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Class is in Session at the Whistler

By Roger Kamholz in Food on Jan 25, 2011 7:00PM

Home bartenders, "You can do a lot with a little." That's a taste of the sage advice of the Whistler's Paul McGee, who this week held the second session of Cocktails 101, the new Sunday-afternoon series of bartending classes he's teaching at the Logan Square cocktail bar. Always in earnest pursuit of mixing wisdom, we attended this week's class to learn from one of Chicago's best.

Through these weekly introductory seminars, McGee empowers amateur cocktail enthusiasts to "well curate" their home bars with the most versatile, flavorful booze, while instilling the principal techniques needed to craft modern and classic cocktails alike. He advocates the so-called "12-bottle bar" at home, which is exactly what it sounds like: With just a dozen well-chosen spirits, bitters and liqueurs on your shelves, you can fashion an astounding number of superb drinks (more than 100, in fact) for a relatively modest investment.

But that's not all. Besides valuable cabinet-stocking recs, Cocktails 101 covers spirit types, cocktail "families" (juleps, sours, rickeys, etc.), bartending tools and other relevant topics. It's also a rare opportunity to pick McGee's brain (aka geek out) about cocktails without the competing distractions of loud music and a rumpus of hollered drink orders. You'll pick up several handy tidbits (vermouth, a wine-based spirit, should be refrigerated after opening to slow oxidation), and leave with a terrific handmade booklet containing all the course material plus lots of cocktail recipes.

In many ways, Cocktails 101 reflects McGee's approach to bartending. In a Whistler cocktail, the base spirit - be it gin, whiskey, rum - typically plays a prominent role in the flavor profile. Likewise during class, McGee delves into each major spirit category, detailing key flavors, so students can not only better identify drinks they may like, but also begin creating suitable drinks of their own. And for newbies, McGee couldn't be a better teacher. Yes, he's logged 21 years behind the stick, but McGee remains dedicated to proper technique, quality ingredients, and spare yet artful preparations - all of which can be readily carried over to the domestic front.

Presently, Cocktails 101 sessions are full through February (all seats sold out in a day!); but waitlisters and the rest will be happy to know the Whistler plans to return with more offerings after March. And expect more advanced cocktail classes to come; future topics may include cocktail-recipe development and courses devoted to specific spirits (McGee is partial to American Whiskey, for instance). We're ready to enroll right now.

The Whistler is located at 2421 North Milwaukee Avenue.