The history of cocktails is entwined with turbulent maritime stories, colonialism, victories and defeats, pain and suffering. Brendan Brewster kicked off his class with a Continental Fancy Lunch Punch. Punch, a loan word from Sanskrit meaning five, migrated from India to England in the 1700s. We sat ourselves down, sipping his delicious creation that incorporated the five holy ingredients: his secret spice blend, good dark rum, water, sugar, and a blend of fruit juices. Our minds wandered into the high seas for a bit until the whiff of white truffle oil – the garnish of Chef Eric Hanson’s corn custard – shocked us back into the present.
Next up, Brendan slices ornate discs of flavored butter as he explains how rum was the first spirit made in North America. Hot buttered rum marked the beginning of an era when barkeeps experimented with the notion that a drink is a meal. Sustenance and intoxication went hand in hand. Being the first of its kind, it was more like a fatty, boozy drink missing a crucial protein ingredient, or two. I could see, however, that this was the starting point of so many well-known drinks today, from the Irish coffee to the Eggnog.
The Old Fashioned is iconic. Brendan casually smirks at the Don Draper take of the Old Fashioned: a diluted hotchpotch of ingredients that, much like a shaken Martini, sounds macho while lacking a basic strength in taste. Three main ingredients: a base spirit, sugar, and bitters. A fourth crucial component is orange peel sprayed and garnished. Dilution, however, the fifth ingredient if you will, makes a true Old Fashioned the hardest drink to master. There is no place to hide your mistakes when making this drink. Elegant quenelles of pork rillettes were hauled out as we each took turns making our Old Fashioned.
The vermouth tasting may have been the high point for many. When I hear vermouth, images of dusty back bar bottles of Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth, rarely been used and turning into vinegar, come to mind. On the contrary, Dolin’s dry and sweet vermouths have so much depth and are respectful fortified wines in their own right. I’d go one step further and say they’d make great table wines. Though, I do think vermouths are meant to be in
cocktails and they were beautifully stretched in The Inverted Manhattan and Classic Martini that we made and drank.
The whole drunken madness of the evening was brilliantly accompanied by delicious food by the chefs. The night progressed as we clumsily separated whites from yolks and shook our Boston shakers like pros. The sound level rose. It was a riot. It was whiskey sour time. Sours are fun drinks to make because of the challenge of getting a thick froth layer from
the egg whites. People had varying degrees of success with the froth, but the key to a good sour is balance. The sugar syrup balanced the lemon juice well in this recipe giving a delicious pucker to this drink.
Our night ended with short servings of The Bramble, a modern classic made with crème de mûre (blackberry liqueur) and gin. We had eaten a lot of food and had consumed seven distinct drinks, tried out vermouths and were relaxing in the happiness of having experienced something special. This wasn’t a frat-party. This was us imbibing in a convivial way, several decades of drinks, the way men and women have been for centuries.
Brendan’s next class at Get Cooking is Mixology 101, on October 28th. You can book your tickets here.