At the members-only Japanese-style cocktail bar 365 Tokyo, mixologist SeongHa Lee embodies the spirit of “East Meets West.” Lee was raised in South Korea, honed his craft in Japan and now calls Las Vegas home. “My first home is Korea, and I was always drinking after work—Korean soju with beer,” he says. “And when I was in Japan, I was always drinking Japanese whisky and Japanese beer. Japan is my second home. Now I’m in the U.S., and after work I drink American whiskey with American beer. I always want to support my home.”
The “500 percent Korean” (as he tags himself on social media) recently poured all of his focus into the annual Bombay Sapphire Most Imaginative Bartender competition, where he represented his current home. What began with 1,100 bartenders from 800 bars across North America was systematically whittled down to just seven finalists, but not before Lee had the chance to dominate in the Nevada/Arizona regional, claiming both the Judges’ Choice and People’s Choice awards.
Lee’s entry, A Walk Among the Angels, was inspired by the notion of Bombay Sapphire gin being the stuff of heaven. His cocktail in the key of the classic Scofflaw combined Bombay Sapphire, coriander seed and cassia bark-infused sweet vermouth, lemon, sugar and fresh blackberries. To call upon all five senses, Lee served it with Bombay Sapphire incense and “glass” candy, for which he collaborated with Mickael Maignan-Bauer, executive pastry chef at Rivea in the Delano. Lee suggests first smelling and tasting the cocktail, taking a bite of the candy, smelling the aroma diffuser and returning for another sip of the cocktail. “Then you can experience how the cocktail’s flavor has changed,” he says.
At the September 2 finals at Hakkasan, Lee’s progressive drink won the hearts and palates of the crowd, as well as the judges, again garnering the People’s Choice award and ultimately being named first runner-up.
Ever determined, Lee is already seeking his inspiration for next year’s competition—500 percent.
A Walk Among the Angels
Created by SeongHa Lee, 365 Tokyo
In a chilled mixing glass, combine two fresh blackberries, ½ ounce simple syrup, ½ ounce fresh lemon juice, ½ ounce coriander seed and cassia bark-infused Noilly Prat Ambre Vermouth and 1½ ounces Bombay Sapphire Gin. Gently muddle the blackberries. Add ice, over and shake thoroughly. Double-strain into a chilled 2-ounce sherry glass. Pour excess into a chilled 3-ounce decanter resting in a rocks glass filled with ice.