I just had the most fun I’ve had on a Zoom call in like ever.
DISCUS (the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States) teamed up with Liquor Lab to host a virtual cocktail class, and it was exactly as much fun as it sounds.
The class was hosted by Dev Johnson, Principal Bartender at Employees Only in New York and Host at Liquor Lab.
The day of the class I received my cocktail kit via FedEx. It was two boxes, one for tools and one for ingredients. The ingredients included mint, sugar in a plastic bottle to make simple syrup by adding water and shaking, lemon juice that was the same way, a tiny can of Fever-Tree soda water, Jack Daniel’s, Bulleit, an orange, a lemon, and a tiny bottle of bitters.
The tools included were a muddler, a cocktail shaker, a cocktail spoon, and a jigger.
The only complaint I had was that I wanted to be hyper-prepared with the correct glassware and whatnot, but I guessed I would need some ice, a rocks glass, and a tall glass at the least so it wasn’t that bad to get everything set up for the class.
Once the class began Johnson told us we’d also need a knife and a cutting board (duh, there’s fruit, I should have totally guessed that) so I went over and grabbed the other things I needed along with a dish towel (his suggestion) for any spills. The class was really laid back, so leaving to grab something out of the kitchen was no big deal.
We started off by making a whiskey smash, which is a pretty classic cocktail that often gets overlooked. After a demonstration of how to cut our lemons like a bartender, we placed two lemon wedges in the bottom of the mixing cup and began to muddle them. To that we added four mint leave and muddled them gently. We added 1/2 oz. of simple syrup and 1 1/2 ounces of Jack Daniel’s, added ice, put the shaker top on, and shook our drinks, dumping the whole thing into a rocks glass in what is called a “dirty pour” – when you don’t strain out the ice or ingredients. It was lovely and refreshing.
“Balance is one of the fundamentals.,” said Johnson. “You can make drinks without balance but they aren’t going to be good drinks.”
The smash is a perfect example of balance – just the right amount of sweet and sour to compliment the whiskey.
Next we made a mocktail – a really wonderful mint lemonade. We did this by muddling four mint leaves in the bottom of our mixing cups, adding 1 1/2 oz. lemon juice, 1 1/2 oz. simple syrup, and ice and shaking. We then strained that into a new glass with ice and topped with the Fever Tree soda water. You can either enjoy this as a mocktail or add alcohol of your choice – it would go great with whiskey or gin or that other stuff that starts with a v if you are so inclined.
In between each cocktail we had a break to enjoy the fruits of our labors and rinse off our tools.
The final cocktail of the night was an Old Fashioned, and we did something a bit different here. We started by infusing the whiskey with some English Breakfast tea by simply placing the tea bag in our glass and adding 1 1/2 ounces of Bulleit Bourbon. We stirred it a few times and let it meld for a few minutes before removing (and squeezing) the tea bag. To that we added a few dashes of orange/grapefruit bitters and 1/2 oz. of simple syrup. I don’t know if it was the tough day I was having or what, but it made an absolutely lovely cocktail, which is not pictured here because I finished it with a bit of dark chocolate while I was writing this. Highly recommended.
This cocktail class was a lot of fun. It was a welcome break from the relative isolation of the pandemic. I got to see a lot of my writer friends and I got to learn a few new tricks for making cocktails.
Lots of brand reps and bartenders have been selling cocktail kits and doing video instruction along with them, and I have to tell you, I highly recommend the experience. It’s a little more than just a tasting because you have to think and build and do, and we all need a little more of that right now. Check with your local bars and package stores for anyone who is doing these kinds of interactive classes.
Liquor Lab does offer remote classes through its Liquor Lab Live service, and you can either choose a private event and customize what you want to learn and receive a package based on that, or you can “attend” a public event and receive a shopping list ahead of time to acquire your own ingredients and tools, all generally available in your package store and grocery store.
Photos courtesy of Maggie Kimberl
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