Interview with Kent Bearden: The MGM Grand's Master Mixologist

Master mixologist Kent Bearden went from a masters in acting to creating exotic cocktails for the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

The Cherry Bourbon is a smooth but persuasive little cocktail served up in a mini champagne flute, a plump cherry resting at the bottom of the glass. If there’s one drink that has Kent Bearden’s name all over it, this is it.

“That little baby is 11 years old right there,” says the master mixologist for the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. He created the cocktail for the 2000 WhiskyFest New York and somehow or other, he’s managed to sneak it on to a menu of one of the 13 properties he’s responsible for at this casino. And we’re glad for it.

A Cherry Bourbon

I first had a Cherry Bourbon in 2009 during a tour of MGM’s restaurants and bars. I wasn’t much of a whisky drinker before that. In fact, I’m not sure I’d even tasted bourbon. But when Kent put four premium bourbons in front of me and encouraged me to give them a try while he shared stories of adventurous trips to Kentucky distilleries, I fell hard for that oaky, smokey, golden juice.

From Actor to Specialist of Spirits

In fact it was bourbon that lured Kent into this business. After earning a masters degree in acting, he made his way behind the bar.

“I started bartending to support my acting habit in New York. I really got into it and bourbon was what interested me. Bourbon led me to other whiskies and that led me to all spirits,” he said.

Since those early days, he’s been racking up the designations including a pin from the Court of Master Sommeliers and Certified Specialist of Spirits from the Society of Wine Educators. Yes, he’s a know-it-all but in a really good way.

Everyone's a Cocktail Connoisseur

Throw out the name of any spirit or wine and he’ll give you an instant review. I gave him a little test, asking what he thought of the new Crown Royal Black (because it’s a Canadian product) and he delivered a solid soliloquy as if he had studied for the test all night. There’s no stumping him.

In the same way we’ve all gone cuckoo for food, we’ve started taking a closer look at booze too, especially cocktails.

“Gone are the days when someone says give me a vodka and tonic. The consumer is now saying I want this particular brand. It used to be that the bartender was in the drivers’ seat. Now it’s the consumer.”

Kent credits The Food Network and a general heightened interest in food and drink for the popularity of cocktails.

Bartenders are starting to talk like chefs when it comes to using seasonal and fresh ingredients. Patrons are also coming into these lounges specifically for the cocktails that they serve. 

So what reigns supreme in this new cocktail world?

“As long as Vegas is open for business, Bloody Mary will be queen,” said Kent.

Drinks to Try at the MGM Grand

But just in case you’re in the mood to venture into new and exotic territory, Kent recommends these cocktails, chosen from three properties under the roof of the MGM Grand.

Le Citron Fix from Zuri
Grey Goose Le Citron infused with strawberry, pineapple, and vanilla beans and shaken with fresh watermelon juice and lemon sour.

Raspberry Mojito from Rouge

A delicious twist on the original mojito, this combines Bacardi Rum with simple syrup, fresh lime juice, mint, and raspberry purée.

Cherry Bourbon from West Wing
An original creation of our Master Mixologist, this West Wing favorite combines Maker's Mark Bourbon, Cherry Brandy and simple syrup finished with sparkling wine and a cherry garnish.

How to Make a Cherry Bourbon


  • 1.5 oz Maker's Mark Bourbon
  • 0.5 oz Cherry Brandy
  • 0.5 oz simple syrup
  • 2 oz Prosecco



  1. In a mixing glass, add Maker's Mark, Cherry Brandy, and simple syrup.
  2. Pack with ice and shake well.
  3. Strain into a champagne flute and top with 2oz. of Prosecco.
  4. Garnish with a single maraschino cherry.


Photo by David Leong

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Shel Zolkewich

Shel Zolkewich's latest obsessions include Mexican street food, fishing trips in Northern Manitoba and reading novels about great Canadian adventures on her iPad. She writes about travel and food for The Globe & Mail, Going Places and EnRoute. Her home base is in Winnipeg.