Long, long, long, long time ago – –
(…err, pardon me. Chili Peppers concert coming up on Wednesday. Couldn’t help myself!)
Back in the day, long before we were the wine snobs you know and love us to be, we both preferred hard booze. As broke grad students, it made sense: vodka is the economical alternative to a nice glass of cab sauv, and it allowed us to watch Buccos games at the bar (prior to our splurge on cable) without looking like the douchebags at the Cage drinking chardonnay.
And don’t get me wrong: though I love my wine, I don’t think I’ve ever been known to turn down a Cosmopolitan, or especially one of those endangered species, the perfectly-blended Long Island Iced Tea (Church Brew Works, if you’re wondering where to get one in the ‘Burgh).
So when my dear Yelp-friend Linda recommended an Art of Mixology class for our 2012 list, I have to admit that I was intrigued. After our disastrous themed drinking nights last year, I felt a twinge of ‘maybe we shouldn’t be making mixed drinks.’ Thankfully, it was quickly overshadowed by a feeling of, ‘maybe we really need a mixology class to set ourselves straight,’ so we looked over the schedule and settled on the perfect class:
Oh yes, prohibition cocktails. Remember last year (okay, the past two years), when I was obsessing over the Sophie Kinsella book Twenties Girl? And I was putting poor, defenseless waiters through the drama of attempting to make me Singapore Slings?
So of course, a trip to the Prohibition-era cocktail class was definitely the right one for us. On a Saturday afternoon, we headed downtown to Olive or Twist (site of our first-ever Yelp Elite event!) to learn how to make a cocktail we weren’t supposed to be drinking.
When you arrive at Mixology class, you find a station along the bar and get settled in. Master mixologist Steven Kowalczuk gives you all the utensils you need to blend the perfect booze drink, and best of all, he teaches you how to use all of your instruments along the way. (One of my favorite Steven quotes of the afternoon: “You can get a shitty margarita anywhere in the city. I want to teach you how to tell the bartender to make you a good one.”)
Okay, it’s time to get nerdy all over this blog entry. True confessions: the reason I LOVE the Mixology class so much is not because I learned to make delicious booze drinks. It’s because I’m a nerd for the why and the history of what makes us do what we do. And Steven definitely delivers on this end: I learned SO much about prohibition cocktails beyond just how to make them. (More on that in a moment, I promise!)
First things first, we were going to make three cocktails, and number one was a Bee’s Knees. Spoiler alert: this was our favorite of the class, but it started with the hardest maneuver – squeezing a fresh lemon. (If you follow our Twitter, you know how my attempt at this went. I uh, have a lot of practice ahead of me.)
Step 2 was doing a lot of shaking. According to Steven, this is your ‘signature move’ as a bartender. I have to admit, my ‘signature move’ is thus far lacking a lot of flair, but I was totally paranoid that I was going to break my glass in the process (apparently, this is not a common occurrence, but I do have that whole ‘remarkably klutzy for a former dancer’ vibe going on, so I wanted to be careful). Shaking both blends your ingredients and cools the drink, and we learned a lot about the proper technique for making both of these circumstances happen.
Briefly, here’s what I learned about Prohibition cocktails that made me nerd out so badly: the thought behind these drinks was that you didn’t want to be caught with booze on your breath, should you run into the police after leaving a speakeasy. Since booze wasn’t allowed, you wanted to do everything in your power to mask the scent of what you’d been chugging before a raid by the cops. And booze itself wasn’t easy to come by – while ‘bathtub gin’ might not have been actually made in a tub, it was certainly not of the fine varities that exist today, and it was muddled in with so many bitters and fruit-based mixers, with an ultimate hope that you could make out with the local cop and not have him realizing you’ve been boozing at the corner speakeasy all night.
Here I am, with my first-ever Bee’s Knees. Dang, this was a good cocktail! The ingredients: 2 oz gin, 3/4 oz honey syrup (you can make this from honey if you’re really ambitious, or just search the city until you find it pre-made, and keep a ton of it on hand, since I’m certain you’re going to want to repeat the hell out of this drink), and 3/4 oz lemon juice. I could probably drink these all day. (And then I might start posting my silly hippy philosophy on everyone’s Facebook pages, but, well, you know.)
Drink #2 sounded like it was meant to be made with whiskey: Satan’s Whiskers. Surprisingly, it was another gin-based drink (all three that we made were), with vermouth and all sorts of bitters to tamp down the alcohol flavor.
The three of us on our end swapped drinks upon completion of this round, just to see what a different pour leads to the blend. Interestingly, this was almost as fascinating to me as the history: my Satan’s Whiskers was different from Michael’s, which was different from Linda’s. I guess, if nothing else, this proves my theory that while a good bar is valuable to find, a good bartender is better. The style and the pour of a bartender can bring out so many different things in a single variety of beverage!
Here’s Steven in action, rattling off all sorts of interesting facts about booze (I promise, I remember as many of them as I can!). Ever want to take a class from someone who absolutely loves his job? This is your guy. While it may seem a little backward to think that a master bartender and mixologist would want to teach the laypeople how to make the booze-a-licious concoctions he can come up with, there’s no doubt about it. Steven loves to share his knowledge, and loves to educate this city about what goes into a good drink. (And man oh man do we appreciate his efforts!)
The secret ingredient to a Pink Lady is also the weirdest: egg whites. Oh yeah, if you think you’re being classy by ordering this suave-sounding drink, guess what? You’re actually ordering a drink that would be acceptable to have prior to a lengthy weight-lifting session. The egg whites add the frothy quality to the drink, although the drink doesn’t taste ‘eggy’ at all. (You pair the 3/4 oz of egg whites with 1.5 oz of gin and 1/4 oz of grenadine.)
And of course, I had to take my picture with the inspiration for this Achievement, Linda (you may know her as one of the voices of Dinner Plan-It, that blog that makes me consistently think, “Why haven’t I tried cooking like THAT?”). SO glad she suggested this!!
Steven runs these classes on a weekly basis, and, as we learned, if you attend more than half of them in a series, you get to participate in a graduation ceremony, where you mix drinks for your friends and family. We definitely can’t wait to root Linda on at her graduation!!
If you’re looking for an awesome way to spend a Saturday afternoon, the Art of Mixology series is a great option. It’s reasonably-priced, fun, and honest-to-goodness educational.
So… who wants to come over to do the Charleston in my backyard while drinking a couple of Bees Knees??