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It’s Taylor and Bruce who will shepherd the next generation of talent through the trials and tribulations of life on the boards.
When Shane Taylor’s name was first brought up for Sommelier of the Year, the response was swift: “He’s already won it,” said the judges. “I don’t think he has,” I replied, hesitant because I agreed it seemed odd that he hadn’t already been lauded. Notwithstanding his youthful face (I have no idea if he’s in his 20s or 30s), as wine director of CinCin he seems so much a part of the wine fabric of the city that surely his name must be on the trophy. But I triple-checked, and it isn’t—though the entire discussion says something about the kind of sommelier Taylor is. There’s little doubt about his talent: he has a take-him-to-Vegas-like-Rain Man memory for wine. It’s these unassailable technical chops that saw him crowned B.C.’s best sommelier in 2017 by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers. But his technical knowledge is only part of the story.
For Taylor, it’s about the wine, the people ordering it and their experience in enjoying it, and he’s happy out of the spotlight.
His real talent is in making it not about him: never showing off his monolithic knowledge, never pushing high-priced bottles, never putting himself at centre stage. For Taylor, it’s about the wine, the people ordering it and their experience in enjoying it, and he’s happy out of the spotlight. But tough luck, Shane—the secret is out. You’re the Sommelier of the Year.
It was a decade ago that a group of local bartenders (many of them alumni of this category) got together and founded the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association, as a way of recognizing how their vocation had advanced past the realm of part-time gig into something that, at its highest level, approaches a calling and an art. One of the aspects of being a profession is the twinned concept of mentoring and apprenticeship, and there’s no better poster child for this than Amber Bruce. Like many, she started her career in modest environs: the Moxie’s at Broadway and Burrard, where Bruce worked while at UBC. But she is far from dissing the low-brow chain; in fact, to her it was the foundation of her studies in what it means to be a good bartender: refill drinks and check on your customers to make sure they’re happy. Repeat.
Graduation brought a major step—to Sean Heather’s Shebeen—and the Long Island iced teas gave way to Islay, Skye and Orkney at the whisky-heavy spot. But on-the-job learning took her only so far, so Bruce’s Sunday mornings were given over to the church of spirits that was Sunday School, presided over by 2013 BOTY winner “H.” She dove into his colourful lectures on techniques, service and all manner of cocktail ephemera.
One of the aspects of being a profession is the twinned concept of mentoring and apprenticeship, and there’s no better poster child for this than Amber Bruce.
The homework paid off—she was soon running her own bar program at Gastown’s Cuchillo and killing it at cocktail competitions. And by any standard, she had arrived. But when one of her mentors—2012 BOTY Danielle Tatarin—announced she was leaving the legendary Keefer Bar for a new job in Cabo, it was Bruce who left her sweet gig and dropped into the controlled mayhem that is the Keefer. “Honestly, I thought I was fast before I started at the Keefer,” she recalls, thinking of those first few services, which had her head spinning at the speed and variety that needed to be mastered to satisfy the Keefer’s demanding clientele.
But like a drink-slinging Jedi, she remembered her training: how’s your drink, can I get you something else. Repeat. And before long, the frenetic pace seemed natural, so much so that she now manages the melee. But for someone with competition-hardened mad skills, she still sees herself as the student: “There’s always going to be something I don’t know,” she says. But to everyone else, it’s clear that her apprenticeship has long since concluded. It’s now Bruce who will shepherd the next generation of talent through the trials and tribulations of life on the boards. And she’ll do it as Bartender of the Year.