I've always loved school. I used to be a teacher and I get a little jealous every September when my kids get to go back to school. But the Astor Center in New York City has brought a whole new love of education into my life. Classes that are hands on in cooking as well as eating or consuming cocktails has me begging to go to this school as often as I can! A few weeks ago my hubby and I took a cooking class, but this trip was all about booze, for a class titled "The Cocktails that made Whiskey Famous."
This class was one of my Christmas presents from my dear hubby, though I'm suspicious of how much it was really for me since he's the big whiskey drinker!
The classroom was was set up almost like a science symposium with a big screen at the head of the room with tiered seating for the "students." Our "professor" was the renowned mixologist or or self proclaimed "sommelier of sprits," Elayne Duke, and our desks were set with "lab equipment" (bar tools and glasses) for our "experiments" (mixing cocktails). This was about the best grown up classroom I'd ever been in.
Class began with a welcome cocktail, The Roadster (click for the recipe). It was quite tasty and it disappeared before I remembered to take a picture...though even the empty glass was pretty with the sugar rim and remaining orange peel garnish. I'm sure many of my college courses could have been greatly improved if we'd been served welcome cocktails to kick off class. Elayne Duke is a woman to be envied. She is beautiful, charming, and has arguably the best job on the planet: head mixologist for Diageo Wine and Spirits. She creates cocktails for some of New York's finest restaurants, is much sought after for her expertise and yet she is incredibly down to earth and personable, even when speaking to a big crowd. In short, we were in very good hands and really enjoyed all the history of whiskey, and details on how it's made.
We were walked through a straight whiskey tasting of, Bulleit, Bulleit Rye, and George Dickel 12. We were told how to hold the sip in our mouth, let it roll to the back of our tongue, take a breath in and out and finally swallow. We learned why the back of your throat tingles and almost waters after eating or drinking some foods...it's the high acidity! We got an intro to our bar tools and by that point I was ready to use them to start making some mixed drinks.
Mr. Martha Muddling
The Mint Julep was our first "class project." My hubby is a mean muddler so this drink was right up his alley. It's also a very pretty drink, so I can completely understand why it's the perfect accessory to have in your hand at the Kentucky Derby. Elayne told us that in Virginia in the 1700's they were a breakfast drink! (They all must have been half in the bag before lunch.) They were originally made with cognac, but in the 1930s they began being made "properly" with bourbon.
The Mint Julep
If you've lost count, we were up to 5 drinks by this time. My hubby and I had been out to dinner prior to class (and were glad of it). Whiskey is a strong drink and the lovely young couple sitting next to us was going to dinner after the class. The wife was trying to eat as much cheese and bread as she could put away without ruining her appetite for dinner...but the booze were catching up to her for sure, and I'm afraid she was looking a little green around the gills. Her husband did confirm that the whiskey class had indeed been his Christmas gift, she was along for the ride.
Drink number 6, was the Manhattan. A classic drink that makes me think of my grandfather as well as my parent's friends. This drink also brought us quite a lot of great information. First, what exactly is Vermouth? It's a wine infused with herbs and grain alcohol. The second thing is a biggie: you should never shake an all alcohol drink. James Bond telling the bartender, "Shaken, not stirred." for his martini...actually had it all wrong! When you shake a drink with all booze, the strongest flavor will overpower the whole drink and the more subtle flavors will be lost. Stirring, gently folds and mixes them together. Third lesson: if your drink is all booze add ice to the mixing glass first. If your drink has citrus in it...ice should always be added last. (Six drinks in, plus the wine at dinner...and Martha is still taking good notes? I think I really am becoming a professional drinker!)
The Whiskey Smash
We wrapped the evening up with a Whiskey Smash, perhaps aptly chosen since several students would be leaving class Whiskey Smashed. We had the huegest, juiciest lemons to make this drink and our finished products needed extra simple syrup to make them less tart and more palatable. I thought they tasted kind of like fruity pebbles...a favorite breakfast staple from my childhood! (I know, I really was gourmet even as a kid.)
After thanking Elayne for a wonderful evening, we packed up our notes, collected out coats and poured ourselves into a car waiting to take us home. (Please note that taking a car home is the only way to go!) I highly recommend this or any class taught by Elayne Duke, at the Astor Center. But if "school" is just not your thing...at least do some "home work" and try all the great drink recipes I took notes on in class.