Clever Koi's Joshua James Mixes Up Modern Summer Cocktails with an Asian Flair
It might be time to re-examine the kinds of drinks you drink this summer. While you can't go wrong with a light, refreshing, icy cold local brew, when it comes to cocktails, you might just be ready for something new. Put away those heavy syrups and sugary juices and take the lead from Clever Koi's Joshua James, whose clean take on craft cocktails will leave you refreshed and ready for another.
Heather Hoch Joshua James puts the finishing touches on his Deadbeat Summer cocktail at Clever Koi.
Even when it isn't summer, Clever Koi's cocktail menu, which changes regularly, features drinks that taste more on the side of dry, bitter, or tart. The menu reflects Joshua James' personal tastes and complements the kitchen's Asian fusion dishes.
"That's the hardest part," James says. "There aren't really classic Asian cocktail templates to start with so I look to the kitchen for ideas."
Using shiso leaf, making a Sriracha-based cordial, and creating shrubs with produce used in other dishes, James successfully infuses Asian flavors into his cocktails. However, James' program has been known as a leader in spirit trends in the Valley since it opened in November last year.
Like the intensely hip yet unpretentious bar itself adorned with some of the most beautiful barware in Phoenix, his cocktails are cool. From Fernet on draft to the use of mezcal and Ancho Reyes Licor in the Deadbeat Summer cocktail, which shares its name with a Neon Indian song, James makes sure that his cocktail list reflects what's hot in the liquor world.
"Using those new spirits is how I can re-imagine classics," James says. "I try to bring in new things to give people a chance to try something different. I'm not just doing it to be weird."
Though he's serious about bringing those new products in his bar for customers to sample, he tries to keep the experience light and fun with unique names like the Menace II Sobriety, which was a draft martini, or the Raj Against the Machine, which uses Four Peaks' Raj IPA.
Heather Hoch Clever Koi's beautiful barware is enough reason to cozy up to the bar and watch the show.
"We tend to spend more time thinking of drink names than the drinks themselves," he says. "I've noticed that the better the drink name is, the better the drink tends to sell."
James and his head bartender Chris Lingua (who recently left to work with Quail Distributing) typically named cocktails using puns off song names, movie titles, and the ingredients in the cocktails. Those tongue-in-cheek names compliment James' simplistic, liquor-forward approach to cocktails.