Danielle Yoon is a successful Toronto-based brand education and advocacy specialist as well as a Spirits Consultant at Corby Spirits and Wine Limited since 2017 and a Drinksmith co-founder. She is a connoisseur in her field with a “Food and Management” background from George Brown College and a level 3 award with distinction from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. She also has worked at Rosewood Estates Winery, The Grand Hotel & Suites, The Spoke Club, and the Annette Food Market in the past decade. While she is currently based in Canada, she has international connections, many of which were established through her Instagram @dani.drinks. She can also be found on Linked In as Danielle Yoon.

Tell me about relevant work experience before becoming a cocktail expert and educator.

I’ve worked for nearly a decade in the hospitality industry. I was studying wine in preparation to become a sommelier when I found myself bartending at a wine bar; my then boss signed me up for my first cocktail competition. After a successful showing in a few cocktail competitions, I co-founded a cocktail consultancy and catering agency, which is kind of what led me to this role.

How would you compare the Toronto cocktail industry to other ones in Canada or outside of the country?

I think bartenders are so interconnected so they’re able to learn more, at a faster rate than bartenders from before. We have amazing cocktail programs being run in really great bars, but there are so many limitations that deter their success. The LCBO might not carry a specific liqueur that’s super trendy around the world, or there just aren’t enough customers coming in. I once heard a statistic, that in Europe, the majority of liquor sales happens in bars/restaurants, with a small percentage being sold for home consumption, whereas in Canada, it’s the inverse, a very small minority of the total alcohol consumption in this country happens in establishments. This might be a larger reflection of cultural norms, but it speaks to the challenges of keeping a business afloat when margins are already quite slim.

How would you describe working in this industry as a woman?

I generally prefer not to genderize my experiences, though I will say that the landscape has evolved from when I started. It’s very encouraging to see more inclusivity in rooms that used to be a lot more homogenous.

Do you see yourself working outside of the region or outside of Canada permanently in the future?

I always fantasize about what it might be like to live in the place when I’m traveling. I’d gladly move to Korea or anywhere in Scandinavia if the opportunity arose. 

Though I’m originally a west-coast girl, and my family all live there; COVID has made me give thought to being closer in case, god forbid, something should happen.

Do you feel social media allows you to market yourself and your job? If so, to what extent?

I find social media imperative not only to stay in touch with people you know, but also to people you wish you knew; I’ve actually gotten a job just by reaching out to someone in the industry who I found inspirational and starting a conversation on Instagram, and this was back when IG first started. It also allows me to project my passions and personality and connect those to my work. I’m pretty vocal about womxns/lgbtqi rights and environmental sustainability, and this connected me with similar minded people who I eventually was able to do cool collaborations with. It’s a great way to connect with your likeminded people.

What is it about gin and its complexities that specifically interests you?

I find it really cool that spirits have all reflected world history in some way. In the case of gin, its very existence is a reflection of key political events that led to its creation – from religious wars to plagues, to cocktail revolution.

Gins are so unique now, many producers express a taste of somewhereness (often called terroir) through their choice of botanicals, like Ungava using botanicals such as Nordic juniper hand-harvested from the Canadian arctic, or Malfy boasting Tuscan juniper and Sicilian citrus, or Monkey 47 with its black forest botanicals. But the benchmark is set at the London Dry styles such as Beefeater, which is still made in London.

How would one go about finding their perfect gin match?

There are mainly two different types of gin: London dry and compound (also known as distilled). 

London dry is crisp, zesty, and bright, while compound gins (most but not all) tend to be a bit more dense, warm, and silky. 

I like to keep both types on hand for different uses and moods.

Tell me about the botanicals used in clients’ favourite gins.

For a gin to be called gin, it must predominantly be juniper flavoured, this is what gives gin its zesty herbal flavour and aroma, which some may compare to evergreen trees. Some producers try to downplay the juniper, and others will build the profile around it. Most gins contain some type of citrus zest for aroma, angelica for earthy tones that complement juniper, liquorice and almond for sweetness and mouthfeel, and spices for well… spice. Flowers also aren’t uncommon. All of these botanicals provide aroma and flavour, but also texture. A well-balanced gin should activate your senses of sour, sweet, spice, and bitter.

How does one go about complimenting the botanical flavours in the gin?

Consider the profile of a gin compared to what cocktail you’re intending to use it for. Not every gin is interchangeable – some are workhorses that do everything, while some are best just with tonic.

What is the difference in how certain gins are distilled? 

Remember I mentioned that there are 2 different styles of gin? A London dry gin is made by re-distilling neutral spirit with botanicals, but no flavour can be added post distillation. The botanicals can either be macerated with the spirit first before distillation, or they can be suspended in a basket so the vapour passes through them inside the still – which makes the botanicals taste super light.

A compound (distilled) gin can have other flavours introduced after distillation, this is often done by maceration which can introduce a kind of smoother, rounder mouthfeel.

How would you describe the perfect gin martini? Gin and tonic? And other clients’ gin favourites?

For a while, everyone was crazy about dry martinis, but I resolved that the best recipe is found in the Savoy cocktail book – 2 parts gin: 1 part dry vermouth: a dash of orange bitters. 

As far as a perfect G&T, it can be so personal – but my best advice would be to use lots of ice and ensure the tonic is cold; warm soda loses carbonation when it hits ice, this goes for all high-balls. Gin also lends itself well to bloody caesars.

What has been your favourite gin concoction as of yet?

One of my top 3 favourite cocktails is the 20th century, equal parts gin, Lillet, Crème de Cacao, and lemon juice. it’s a take on a Corpse Reviver, named after a luxury train from NY to Chicago. It works well with many different gins, and it’s complex without being pretentious.

How has COVID impacted your job? 

Like many, I’ve pivoted to working from home; leading lots of virtual education sessions and creating social media content, while trying to achieve the same goals. 

As someone who has worked in the hospitality industry for many years, it’s been really difficult to see my close friends impacted by COVID. My role is interwoven with the bar industry, so I felt a lot of pressure to look for creative ways to support the community in a very short turnaround. I’m currently producing a coffee table book in collaboration with establishments across Canada, with 100% of sales going to hospitality industry professionals in need.

What are you looking forward to in the next few months? And years?

Oh boy, that’s a huge question. I’ve never been great with the whole “5 year plan” thing, but I prefer to just see what opportunities arise and be open to whatever changes come. I think it’s hard to make any plans without seeing how the next few months will pan out, but in the meantime, I’m looking forward to spending time with my bubble and embracing moments of stillness.