Wine classes in the city abound. You can learn about reds and whites in any number of places, from City College to the CCA to multitudes of smaller, private institutions. But if you wanted to learn about spirits and cocktails there has been no organized way to do that. Until now.
Bourbon and Branch’s Beverage Academy is open for business in the library of the bar, a really lovely place to teach a class (it has a scholarly air, but also the looseness of a bar). Last night I attended the seminar on American whiskey, led by B&B’s all-pro bartender Jon Santer (with spirits savant Todd Smith standing in the background, always ready to drop in a funny, sarcastic comment). If you’re gonna get schooled, you should do it from these guys.
The execution of the class was truly impressive. There were about 12 students, each given a place at a long table that was set with glassware, shakers, spoons, vermouth, bitters, ice and a house-made booklet full of information and recipes. Santer broke up a lengthy, but entertaining, Power Point presentation, with frequent interludes to taste bourbons and vermouths and make cocktails like the Highball, the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned. Of course, you get to drink the cocktail as the presentations go on (notice in the photo that the guy next to me finished his by the time I was only half way done). They also provide snacks and some break time to socialize. Santer was extremely knowledgeable about his spirits, cocktails and history, and the level of expertise he and Todd brought was fantastic. They were happy to answer questions not only on topic, but also about bartending technique and spirits selection in general.
I thought I knew a lot about Bourbon, but I learned quite a bit. Upcoming classes are on gin, scotch and tequila. According to Smith, classes are in the works for cocktail history, mixology 101, and possibly an absinthe seminar. Cost is about $100 for about 2 to 2.5 hours of class, plus several delicious cocktails. It’s a bargain considering the experience of the guys you’re learning from. Don’t be afraid of continuing education.