José Andrés’s vaunted barmini, one of D.C. / the nation’s premiere cocktail bars, continued its Cocktail Classes series recently with a dive into Winter Cocktails. BYT was lucky enough to score a seat at the table; suffice to say, we learned, we laughed, we drank.
Barmini’s Cocktail Classes are designed to teach innovative cocktail techniques and tricks of the trade. At each class, the esteemed barmini team demonstrates three different drink techniques, all while giving the history behind each drink and the rationale for the specific technique used on the specific cocktail.
Given the Winter Cocktails theme, participants were greeted upon arrival with a winter toddy: a globe-trotting punch made with Scotch whiskey, Thai basil, cucumber, lime, a touch of cinnamon, and a healthy splash of sparkling wine. After a brief bit of mingling and socializing, the real fun began.
Head bartender JP began with a lecture on how important each specific building block is when crafting a perfect cocktail. Above all else, barmini strives for balance in its drinks; in order for a drink to work, the taste, texture, temperature, and aroma all must be in proper alignment. This even extends to the ice used for each drink, the glass in which it is served, and the garnishes that accompany. In addition to looking pretty, for example, garnishes offer an extra hit of aroma, essential to tasting a well-mixed drink.
We focused on three specific techniques: built cocktails, shaken cocktails, and stirred cocktails. After a brief introduction to the tools we’d be using (jiggers, stir spoons, cocktail shakers, etc.), we dove right in to the good stuff.
Built cocktails are those in which ingredients are added one by one directly to the glass in which they are to be served. Our built cocktail? The classic Irish Coffee, a drink that dates back to 1940 when a group of Americans got stuck in a storm in Ireland during a vacation. The cold travelers asked for something to warm them up; the hotel’s bartender combined whiskey, coffee, and cream – perfect for a soggy, downtrodden patron. We were told to combine 1.5 ounces of Jameson Irish whiskey, .5 ounces of demerara syrup, 3 ounces of coffee, and a topping of freshly whipped cream; a showering of freshly grated nutmeg added both aroma and flavor that perfectly complemented the boozy coffee.
Shaken cocktails are shaken for a variety of reasons: to mix the ingredients (naturally); to slightly melt the ice, diluting the cocktail; to aerate the heavier components of the cocktail; and to combine citrus with the other ingredients, leading to a smoother drink. Our shaken cocktail, the Lion’s Tail, comes from England, where a pre-World War II bartender invented it to raise funds for the English Bartender’s Guild. Combine .75 ounces of lime juice, .75 ounces of simple syrup, .25 ounces of allspice dram, 2 ounces of bourbon, and a healthy dash of Angostura bitters. Add ice to the shaker, shake vigorously for ten seconds, then strain over a large ice cube for a drink full of wintry flavors and heavy on the booze.
If you’re anything like me, you’re not exactly the best at pacing yourself during events like these (sorry not sorry). Thankfully, the kitchen next door at minibar is kind enough to send out snacks that provide a base layer before continuing on your cocktail journey. We were fortunate enough to sample the restaurant’s truffle-infused mini grilled cheese sandwiches, delicious tuna tartare crisps, and a whimsical Peep made of apple meringue and stuffed with cold, creamy foie gras.
But back to the booze: stirred cocktails are traditionally a mix of syrup, bitters, and alcohol, ingredients that work well together naturally and that don’t need a ton of excess aeration. (As JP pointed out, however, there are always exceptions… just look at James Bond, the epitome of suave, who likes his martinis shaken, not stirred.) Our stirred cocktail was a barmini original: a riff on a classic Manhattan, but made with pumpkin infused bourbon. Two ounces of this kabocha bourbon is combined with .75 ounces of dry vermouth, .25 ounces maple syrup, and 3 dashes each of Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters. Stir in a mixing glass for 30 seconds or so, strain into a coupe glass, and you’ve got a classic cocktail with an artful riff, both delicious and stiff.
Each class includes a welcome cocktail, hands-on instruction in an intimate setting, and a gift to take home. (Ours was a premade bottle of barmini’s Carmen Miranda cocktail, a combination of banana infused bourbon, cinnamon, sugar, and angostura bitters.)
In terms of meeting fellow booze connoisseurs in a relaxed environment, learning some super cool cocktail terms and techniques from some true professionals, and tasting some downright delicious drinks, one would be hard pressed to find a better time. More information is available on barmini’s site.