Fancy cocktails are a dime a dozen in bars all over the country — you can always find someone willing to shake up a carefully crafted drink. But what if you want to re-create the magic at home?
Loads of mixology classes have popped up around town recently to teach home bartenders how to properly stir, shake and swizzle. Top bars like Billy Sunday and Violet Hour have gotten into the teaching game. Michelin-starred restaurants like Entente, as well as local distilleries, are sharing their secrets. We tried out a few classes and found it’s a fun way to get a little tipsy while learning a new craft.
Mixology classes at the Violet Hour sell out fast, and the lessons are handed out by real pros. Instructor Abe Vucekovich offered a perfect balance of expertise and humor — a combination of professional information and quality home-bartending tips. He provided a surefire recipe template for three cocktails with three hands-on techniques, plus info on mixology history and legends, ingredients, tools, ice and just enough insider-y tips (“Always build your drinks by adding the cheapest ingredient first, in case you screw it up.”) and “drunk history”-style tales to keep it interesting as we shook, stirred, strained and swizzled our own. The setting was dark, moody and romantic even in daytime, and Vucekovich’s approachable style made it the best bet for folks who want to learn the industry secrets. Smart advice like “Hold your mixing glass like a football!” helped bring the learning points home.
1520 N. Damen Ave., 773-252-1500, theviolethour.com.
Violet Hour Gimlet
2 ounces London dry gin
¾ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled coupe.
Note: For the simple syrup, simmer a 1-to-1 ratio of water and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool before using.
Prohibition Era Cocktail Class
Learning about cocktail origins in Chicago’s first craft distillery surrounded by 30-gallon wooden casks full of whiskey definitely makes for a fun night out. Led by Koval’s enthusiastic education amabassador, A. Tonks Lynch, our Prohibition era class focused on her deep knowledge of cocktail history. Skewing her tips toward the home bartender, Lynch did a tremendous job of gently promoting Koval’s products, featuring them in unique recipes and guiding students into the tasting room after class. I have enjoyed many a French 75 but never knew it was named for a piece of WWI artillery. The group-participation setting was not the best to pick up real cocktail technique, but the tasty recipes (have you ever had a rose hip Manhattan?) and interesting anecdotes, topped with the 10 percent discount on the fine Chicago-made booze purchased afterward, made it worth the price.
5121 N. Ravenswood Ave., 312-878-7988, koval-distillery.com.
2 ounces Koval Bourbon
1 ounce Koval Rose Hip Liqueur
1 ounce Aperol
Build in a rocks glass filled with ice. Stir to combine, and chill. Twist orange peel over cocktail, rub peel on rim, and drop into glass.
Proprietor Devin Kidner has never bartended professionally, but what she lacks in experience, she makes up for with pure pluck. Kidner holds her high-energy, highly interactive classes in the back of bars, on patios and in corporate meeting rooms all around Chicagoland, announcing to her students, “I am not your typical mixologist. I am here to get you thinking like a mixologist, using the science and the art behind it.”
She stages the class in gorgeously Instagram-able stations, with jugs of liquor, Mason jars of colorful seasonal mixers, vials of handmade bitters and tinctures, and fresh citrus and herbs at the ready. Each guest grabs a wide mouth jar and travels from high-top to high-top, tasting, mixing and muddling, guided by Kidner’s careful and clever instructions. Best of all, once you’ve created your cocktails, Kidner tastes and corrects them, usually with a squirt of her wonderful tinctures. (See the recipe for the cocktail I created in class below.) Fast-paced, funny and well-organized, Hollow Leg’s classes find the perfect parity between grabbing a drink with friends and a make-your-own cocktail party.
Lisa’s Hollow Leg
2 ounces pomegranate juice
1 ounce unsweetened cranberry juice
2 ounces London dry gin
2 teaspoons honey simple syrup
1 teaspoon ginger bitters, see note
Large sprig fresh thyme
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker or Mason jar. Muddle. Add ice, and shake 12 seconds to chill. Strain into cocktail glass. Top with a dash more ginger bitters.
Note: The ginger bitters are a handmade product by Kidner. You may sub with another flavor.
Lisa Futterman is a freelance writer.