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Facilitating Cocktail Workshops & Classes


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I like tiny amounts (half Ozish) of the cocktail in little plastic glasses.  So much of a cocktail is in the smell, and a straw taste will never get you there.

Chris, if you have the budget, you might consider these miniature cocktail glasses. Plastic is okay, but there's nothing like glass to showcase a cocktail.

I'm not sure if this will help, but when I started teaching cocktail classes, I found that what worked for me was to make a list of the most important elements of drink making (I only had a couple of hours, so I had to pare it down to the essentials). After I briefly went over equipment and ingredients, I paired each element with a drink to illustrate the point I was making. So, for instance, when talking about shaking v. stirring, I made them martinis -- one shaken and one stirred so they could see and taste the difference. When talking about the importance of fresh citrus, I made a Daiquiri with lime juice and one with the stuff out of the green plastic lime and let them taste the difference. And a Sidecar or Pegu Club is a good choice to teach flavor balance.

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would be targeted at the home cocktailian

I haven't read much about what cocktails you would actually show.

I am not professional, here is what would make it useable for me:

For one, I would want to know about cocktails that I can mix with ingredients at that I can stock so that I have a repertoire that I can pull off without any preparation. I know for some it may sound horrible, but I have lime pieces in my freezer and lime juice in my fridge which can last for month. I use that to make Gin and Tonic if I need my boozy fix. Of course if I can use fresh ingredients I do that but thats just not always the case ....

Then I have few ingredients that I can store long time but require some work. For example I do a simple syrup with ginger and mix that with fresh cranberries that I can keep in the fridge for weeks, little gin, little calvados. Or I have a fresh peppermint brown sugar syrup that I mix with bourbon for mint julep. This also will last a few weeks.

Then lastly I have a few things up my sleeve using fresh fruit juices and other hard to get ingredients that require pre and planning.

I would want to learn about drinks from all three categories.

How to built a basic bar would be next, what bottles to buy. maybe built something for different budget categories.

Lastly, what tools to pick up. How many shakes do I need. How I do I chill expensive glassware. Do I need an ice crusher?

And then lots of tips mentioned here ...... How to make good ice, what different sized ice cubes do for you and so on.

Cheers

JK

Edited by jk1002 (log)
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A lot of the points I would have made have already been covered, but here are a couple more...

Be prepared to adjust your plans at the last minute. Speak to people before you start, if you find that their is, for example, a common interest in gin amongst the 'class' then skew your presentation in that direction.

Straw tasting spirits is not the best idea, they need to be 'nosed' as well. See if you can lay your hands on some small tasting glasses. Whilst I agree about not branding the event you can get some support from brands without compromising your impartiality - I have 100+ Hennesey tasting glasses that just have a very discreet logo on them. They were happy to give them to me purely because it puts their logo in front of people, regardless of what's in the glass.

WRT the DeGroef tasting method mentioned up thread, that's somthing I use with novice bartenders. With consumer groups I prefer an approach I stole from a trainer of mine many years ago: think of the spirit as an ex girlfriend that you're still quite interested in. If you rush in your going to get burnt, but if you take your time and approach it slowly you'll get a much more satisfactory result.

For tasting finished cocktails I like to pass around one or two full sized drinks in the correct glassware, people can nose the drink properly then straw taste it and pass it on.

You'll need a LOT of straws, a class of 20 can get through 300 easily.

As this is aimed at home cocktailians it must be very important to focus on the art of substitution. Eg you want to make a Bramble but you've got no Mure. However you have a bottle of cassis lurking somewhere so just use it - it won't strictly be a Bramble but should still be a tasty drink as long as you follow the 'rules'

Comparative tastings are useful. A lot of people think of, say, gin as just being gin. Taste Tanqueray alongside Bombay Sapphire to show that there are big differences.

Above all, keep people interested - don't let it turn into a lecture.

Cheers,

Matt

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  • 3 weeks later...
Getting the planning going in earnest. Alcuin, how'd your session go? What did you end up doing?

ETA and thanks, Janet, JK, and Matt!

The session went pretty well--I was spot on with my expectations for what the audience would want to do. It was small, only about 10 people so it was easily manageable. They were not trying to learn to make drinks and set up home bars--their interest was mostly "academic." There were no serious drinkers there.

So I introduced them to different drinks from different eras, talked about what kinds of drinks there are and the history behind the drinks. I did an Improved Whiskey Cocktail, Aviation, Negroni, Daiquiri, and Pisco sour. Everybody liked most of them, but the room was split between fanatical supporters and haters of the Negroni (as you'd expect). They were shocked to find out what I considered an Old Fashioned or a Daiquiri to be.

They were really into bitters too, so I had them put drops on their arms, rub in, and sniff to catch the flavor profile and they were excited about that.

Really, it was very improvisational--I ran it like I run a classroom and they responded to that kind of atmosphere. It sounds like you'll be doing something quite a bit more advanced though, right? Are you doing multiple sessions?

nunc est bibendum...

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Bittered arms: I can do that. Great idea. Daiquiri has been a go-to for me, since, well, most people think they're Slurpees.

Still figuring out who's coming and what it means, but I think we're doing a four session series to start, with basics and then three theme-based sessions. If there's interest, we'll do more.

Spent the day trying to do the framing, which is proving to be tricky. There are lots of potential structuring elements to use....

Chris Amirault

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Planning topic for the series is up. I went with four sessions that, I hope, will attract a wide audience of interested folks; I'm wondering how that gin session will go over. (I figure I have the Magnetic Fields fans locked up.) I also took seriously a lot of the advice here so far, and have four basic points to make in each session.

I've got more to share but am heading to NYC for a couple of days of eating and drinking (and, apparently, rain). Upon my return to (surely, rainy) RI, I'll post more about the decisions I've made thus far. Thanks to everyone who's helped!

Chris Amirault

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Just added a bit more detail over in the planning topic: click. Here's an annotated version. I'd be glad to get feedback, especially on the parentheses:

September 28: The Basics, or, How to Make the Best Cocktail in Town.

  • Quality, Not Quantity (basic brand list: the Sidecar).
    Ice Is God (size, cold, enough).
    Fresh Ingredients (juice, vermouth, soda/tonic: The Manhattan).
    Balancing Components (French Pearl).

October: Pucker Not: Sours, Rums, & the Art of Balance.

  • Sour Ratios (Embury’s, DeGroff’s, Regan’s...: the Daiquiri).
    Rums.
    Simple Syrups.
    The Seductive World of Tiki Drinks (Surf Room Mai Tai?).

November: A Bottle of Gin IS a Lot Like Love.

  • Gin Varieties (London dry, old tom, genever: Aviation).
    Vermouths (the Martinez).
    The Martini, Shaking vs Stirring, & Garnishes.
    Gateway Gin Drinks (Aviation, Gin Gin Mule, Intro to Aperol).

December: Tis the Season: Nogs, Punches & Champagne Cocktails

  • When & How to Bottle Drinks & Serve Them (when age does & doesn’t help, ice molds).
    Basic Punches (Brandy Punch, Swedish Punsch? Regent’s Punch).
    Dairy Punches (Milk Punch, Egg Nog).
    Popping the Cork: Champagne Cocktails (French 75, Bellini).

Chris Amirault

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Something I'd appreciate if I were just getting into cocktails would be a handout with the basic content. On the back of that, I'd like a list of examples of good value brands for all the base spirits (bonus if you know all the brands listed are available locally). That way, when novices leave, they have the ammo to go to the store and practice without breaking the bank.

Also, if you are requesting the students bring any of their own equipment, I'd give very specific recommendations so they don't go out and buy some goofy crap that costs a fortune and doesn't work right.

p.s. love the magnetic fields reference.

Edited by MattJohnson (log)
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I had the same thought, and have been drafting a set of handouts, including four home bar lists (starter/good/better/killer), a bar equipment basics list (starter/better), "Books to Get Your Whistle Wet," and "Boozy, Well-Shaken Websites." We'll be providing starter kits for cost as well.

Chris Amirault

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I had the same thought, and have been drafting a set of handouts, including four home bar lists (starter/good/better/killer), a bar equipment basics list (starter/better), "Books to Get Your Whistle Wet," and "Boozy, Well-Shaken Websites." We'll be providing starter kits for cost as well.

Will you make the materials available to non-participants - I'd love to see the lists at least.

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I had the same thought, and have been drafting a set of handouts, including four home bar lists (starter/good/better/killer), a bar equipment basics list (starter/better), "Books to Get Your Whistle Wet," and "Boozy, Well-Shaken Websites." We'll be providing starter kits for cost as well.

I think a basic list is a great idea, but I question the value of a giant list, cataloging all bottles you could possibly want for a "killer" bar. To my mind the perfect handout would not only list killer ingredients, but tell you a little bit about them, basically why they are killer. I propose a format something like:

NAME

Brief description.

Why you need it.

Brands to look for.

Recipe

The descriptions, as well as the recipe, will really help people in trying to figure out what bottle to pick up next.

Examples:

LONDON DRY GIN

Unaged spirit flavored with juniper and other botanicals.

Dry gin is one of the most versatile spirits behind the bar: it combines well with vermouth, citrus, bitters, other spirits, just about anything.

Brands to look for: Tanqueray, Plymouth, Junipero.

Hong Kong

1 oz. Gin

1 oz. Dry Vermouth

1/2 oz. Lime Juice

1/4 oz. Simple Syrup

dash Orange Bitters

CAMPARI

Bright red, sweet and very bitter Italian liqueur.

While hardly subtle, Campari adds an unmistakable bitter kick, and red color, to many a cocktail.

Negroni

1 oz. Gin

1 oz. Sweet Vermouth

1 oz. Campari

Edited by David Santucci (log)
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Thanks -- that's useful. To clarify about the lists, as I said above, I'm of the Hess school of thought on stocking the bar, building it a bottle at a time and expanding from there. The lists wouldn't be definitive but idiosyncratic, and would focus on the process of building your own killer cabinet, not what "should" be in there.

Chris Amirault

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  • 2 weeks later...

A few more questions I've been asking myself:

What's the plan and clean-up materials (paper towels, mop) for spills?

What is the function of drinking the drink? Of a spirit tasting? What should people be doing when they taste something? How should you communicate that?

One-to-many lecturing is deadening no matter how fascinating the content. What other options are there for engagement: materials; turn and talk to your neighbor; small group discussions; Q&As; whole-group polling (who thinks it's too sour? too sweet? just right?).

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Expanding on David's ideas, I've decided to write up a card for each of the three (or so) drinks I'll be making in each session. The idea is to fold the interesting content into the drinks themselves, so that people can buy a bottle or three, make a few drinks at home, and figure out things as they go. Here's the one I'm working on tonight:

Manhattan

2 oz rye

1 oz sweet vermouth

2 dashes bitters

1 or 3 cherries or orange twist

Stir with ice; strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry/ies or twist.

Spirit base: Nothing hides the quality of the spirit here, so use something with character against the vermouth. If rye, use Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond, Wild Turkey 101 proof, Old Overholt, or Sazerac. (Avoid sweet ryes like Jim Beam.) If bourbon, use Wild Turkey 101 proof, Bulleit, or the potent, spicy, dirt-cheap Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond. (Avoid light bourbons like Maker's Mark.) You want something life-changing? Bump up to the high-end spirits (Pappy van Winkle bourbons, aged Sazerac ryes like Stagg or Eagle Rare).

Vermouth: The classic here is Martini & Rossi sweet or red (rosso). You can substitute Noilly Prat, Stock, or a more complex vermouth like Punt e Mes.

Bitters: The classic, perhaps essential, bitters is Angostura. If you can find them, Fee's Old Fashioned bitters work as well.

Garnish: For cherry perfection, look for the hard-to-find Luxardo brand, or make your own with spiced syrup and brandy, bourbon, or rum. Use one or three; two is unlucky, bad form, and an insult to cocktail history. Remember that bad cherries (the kind that nearly all bars stock) will ruin your hard work, so if you can't find good ones, use an orange peel (see technique).

Flavors: Your rye should be introducing spice and bite; bourbon will be smoother and sweeter. The vermouth has its own herbal complexity, and the bitters bring them together. Look for raisins, chocolate, mincemeat, dark caramel, port, herbs, and holiday spices.

Techniques: Stir with calm pleasure 40-50 times with cracked ice (40) or whole cubes (50). Make sure that glass is very cold before you strain the drink gently into it. If you haven't perfect cherries on hand (see above), cut a 2" x 1" swath of orange peel, spray it across the drink, rub it on the glass's edge, and drop it in. (If you want to accentuate the burnt sugar flavors, flame the orange peel by lighting a match, holding it just away from the edge of the glass, and squeezing the peel toward the drink. It'll flare like lighter fluid on the grill, so be careful.)

Questions to ask yourself:

Do I want a sweeter drink (more vermouth; lower proof spirit)?

Do I want a stronger drink (more rye or bourbon)?

Can I taste the bitters (if so, use less), or do the spirit and vermouth seem disjointed (if so, use more bitters)?

The plan is to do this for the other two drinks as well, which right now are a Sidecar and a French Pearl.

Chris Amirault

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See if you can purchase some bar rags/bar mops from a restaurant supply shop or a local linen company. Paper towels are a second choice for cleaning up spilled drinks. Rags are both more authentic and more effective.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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A few more questions I've been asking myself:

What's the plan and clean-up materials (paper towels, mop) for spills?

What is the function of drinking the drink? Of a spirit tasting? What should people be doing when they taste something? How should you communicate that?

One-to-many lecturing is deadening no matter how fascinating the content. What other options are there for engagement: materials; turn and talk to your neighbor; small group discussions; Q&As; whole-group polling (who thinks it's too sour? too sweet? just right?).

Didn't you just take the Barsmarts course? The video on tasting should be pretty helpful. I thought it was.

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Thanks, Katie. Bfishback, yes, I did, and yes, it was. The question was also about drinking, though, and not merely tasting (e.g., should there be a drink upon participants' arrival?), and the relationship between the two throughout the session.

Chris Amirault

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Thanks, Katie. Bfishback, yes, I did, and yes, it was. The question was also about drinking, though, and not merely tasting (e.g., should there be a drink upon participants' arrival?), and the relationship between the two throughout the session.

I belive that there should be a drink in the students hands asap. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, there are a lot of people out there that have never had a well balanced cocktail made with fresh juice and care. You can talk until you are blue in the face about a gimlet, but one sip is worth a million words. But they should see you make the cocktail, see the jigger, see the care. I usually make a single cocktail, put it in the proper glass, garnish it, while my assistant is pouring out and passing out a big batch of them.

Second, it seems to put people at ease, and even make them chatty, once they have a cocktail in their hand. Up until then it's a class, once the merest drop of alcohol is consumed it's a cocktail party. People become more relaxed and be more engaged. It's after the third cocktail, even though there is less than an ounce and a half has been consumed, that people will start loosing focus. I find a stern warning about time constraints, done in my deepest paternal voice, will bring them back into the fold.

Cheers,

Toby

A DUSTY SHAKER LEADS TO A THIRSTY LIFE

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I'm on an old-skool listserv called Tomorrow's Professor that focuses on pedagogy in college teaching, and I thought that the most recent piece, "The Ten Worst Teaching Mistakes" by Richard M. Felder and Rebecca Brent, had some relevant points to this discussion. I quoted two that seemed especially apt:

Mistake #10. When you ask a question in class, immediately call for volunteers.

Mistake #8. Turn classes into PowerPoint shows.

Mistake #7. Fail to provide variety in instruction.

Mistake #5. Fail to establish relevance.

Mistake #2. Teach without clear learning objectives.

The traditional approach to teaching is to design lectures and assignments that cover topics listed in the syllabus, give exams on those topics, and move on. ...

A key to making courses coherent ... is to write learning objectives -- explicit statements of what students should be able to do if they have learned what the instructor wants them to learn....

Mistake #1. Disrespect students.

How much students learn in a course depends to a great extent on the instructor's attitude. Two different instructors could teach the same material to the same group of students using the same methods, give identical exams, and get dramatically different results. ... The difference between the students' performance in the two classes could easily stem from the instructors' attitudes. If Instructor A conveys respect for the students and a sense that he/she cares about their learning and Instructor B appears indifferent and/or disrespectful, the differences in exam grades and ratings should come as no surprise. ... If you give students a sense that you don't respect them, the class will probably be a bad experience for everyone no matter what else you do, while if you clearly convey respect and caring, it will cover a multitude of pedagogical sins you might commit.

I've been thinking a lot about the last mistake. I met some very nice people at a cocktail event a couple of weeks ago, and they clearly knew nuh-huh-uthin' about making drinks. Instead of focusing on their ignorance, I want to do my level best to focus on their desire to learn and the commitment they're demonstrating by ponying up the cash to do so.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I've been thinking a lot about the last mistake. I met some very nice people at a cocktail event a couple of weeks ago, and they clearly knew nuh-huh-uthin' about making drinks. Instead of focusing on their ignorance, I want to do my level best to focus on their desire to learn and the commitment they're demonstrating by ponying up the cash to do so.

I think there's one basic key to successful teaching: excitement about the material met with the perspective that everybody's on the same road to greater appreciation of the material. I try to focus not on the fact that I'm conveying material (though I often am) and more on what the students are doing to engage with the material by asking questions and floating ideas or, if it's primarily a lecture format, what I imagine they might be thinking (that's the trickiest part, but there's always a common denominator).

nunc est bibendum...

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You're probably already planning on this: at the start of the class, go around the room, starting with the instructor (who breaks the ice with a bit of self-deprecation) and have everyone explain why they're there.

This does two things that might be obvious but are nevertheless very helpful. First, it relaxes everyone because even though it's very grade-school (or AMA, take your pick) in concept, everyone is equally embarrassed, and at the end, no one is a complete stranger. Second, it addresses Mistake #1 by creating a sense of community that includes the instructor while asserting his or her role and by replacing preconceptions on the part of all parties with actual facts. This has the further benefit of allowing the instructor to steer the class according to what's revealed.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
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Eat more chicken skin.

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