I’m taking some time exploring a new city (San Francisco) and of course it doesn’t take long for my husband and I check out one very important facet of any culture: how they drink. We were lucky enough to attend a Cocktails 101 class at Bourbon and Branch’s Beverage Academy - rather than just drinking in (literally) the city’s cocktail scene, we thought it would be fun to learn more about the process itself, so we can start making better drinks at home.
Bourbon and Branch is definitely one of the cooler spots in the city – around since prohibition when it was a secret speakeasy, it still has its fake name (Wilson and Wilson Secret Detective Agency) and requires a password into its moody, dimly lit interior. This is a place that makes good cocktails, so we figured it would help us make good ones too.
The class, led by bartender Manuel, taught us how to make three classic drinks: an old fashioned (with whiskey), a margarita (tequila, of course), and a gin martini. We each had our own station with all the necessities: shaker tins, special spoons and measuring cups, an assortment of strainers, sugar cubes, some citrus peels, and of course the good stuff: the booze, bitters and syrups. The instructor lead us through the history of the drinks as we made them, and let us ask any questions we had along the way. It was a fun process, made more fun by the fact that we got to drink what we made, and everyone was chatting and laughing and having a good time. No drinks were spilled, no glasses broken, and it turns out I make a wicked margarita.
A few takeaways, for those of you who are interested in doing some mixology at home: use fresh ingredients (especially with the citrus or fruit additives; use what’s in season and not any of that pre-mixed sugary junk); there IS a big difference between shaking and stirring a drink, so shake/stir accordingly; and most importantly, even in an age of cocktail snobbery, do what you want with your drinks. If you want to use chocolate bitters in everything, do it. If you want your margarita to have blueberries and pineapple and maybe some rum or whatever in it, do it – just like food, it’s about having fun and exploring what you like, not sticking to professional rules just because you should.
Oh, and one other thing: after you drink all the cocktails you just made, I highly suggest running out for some late-night Indian food: it definitely saved me from a hangover.