighting what’s now, new and next in the spirits industry.
What was the exact moment you knew you wanted to be a mixologist?
Immediately after High school I got a job waiting on tables, but I would always find myself gravitating towards the bar. Once there, I would take my time reading the back of labels trying to figure out what made one drink different from the other. My manager started getting frustrated that my station was always unattended and eventually allowed me to work behind the bar. Twenty years later I have never looked back.
You really made a name for yourself while working with some international brands. What’s the most important thing you learned while working with such corporates?
Bartending is an art and in the initial days working with corporates was tough. I had to get accustomed to office culture where there were rules and regulations governing a lot of aspects of your operations, down to how you dressed.
What has been your career highlight to date?
At this moment it is definitely the recent Jameson Connect party 2017. It was quite a challenge running all the bars during the event. I was a little apprehensive at first but 5000 satisfied revelers later I can say a huge moment for me and my team.
What is most challenging about what you do?
Being a woman in the industry. So many assumptions are made about you. First the misconception that your knowledge of the craft would be limited because you are a woman. I have across too many people who assume that I got there through favours. In many cases you have to work two or three times harder than your male counterpart to prove yourself.
Do you have a tip for home bartenders?
First relax and have fun with it when you are hosting. When it comes to displaying your drinks arrange all your light spirits on one side like your vodkas, gins, rums and all your dark spirits like cognacs and whiskeys on another. Another tip is invest in some simple bar tools or improvise with what you have in the house for example use a small glass with a bigger one to improvise as a shaker.
What cocktail trend would you like to see disappear?
Rainbow cocktails for sure! There’s this trend that is steadily growing where once a bartender starts making one or two cocktails, they start playing around with different colored liqueurs and layer for you different drinks which are just full of sugar! Liqueurs are meant to be modifiers not the base spirit of the cocktail! It seems some people haven’t received the memo on that.
What does 2018 hold for you, do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline?
I am excited for what 2018 hold for me and the mobile bar company we run called We Mix. We’ve been doing alot of events this year. I have a small cocktail bar in Thika, Wemix Cocktail Lounge and we are working very hard to have it moved to Nairobi in 2018.
How do you deal with annoying customers?
I smile a lot, but on the inside I’m dishing out curse words. It is a difficult spot being a female behind the bar but I have learnt to remain calm. It is always important to remind yourself that the customer is drinking and might be slightly inebriated while you are sober.
You would be surprised to find out that female clients are usually the most difficult in such situations. If the situations gets too extreme, I walk away from the bar. At the end of the day it is important to remember that even bartenders are human.