Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cocktails 102 at The Beverage Academy at Bourbon & Branch

On September 8 I attended “Cocktails 102” at the Beverage Academy at Bourbon & Branch. This turned out to be the first time the class has been offered.

It was taught by Jon Santer, one of the founding bartenders of Bourbon & Branch.  Again, the table was set for 16 students – sixteen complete bar setups – and the class was full.

Like Cocktails 101, there was a PowerPoint presentation with some history, the recipes, a tablespoon of drink theory, and some information about the pioneers of the cocktail revival.
For each recipe, Jon described a particular technique, then talked us through the recipe, then he made the recipe, then we made it.

Jon said that in contrast with Cocktails 101, this class would focus more on mechanics, and would move faster. And that while most people can make good drinks, the goal of the class was to make perfect drinks. This is exactly what I want - I make very good drinks, but rarely with the elegance and impact of the drinks I've had at Bourbon & Branch.

Unsurprisingly, its all about a lot of small details. Measure carefully. Shake the same amount of time. Chill your glassware. Store your fresh cut mint in water until you use it.

We made three cocktails* – the Gin Gin Mule (from the Pegu Club Bar in New York), a Martini, and a Gin Fizz Tropical (a Charles Baker recipe). As always, the ingredients provided were first rate – Fever Tree Ginger Ale, Small Hand Syrups, Martin Miller Gin*, Vya Vermouth.  We were again treated to a fervent sermon on the Gospel of Kold Draft Ice.

We had a lesson in stirring – how to use a bar spoon to cool and mix a drink to the proper dilution, but without introducing air bubbles – air bubbles make a drink cloudy, and lessens the silken texture. Lesson, as in:
"everybody hold your hand up.....spread your fingers like this .... put the spoon through your hand like this ... now move your wrist .... not that, like this ... good, good .... now practice stirring your mixing glass (full of water & ice) while I describe the next recipe."
This was 100% different from what I've seen in bar books - rolling the bar spoon between your palms so it acts like an egg beater.  The secret lies in use of the wrist.  Unsurprisingly Jon could stir amazingly fast. [Note to self: next time we have martinis, stir one each way, and see how different they are visually and texturally.]

Egg white drinks - I've had them many places, and made them many times.  At home I use a blender. Honestly.

I've tried shaking them by hand, but I don't have that much time and that much shoulder.

Well, we shook for 22 seconds - two measured steps - dry shake, then a precise number of ice cubes, then hard shake. It was the best fizz I've ever made, and I wish I'd taken the photo before I drank the first sip. Jon said he's tried the 'use the spring from the hawthorne strainer' trick, and it doesn't make any difference.

As before, the class was FUN - lots of laughter. Imagine my delight at sitting between two stunningly beautiful women - that was icing on the cake!

What were some of my 'take aways'?
  • “The best sip is the first sip” - I've seen the same said in wine tasting (and in diet books). I've noticed that when I eat or drink something, I pay less attention to each subsequent bite.  I think double straining makes the drink more consistent - you remove the little flakes of ice that will quickly melt and change the dilution of the drink - so the drink will taste the same whether you serve it 10 seconds or 100 seconds after you shake it.  [Obviously if you wait too long it will warm up.]
  • Build it dry, then add ice.  It makes sense that putting the ice in the shaker first would result in more dilution. See here for an excellent write up of research on the topic of dilution with actual data on temperature, shake time, and dilution. Let's do more research here!
  • Plastic squeeze bottle for egg white - how obvious (but only in retrospect)! What a great idea!
  • Small Hand Syrups – oh, my!  It has become my habit to taste each of the ingredients separately - Ivan got me in the habit of doing that - and I have become very curious about Small Hand syrups based on the great praise I've seen for them on the blogosphere.  Having made my own Orgeat Syrup, which I thought was the 'bee's knees", I have to say Jennifer's* leaves-mine-in-the-dust! Hers is light and fluffy (!?!) and not overly sweet.  I can't wait to taste her grenadine.
  • "If it doesn't go bad, don't eat it."  Applies equally to twinkies and high fructose bar syrup.
The modern history information was very interesting.  Yeah, I knew Dale DeGroff was a key figure in starting the cocktail revival, but had no idea who Audrey Sanders and Sasha Petraske are, and what roles they played.  I'd like to figure out where Paul Harrington fits into this picture.

Criticisms, suggestions?

Well, not much.
  • I would suggest stirring a martini the right way and the wrong way to show the difference. Shine a light through them to show the difference in clarity?
  • Since you all love to talk about ice, I noticed you don't talk about how you filter your water before you freeze it .... Jon emailed me to let me know that the Kold Draft includes a reverse osmosis filter, so the water is clean!
  • And I thought you were a little over the top in omitting Elixir from the list of San Francisco Bars
  • Mr. Skeptical Engineer lived in Japan for three years and has a third degree black belt so he has a great deal of respect for Japanese attention to detail and likes Japanese tools, but he thought 'Japanese food grade steel' sounded a lot like 'super premium vodka.'
  The Last Word: Schedule more classes, please!

    *A couple of days after the class we were emailed all the recipes.
    ** It turns out that Jon is some kind of brand rep or brand ambassador for Martin Miller’s - it sounded like he liked their gin so much that he started working for them, and he wanted to be up front with us about it.
    *** Jennifer Colliau is the owner/proprietor/Chef of Small Hand Foods.  I hope to meet her someday.

    1 comment:

    jennifer colliau said...

    Hi! Great post. I have friends wanting me to teach a cocktail class so I have been bending Jon's ear about the Beverage Academy. He and I work together at Heaven's Dog on Wednesday nights. Please come in for a drink!

    Jennifer Colliau

    Post a Comment