The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Advanced Studies In Mixology At The Violet Hour

By Paul Leddy in Food on Apr 2, 2013 5:00PM

When Paul McGee was still at The Whistler, he started offering Cocktails 101 classes on Sunday afternoons. The classes were an introduction to spirits, modifiers, cocktail families, and techniques for making cocktails at home.

Sadly, since McGee left, there haven’t been a lot of cocktail classes for the public to continue their cocktail “education.” That all changed this past Sunday when Violet Hour head mixologist Robby Haynes led a class on the “Evolution of the Cocktail” as part of One Off Hospitality selection of Master Beverage Classes held at their various restaurant locations over the year.

If the Whistler class was 101-level, the Violet Hour class is a 200-level course. Haynes correctly assumed that the 12 students (7 men and 5 women) taking the class knew the basics of cocktail creation. The course looked at the evolution of the cocktail, in the early 1800’s, from when ordering a “cocktail” meant anything with spirit, bitters, sugar, and water. An example of this would be the Old-Fashioned cocktail (rye, angostura bitters, demerara syrup, and ice).

Haynes was assisted by bartender Henry Prendergast who said that if you could travel back in time to taste this early cocktail, it would be very aggressive, almost medicinal to the modern palette. Haynes added that the old cocktail books provide a good inspiration for understanding what works well together but would be harsh to recreate.

After making us all an Old-Fashioned, Haynes explained the progression next to Mint Julep (addition of mint), Smash (julep with muddled citrus), Sour (spirit, citrus, syrup), and Daisy-style (sour sweetened with something other than syrup) cocktails. Each time, he would explain the progression and then demonstrate making a cocktail in the category. The class would then be served the representative cocktail.

Haynes and Pendergast were incredibly open to questions and requests (even doing an impromptu test of shaken vs. stirred martini’s for the class). No question was too silly for them to answer and it gave the class a great opportunity, in an intimate setting, to pick the brains of two bartenders working at one of the top cocktail bars in the country.

If that weren’t enough, students were given a parting gift of a bottle of house-made “spring” bitters (with tastes of lavender, violet, vanilla, and juniper) to experiment with at home.

Haynes mentioned that there could be further cocktail classes held at Violet Hour in the future. If the results from this inaugural class is any indication, they will be informative, interactive, and most of all, fun.