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Tapping that inner mixologist

Not all the excitement in hotel cocktail programs is behind the bar. A number of hotel properties around the country are entertaining and educating customers with myriad mixology classes. The popular cocktail classes mix history, liquor basics, hands-on technique and plenty of tasting.

At Jose Andres’ The Bazaar at SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, mixologist Rob Floyd launched a monthly educational series called Cocktail Fundamentals. Priced $75 per person, past themes have included From Russia with Love, focusing on vodka, and Pirate Juice and You, featuring rum.

Aspiring mixologists at Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta can choose from four courses: Bar 101, which deals with bar basics; Understanding the Classics, which explores pre-Prohibition cocktails and modern variations; Learning Liqueurs, which schools students in the wide world of liqueurs; and Enhancing Cocktails with Barrels and Bitters, which encourages at-home infusion projects.

Chef Wolfgang Puck offers hands-on mixology classes at Hotel Bel-Air for private events. Led by The Bar’s beverage director, these classes focus on making perfect cocktails by providing tips on using fresh ingredients, professional techniques and the right barware.

Perhaps the most comprehensive and extensive mixology curriculum is at Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis, which goes beyond stirring potable potions to understanding the drinks market and the nuts and bolts of managing a quality cocktail establishment.

“In most of the classes I try not to get too nerdy,” says Cory Cuff, mixologist and assistant food and beverage manager at the Four Seasons St. Louis. “I try to make it fun even though some classes are intensive.” The most popular course is Top 25 Drinks Everyone Should Know; a two-hour $75 session that delves into how to set up a bar, a basic spirits overview and hands-on shaking, stirring and garnishing drinks.

Other of Cuff’s intermediate seminars deal with history and classic cocktails, as well as concocting shrubs—pre-Prohibition drinking vinegars that are attracting interest in restaurants and bars. For wannabe pros, Cuff’s Advanced Bartending examines how to analyze spirits and mixers and conceptualize cocktail recipes, as well as practical tips on speed and pouring accuracy, and creating housemade tinctures and bitters. The business end is covered in his Bar Managing class, including inventory management, menu engineering and analysis and guest interaction.

Most of the Four Seasons’ mixology classes are arranged for visiting groups, as an attractive catering add-on. A little bit of learning leads to a taste for more. “At the bar after the classes, guests are so eager to experiment, we’ve turned them on to new spirits and cocktails,” notes Cuff.

DIY at W

At Cook Hall, a new gastropub concept in the W Hotels in Dallas and Atlanta, guests who want to dabble in mixology can play with an all-in-one Cocktail Kit right at their table. Created by beverage director Belinda Chang, the DIY kit contains all the fixings for mixing, including housemade shrubs, bitters and tinctures, ginger ale and lemonade, fresh herbs and garnishes, as well as bartending tools, ice and a notebook to jot down recipes. Housemade concoctions change seasonally to keep drinks fresh. The Cocktail Kit is $3; spirits are extra, or guests can feel free to stir up some mocktails.

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