Observing Alicia Kim at the Texas Farmers Market at Mueller, you’ll notice that her youthful, warm and sparkling personality manages to upstage the row of jewel-toned juices and syrups that glow in front of her in the Texas sun. Kim’s fledgling company, a.k.a mixology, provides fresh, clarified cocktail mixers and syrups, and in just a little over a year, has made a pretty impressive splash. Her mixtures have been lauded on KXAN’s Studio 512, and more than a few Austin bartenders have used her products in local cocktail competitions, such as the 2016 Official Drink of Austin Cocktail Competition, where the winning cocktail, Geraldine’s “Far From the Tree,” featured Kim’s pecan orgeat.
It all started one day when Kim and her husband, Cory, were lamenting one of the most vexing issues of our time: the scarcity of a pulp-free mimosa (and indeed, orange pulp floating to the top, sticking to your lips and strangling the carbonation in one’s mimosa is a sad reality.) Utilizing her degree in engineering, Kim knew immediately that this problem could be quickly solved by using a centrifuge on the fresh-squeezed juice. Of course, most restaurants don’t have such equipment in their kitchen, but would people be willing to pay for clarified, fresh juice for their cocktails? The answer, it turns out, is yes.
Kim radiates such a laid-back, Austin-mom vibe that one would expect her to have been born and raised here. But when asked, a sobering story emerges. “I was one of the Boat People,” she says. “Do you remember the Boat People?” Indeed, I’m sure many of us do. When the United States pulled abruptly out of Vietnam, South Vietnamese nationals fled the country in tiny boats, desperately clinging to one another. Kim’s family was ultimately rescued by a U.S. Navy destroyer and sponsored by a church in Biloxi, Mississippi. Kim, her father, grandparents and siblings remade their lives in the Deep South.
“My grandfather was a shrimp fisherman in Vietnam, and that’s what he did in Mississippi, too,” Kim says. “He got himself a tiny boat—just a tiny one—and started shrimping. His little boat couldn’t go out very far, but he caught shrimp. My grandmother got a job in a shrimp-packing plant. My father studied and became a welder. Really, my family is the textbook American Dream: everyone working really hard, but that work paying off. I worked in the shrimp plant, too…starting at fifteen.” Kim’s eyes start to dance. “That’s when I decided I needed a college education!”
A scholarship offered by a paper manufacturer led Kim to a major in pulp and paper science and technology, and to a degree in engineering. After working in the paper industry in North Carolina, Kim moved to Austin, married her long-distance boyfriend and worked as an advanced-placement physics teacher in Cedar Park. But how did this road lead to clarified juices and syrups?
“My husband and I both love cocktails,” Kim explains, “and it led me to read a lot of books by people in the new cocktail movement. Dave Arnold, who is practically a god in the modernist cocktail world, came to SXSW one year, and he absolutely inspired me to try my centrifuge idea. I had been kicking the idea around for a while—wondering if anyone would be interested, but after talking to him, I decided to go for it.”
Kim initially sold her clarified juices and syrups to bars (Barley Swine and Geraldine’s were early adopters), but in the last year, she’s also been taking them directly to the public at Texas Farmers’ Markets at Lakeline and Mueller. Happily, she’s found a hardcore fan base of cocktail lovers in this town, most of whom return to buy from her again and again. She usually has two clarified juices (recently, they were strawberry and grapefruit) kept on ice, and six clarified syrups, including pure pomegranate grenadine, almond orgeat, pecan orgeat, tonic syrup and “botonic” syrup (an enhanced tonic syrup featuring botanical citrus zests and spices).
“I love doing things scientifically,” Kim says with a serious smile. “I measure the pH of the juice, and the Brix [sugar content]. When you’re working with natural ingredients, it helps to rein in the variations. I like my products to be very consistent.”
By Kathleen Thornberry • Photography by Nathan Beels