I race up the dark stairs of The Cocktail Club for my first-ever and highly anticipated craft cocktail class (ten minutes late, as usual). I lift my head to find myself in a completely different era. The quiet bar I’m in seems to be a tranquil venue, complete with couches and rooftop seating to enjoy signature craft drinks designed by the swanky club’s team of bartenders. The back of the bar pays tribute to an old private library with shelves of liquor stacked high to the ceiling, complete with a sliding ladder that proves easy access for the bartenders. And speaking of the bartenders… Donned in button downs, slacks, and suit vests, three dapper men grace the area behind the counter, ready to fulfill our afternoon with their cocktail knowledge and expertise.
Guests are seated at the bar as well as at a long table for optimal viewing. I frantically whip out my notebook and grab a seat to join a birthday party from out of town, a romantic couple, and another local blog writer (they were all on time) to begin our lesson on aperitif recipes that were dreamt-up in-house at The Cocktail Club.
Gin for the win.
Using locally distilled Hat Trick Gin, Ryan Welliver demonstrates how to make The Right and Wrong cocktail.
Grapefruit bitters, honey-sage syrup, and Cocchi Americano bring out the gin’s flavor and create a sweet, summery drink. The instructors explain that The Cocktail Club tries to use every part of the products used as they save the oranges that were peeled for garnish. The best example of this reduce, reuse, recycle mentality comes next when bowls of Bacon Fat Spiced Popcorn are placed before our very eyes.
This item stays on the menu at all times, and is an instant crowd favorite. The popcorn is drizzled with bacon fat (available to them because they cure their own bacon…surprised?) and then seasoned with salt, smoked paprika, and brown sugar. Chef-turned-bartender Jeremiah Schenzel whips up a quick batch for the group as we watched in anticipation. If you are pretentiously scoffing at my unending love of bacon fat-covered popcorn, I pity you. It was truly heavenly and the perfect spicy kick to accompany the light, fruity gin refresher.
Did somebody say tequila?
This tequila drink gets its name from the politically incorrect moniker it was initially dubbed- The Mexican V8. The 22 is derived from its Roman numeral, V, and the “ocho” is pretty self explanatory. The name foreshadows an interesting cocktail, to say the least, producing a fusion based on vegetable tequila that has been infused with carrots, garlic, cilantro, and peppercorn.
The group receives a lesson in “muddling” while bartender Matty Soeder extracts the juices from cucumbers and pickled red onions to create an earthy libation accompanied by an allspice dram wash. We can really taste the pickled red onion, especially after munching on the onion and olive garnish.
We use the 22 Ocho to help us choke down the fresh mortadella and soft brie smothered in homemade pepper jam as attendees mingle and head to the sunny roof.
I lived to tell A Pig’s Tale.
Our beloved locally distilled Striped Pig Vodka makes its teaching debut in this savory, organic cocktail. Would you be surprised if I told you that The Cocktail Club has it’s own herb garden? And that they dry their own rosemary and make their own rosemary simple syrup? Didn’t think you would be. They do, and it’s beautiful and amazing. Adding some noshi pear juice and rosemary simple syrup to the vodka makes A Pig’s Tale practically perfect in every way. And to top it off, the dashing gentlemen bartenders light a twig of rosemary on fire before adding it as garnish.
The sweet pear taste is reminiscent of impending summer, and the room is filled with the burnt rosemary scent, creating an interestingly wonderful experience in itself outside of the drink.
Still going strong.
By now, we, the group, are sporting a delightful buzz (some more than others) and are ready for the last and most decadent drink: The Strong and Stout. Our hosts describe it as a “martini on top of a beer.” First, a milk stout nitro beer is poured into the glass. Then, a chocolate martini is mixed with a stabilizer (egg white) and then infused with nitrogen in a siphon to make a foam substance to float on top of the beer.
Just grate some dark chocolate shavings over the glass and voilà! We have the perfect dessert to end an afternoon sipping spirits on King St. But wait, of course there’s more. To accompany our nitro-treat, we are presented with bruschetta topped with (you guessed it) homemade chocolate almond spread.
The end of the lesson is accompanied by a shot of Fernet Branca, otherwise known as “the bartender’s handshake,” a small thank you from the instructors for attending their class. And they are oh so welcome. We have been spoiled from the first sip to the last bite with plenty of “oohs” and “ahs” in between. Hopefully we all aced the class, because The Cocktail Club certainly passed the test this time.
bitters-salt and pepper of the cocktail world
muddling- lightly grinding ingredients with a stick just hard enough to release the flavor
wash- liquor not used in cocktail, but used to wash the glass before thecocktail goes in for aromatic effect
Learn how to make the recipes crafted by Jeremiah, Matty, and Ryan for The Cocktail Club:
The Right and Wrong
1 1/2 oz Hat Trick Gin
1/4 oz Cocci Americano
1/2 oz honey-sage syrup
2 dash Fee Brother’s or Bitter Bitter Truth grapefruit bitters
1/2 oz Jack Rudy tonic syrup
Combine all ingredients into shaker glass half-filled with ice.
Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice
Garnish with an orange peel.
The 22 Ocho
2 oz vegetable tequila
1 tsp pickled red onion
1 cucumber slice
1 oz lime juice
2 dashes Fee Brother’s or Bitter Truth celery bitters
Splash of citrus soda
St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram wash
Pour allspice dram into chilled coupe glass. Set aside.
Muddle pickled red onion and cucumber slice into shaker glass.
Combine all other ingredients (except citrus soda) into pint glass half-filled with ice.
Throw out wash.
Strain into washed coupe glass.
Garnish with green olive and sliver of pickled red onion.
A Pig’s Tale
1 1/2 oz Striped Pig Vodka
1 oz pear puree
1/4 oz rosemary simple syrup
1/2 tsp lime juice
1/2 oz Art in the Age Ginger Snap
Combine all ingredients into shaker glass half-filled with ice.
Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Garnish with a charred rosemary sprig.
Strong and Stout
6-8 oz stout beer
Chocolate Martini Foam
3/4 oz 360 Double Chocolate Vodka
3/4 oz Svedka Vanilla Vodka
1/4 oz Zucca Amaro
1/2 oz Marie Brizard Chocolate Royale
1/2 oz simple syrup (maybe)
1 egg white (1 oz liquid egg white)
Combine all chocolate martini ingredients into shaker glass half-filled with ice and shake hard for 10 seconds.
Strain into whipping siphon and charge with N2O (make sure not CO2).
Pour stout into small-medium highball glass.
Top stout with foam mixture from siphon.
Garnish with shaved dark chocolate.