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Facilitating Cocktail Workshops & Classes


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It's a great tactic. There's another introductory game you can play involving having people raise their hands in response to simple questions ("I have made a cocktail in my house in the last month," "Honestly, I've never had a gin cocktail I enjoyed," etc.).

I was thinking also of having people hand in index cards with "Stupid Questions Asked Anonymously," which is usually a very successful activity. Of course, the point ends up being that most people wanted the answer to the question.

Chris Amirault

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  • 2 weeks later...

Taught a class last night and used some of the tips offered in this thread. Many thanks - this has been very helpful...and specific to the point where I'd never find this anywhere else. THANKS.

The only additional wisdom I have to add (and it may already be elsewhere in this thread), is to have something ready to pour the minute people walk in. We had Prosecco: not too expensive, not too strong, but still light and festive.

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I just got the email list of participants at the first session, and I sent them this email.

Hi Folks,

Welcome to the Classic Cocktails Master Series! I'm Chris Amirault, your host for the sessions. I'm eager to meet and mix for you!

In order to tailor the sessions to your interests and needs, can you please answer these simple questions?

1. What do you currently have in your liquor cabinet?

2. When you go to the liquor store, what are you most likely to buy?

3. When you go to a bar, what cocktail are you most likely to order?

4. By the end of the series, what do you hope to accomplish?

Hope to hear from you soon!

Best,

Chris

Lots more to add, as the session is fast approaching. More soon.

Chris Amirault

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One request for something that I think would be cool to try:

Have the students squeeze some lemon juice at the beginning of class and put them in some squeeze bottles. Compare them to pre-prepared bottles that have been squeezed 6 hours, 24 hours, 3 days & bottled in advance as well as some freshly squeezed to see how flavor degrades with time.

Similarly, if you can, get some old vermouth (ask for a volunteer to bring a bottle that's been knocking around the back of their bar) vs a 1 week old vs a freshly opened bottle of vermouth.

PS: I am a guy.

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Up topic, Dave mentioned my asking everyone why they're there. Such a great idea that I obtained the emails for all participants and sent them the following questions:

1. What do you currently have in your liquor cabinet?

2. When you go to the liquor store, what are you most likely to buy?

3. When you go to a bar, what cocktail are you most likely to order?

4. By the end of the series, what do you hope to accomplish?

I've gotten about half of the responses, and the answers to the questions have been illuminating. I'm already tweaking drinks for the crowd; one person clearly likes very tart drinks, so she'll be getting a Sidecar with lots of lemon in it.

One request for something that I think would be cool to try:

Have the students squeeze some lemon juice at the beginning of class and put them in some squeeze bottles. Compare them to pre-prepared bottles that have been squeezed 6 hours, 24 hours, 3 days & bottled in advance as well as some freshly squeezed to see how flavor degrades with time.

Similarly, if you can, get some old vermouth (ask for a volunteer to bring a bottle that's been knocking around the back of their bar) vs a 1 week old vs a freshly opened bottle of vermouth.

We are of the same mind, Shalmanese. I've had a couple of cups of M&R rosso "aging" on the top shelf of the kitchen for a few weeks. Going to do the same with some lemon juice.

Chris Amirault

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Tomorrow is session one, and I've been dealing with distributors (thanks, Mike!), stores (thanks, Liz!), supplies, handouts, my note cards, and a bunch of other stuff. As I do, I thought I'd jot down a few notes.

After a trip to the restaurant, I've decided to bring as much large cube ice with me as I can. I have two gallon bags filled so far and will be adding more later today.

There's been a lot of interest in mixing, so I think I'm going to see whether we can do more hands-on stuff than I had anticipated. Not sure what I think about that.

I decided to break down the French Pearl into its component parts and have everyone taste each one before serving the drink. I'll also be teaching the mint abuse lesson then.

I've bagged the liquor cabinet handout entirely, folding that information into the cocktail recipes. I do have an equipment handout ready to go, though.

Chris Amirault

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My packing list, no order:


  • booze
    ice
    strainers
    muddler
    ice cube tray
    mixing tins
    mixing glasses
    barspoons
    cocktail glasses (erp)
    knife
    channel knife
    cutting board
    straws
    little cups
    picks for cherries
    matches
    rags
    citrus
    cherries
    mint
    handouts
    name tags

Chris Amirault

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What a night! Thanks to Matt Jennings at La Laiterie, Mike Lester of MS Walker, Liz Moniz-Steely of Campus Fine Wines, inestimable barback Sarah Gray, and a host of fantastic participants, we had a great 2 1/2 hours last night.

Some of the highlights included:

  • handing them a terrific Sidecar upon arrival -- made me scramble but, boy, did they love them.
  • the old vs new lemon juice and old vs new vermouth tastings. Blew people away.
  • making a base Manhattan (2 oz Rittenhouse, 1 oz M&R rosso, 2 Angostura) that everyone tried and then making adjustments to suit tastes.
  • the mint exercise: smell a non-rubbed leaf (nothing), smell a rubbed leaf (lovely), smell and taste a roughed-up leaf (awful).
  • lining up tastes of all components of a French Pearl (gin, simple, lime, mint, Pernod) and then making the drinks for them afterward to notice balance and the alchemy of a good drink.

I thought I'd also report on dos and don'ts. Deep breath:

  • Do get there 90 minutes early. After discovering only nine glasses on the rack (for 36-40 drinks) we spent half of the prep time tracking down "the rest of the cocktail glasses," which turned out not to be "the rest" but "five more." Good thing that I had brought some from home, and good thing that Sarah had her hips rebuilt six months ago, as she ended up doing a lot more dishwashing than I had anticipated.
  • Don't forget your citrus juicer (check my list above), or else you'll have to run down the street and pay Whole Foods prices for something you have four of at home.
  • Do bring more little plastic cups and straws for tasting than you think you'll need.
  • Don't wait until you're tasting something to hand out the straws and cups: give everyone a couple dozen straws and a few cups at the outset.
  • Do prepare brief, legible index cards with all the main points you want to make, but...
  • Don't expect you'll go through all of those points in the arranged order; just go with the flow.
  • Do wipe down the bar every five seconds as you spill stuff all over the workspace of the guy sitting over there.
  • Don't try out your new BarSmarts tools for the first time in front of 15 spectators, or else you may dump the barspoon onto the floor as you strain your first Manhattan.
  • Do bring your own ice. Lots and lots and lots of your own ice.
  • Don't diss vodka -- it'll come back to bite you.
  • Do expect several dozen "Mad Men" references.
  • Don't underestimate the power of a single, terrific spiced, brandied cherry.
  • Do share lots of cocktail history and lore as you shake, stir, and strain, as participants love it.
  • Don't crap on flare bartenders and then pull out a flamed orange garnish, especially if there's a wiseacre at the end of the bar.
  • Do grab bottles from the bar behind you so that people can smell and/or taste, say, Luxardo Maraschino when you're talking about Aviations, or St. Germain and Bols Genever when you're talking about new product introductions.

I'm still going over my notes and preparing ideas for session two, and will chime in here as I do.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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  • Don't try out your new BarSmarts tools for the first time in front of 15 spectators, or else you may dump the barspoon onto the floor as you strain your first Manhattan.

Glad to hear your tools finally arrived, Chris.

  • Don't diss vodka -- it'll come back to bite you.

Sounds like there's a story here! How did it come back to bite you?

  • Don't crap on flare bartenders and then pull out a flamed orange garnish, especially if there's a wiseacre at the end of the bar.

This made me chuckle. Sounds like the workshop went well!

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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  • Don't diss vodka -- it'll come back to bite you.

Sounds like there's a story here! How did it come back to bite you?

Well, let's just say that the central classic cocktail concept of enhancing the spirit base was hard for one participant to embrace, as was my description of vodka's takeover of the spirits market coinciding with a low point in cocktail quality. While nearly all in attendance nodded when I said that most people drank vodka because they don't want to taste the spirit, one didn't understand what I meant by that.

Three more sessions. Give it time.

Chris Amirault

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  • 2 weeks later...

Solved the glass problem: bought out every vintage cocktail glass at the local Savers stores and am bringing my own few dozen next time.

I got to thinking about drink order at an event at Drink earlier this week. We walked in and John Gertsen's punch (arrack, rum, cognac, lemon rinds and ultimately juice, demerara, probably a bit more) filled the room with wonder. It got me thinking that a big bowl is the way to greet people. Like, you know, hosts and bartenders have been doing for a couple centuries or so. So, duh: the Daiquiri will be drink #2, not #1, so that they can settle in and make their own after a tipple. I'll wrap up with the tiki drink.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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  • 3 weeks later...

Doing the final prep for tomorrow's class on sours and rum. I'll be greeting them with a Mississippi Punch variation, talk about the punch/sour relationship, do an overview and tasting of rums (about which, frankly, I'm intimidated), and then walk them through mixing their own Daiquiris. The last part of the class we'll be talking tiki and drinking Mai Tais.

In order to be a bit less harried during class, I'm doing a lot more prep. The base spirits for the punch and Mai Tai are bottled, so that I only have to muddle the lemon peel with demerara and add the juice for the punch and use a 3:1 base to juice ratio for the Mai Tais. I've got fist-sized chunks of ice for the punch, and I'm bagging crushed ice and cubes for the other two drinks.

The one part of the evening that I am still struggling with is dispensing rums for the tasting before the Daiquiri mixing. I think I'm going to pour a few ounces in a glass in front of the bottle and set out straws for tastes. Other ideas?

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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The one part of the evening that I am still struggling with is dispensing rums for the tasting before the Daiquiri mixing. I think I'm going to pour a few ounces in a glass in front of the bottle and set out straws for tastes. Other ideas?

Can you use La Laiterie's glassware? They must have plenty of wine glasses, so you could portion out samples in wine glasses (ordered left to right, say, in order of tasting) a la BarSmarts. I guess that could encourage oversampling compared to dosing with straws.

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

It went great! Suffice it to say that all attendees had not enjoyed a real punch, Daiquiri, or Mai Tai before.

In re the rum tasting, I wanted to provide a selection of rums that included those provided by MS Walker, the sponsors, but also some of other styles that would be new to the group: blackstrap, overproof, rhum agricole, etc. Most people only tried four or five rums.

Tomorrow night is gin night. We're starting with an Improved Holland Gin Cocktail with Bols genever (bottled prior and stirred to order), then moving to Martinezes, and finishing with Aviations. We'll have a few things to taste and smell, including a wide array of bitters, and they'll be making their own Aviations. Given that list, I just realized it's also Luxardo Maraschino night....

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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  • 3 weeks later...

I can say with confidence that I have converted at least a dozen people to the joys of genever thanks to the Improved Holland Gin Cocktail, and anyone still teetering on gin-phobia lost it after a Martinez. I decided to bring the makings for not only Aviations but also Last Words, Corpse Reviver #2s, and Barnum (Was Right) Cocktails.

Now I need a bit of help. The last session is going to feature a punch, a nog, and a champagne cocktail. I already did a Mississippi Punch variation for the rum course, so that's out. I also might sub in Tom & Jerrys for nogs... not sure. Finally, I think that "roll your own" champagne cocktails may end the evening (and course).

What do you think? Care to opine what the gang should learn?

Chris Amirault

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I'd be tempted to do two of each: a Bowl of (Fish House) Punch, and then a glass of punch--Jerry Thomas' Brandy Punch and Knickerbocker Punch are both indespensable in my book. Then do a Hot (T&J) eggnog as well as a normal cold one. Traditional Champagne cocktail can be made to show what perfection tastes like then (if I understand you right) your idea to let everyone try their own hand at making would be awesome.

That's a lot of drinks though :blink:

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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I'd lean towards either Fish House Punch or a milk punch, *real* egg nog (contrast with some store-bought?) and kir royale (just to show it isn't all about America).

It's almost never bad to feed someone.

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I think I'm going to let 'em make their own champagne cocktails (as I let them make their own gin cocktails last time), make a big Egg Nog together on site, and have a Fish House Punch ready to go. I found Marie Brizard peach liqueur and nabbed it; if anyone has a recipe tweaked to account for it, I'd be mighty grateful, else I'll be tinkering.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I think I'm going to let 'em make their own champagne cocktails (as I let them make their own gin cocktails last time), make a big Egg Nog together on site, and have a Fish House Punch ready to go. I found Marie Brizard peach liqueur and nabbed it; if anyone has a recipe tweaked to account for it, I'd be mighty grateful, else I'll be tinkering.

The one in Imbibe! works quite well...read through the notes on FHP for the tweaked version. I hope I won't get kicked out of The Club for saying that the Dekuyper Peach Brandy (NOT 'schnapps') works pretty good too, in fact I may prefer it (though when using it I go with about 5 oz vs 3 of Brizzard. Some of the side effects of consuming Brizzard Peach can be...unsettling.

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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