The course didn't start til 11, the Shaker Bar School opens at 10.45, and they warn that no food is provided. So, we arrived early and had breakfast in the nearby Speedy's Cafe. Thanks to Google Maps, I'd not ony been abe to view cafes in the area but, thanks to StreetView, I'd actually been able to look at it (and the surrounding area) "for real" to see if it was a salubrious sort of place. Actually, it had lots of positive reviews as well.
It was great. An "old fashioned" cafe serving good food, freshly prepared, in good portions and reasonable prices. Tea in a mug. Excellent service from happy staff.
Suitably fortified, we marched on through the snow. Again, thanks to StreetView, I knew what we were looking for at the end, and I knew that we had to walk through an alley way to get there.
We arrived at the Shaker Bar School, and there were 11 (should have been 13, but two failed to attend) of us. After a brief introduction of our two trainers and ourselves, we got stuck in. The format was that the trainer demonstrates a cocktail and talks about it, then in our pairs one of us makes a version, then the other one makes a version. This means that everyone gets to make every drink, and try every drink.
First up, we learned how to make Collins type drinks. The trainer demonstrated a Tom Collins, and explained that in order to be a Collins, you must use lemon and you must use soda. The alcohol and the syrup could be adapted to make variations. A Tom Collins is gin (not my favourite drink); he used Bombay Sapphire, which was OK but still not great for me. Yvonne made a Joseph Collins, with Vodka, and decided to use a Vanilla syrup. Good start!
I made a Joseph but used Elderflower syrup... not good. I think my home made Elderflower, or my Bottlegreen Elderflower, would work better. We discussed with the trainer other options and flavours. We wondered if coffee liqueur might work, and he advised that this would be OK with Joseph but not with Tom. We also asked about using Bottlegreen-type cordials, and he suggested using something like Hendricks gin.... I think Plymouth might work (for me), as I can just about drink the Plymouth style, I really don't like the London style.
Conclusion: Collins: Definitely on my list of drinks to make at home
Next up was Mules. A demo and an explanation of how the drink was created. The learning here was that the type of ginger beer determines what other ingredients you put in. If using a fiery giger beer then omit the syrup. The trainer made it first without Bitters, and then added them so we could se the diifference. I found that the Angostura Bitters gave a sort of cola-bottle taste to this drink.
Our turns. Yvonne made a Tennesee Mule using Jack Daniels. This was surprisingly good, without bitters, but adding bitters made it taste like whisky with ginger.
I tried a Cuban Mule with Rum. For me, this was not a success, with or without bitters.
Conclusion: Mule: Hmm, probably won't rush to make this again
The third drink type we learned was Sours. I hadn't expected to like this at all, as I don't particularly like Sour taste. I learned that Sours aren't necessarily sour. And this drink uses egg white. As a chicken owner and custard maker, I'm always looking for ways of using leftover egg whites.
This was a bit more involved process as we needed to get the egg white frothed. We also learned that there are more types of Bitters than just Angostura. We made Disoronno sours. Our neighbour made a fab chocolatey one using 3/4 Chocolate Liqueur and 1/4 Disoronno, and using chocolate bitters.
This one you had to start with 1 ice cube, rocking the shaker to mix the egg white. Then a bit of gentle shaking to froth the egg white. Once the ice cuvbe had melted, we filled the shaker with ice and shook properly. A bit of swirling before pouring to get all the froth out, and then poured over ice. The drink takes a few moments to settle, like guinness, and for this reason the bartender used half pint tankards to serve. It was perfumed with lemon.
Another success. And I learned that I could tolerate Disoronno
Counclusion: Sours: Definitely on my list of drinks to make.
At this point we had half an hour for lunch. We'd bought sandwiches from Speedy's, and we walked back there to get a takeaway coffee.
After lunch we started with Daiquiris. With these, you can use sugar or substitute syrup. This is a doubel strained drink. We tried Vanilla and Lavender. The Vanilla was ok, not great. The Lavender was horrible - but I think home made Lavender syrup might work better than the synthetic Monin syrups we were using.
Conclusion: Daiquiris: Probably not.
Learning here was to use a good Tequila, made from 100% blue Agave. We learned about prepping the glass before shaking the cocktail. The variations here were the spirits used to complement the Tequila. We tried three, and I didn't really like any of them. I don't think I'm a Tequila girl.
Conclusion: Margaritas: Not for me, thanks.
Variations here were the type of citrus vodkas that could be used. Failed miserably on firing the orange peel.
Conclusion: Cosmopolitan: There are better drinks (for me) to concentrate on.
Our final drink, and what a great one to end on. Lots of tips on doing this well - how to gently crush the mint leaves, not to chop them up when muddling, how to churn the drink. Really refreshing, and I look forward to trying it with alternatives to Rum.
Conclusion: Mojito : Definitely do this one
Before we left, the trainers showed us how to make Martinis. Too much alcohol in a martini for me, so I'll probably leave that off my list for now.
And along the way we learned loads of tips:
how to test a drink - using a straw to pull some drink out to try (although some of our drinks didn't taste so good like this, but were more acceptable when drinking from the glass).
More alcohol doean't make a better cocktail
Get the proportion of lemon/lime and sugar absolutely right, don't skimp/overdo either
More ice stays icier longer
Clean as you go
And more that I've probably forgotten for the moment.
The accompanying boooklet is great. It covers, with photos, all the basics that we didn't specifically go through (but were covered as part of making each cocktail).
All I need now is space to create my own cocktail bar.