Go back to school with cocktail classes in Vancouver
You can tell that David and Geoffrey Mott, co-owners of Brandywine Bartending School (241 Union Street), are brothers just by chatting with them. They finish each other’s sentences. They affectionately bicker. And they share a common passion: cocktails.
“In the last 10 years, there’s been a big change,” David explains. “There’s been a proliferation of interest in cocktail making.” In response to this upsurge, their school and others now offer cocktail-specific courses for both home and professional bartenders wanting to increase their skills and knowledge. So if September has got you in the mood for learning, you can get some schooling in cocktails.
Geoffrey stands behind the long bar in their classroom and points to the 11 teaching stations where students get hands-on training. Their $150 international cocktail seminar runs for three hours on Sunday evenings (upcoming dates are this Sunday [September 9], September 30, and October 28), and as he explains, “It provides a foundation to make more drinks.” The class begins with a demonstration of basic techniques—like the “build” (pouring ingredients into a serving glass), stirring, shaking, and muddling—before the students get in on the action by making their own drinks.
The class approaches cocktails from a historical and international perspective, teaching students each drink’s origins—for example, how the mojito was created in Cuba but adapted around the world. Yes, students get recipes, but the brothers use them as a starting point to explain the methods used in crafting cocktails; to showcase fresh, “real” ingredients; and to encourage experimentation. “Your creation is your own. You can deviate from the classic recipe,” David says.
Matt Thompson, owner of Metropolitan Bartending School (3141 West Broadway), says that his school’s home bartender martini seminar is “about fun and accuracy. It’s like learning to ride a bike, and then, afterwards, you’ve just got it.” The $99 Friday night workshop (the next one is on September 21) provides a brief lecture on cocktail making and its history before the class gets behind the bar for the remainder of the two hours.
Students are given a recipe booklet with 16 cocktails, such as the Cosmopolitan, that they practise making at their stations. “The first time, they look like baby deer learning how to walk. The second time, they’re way more confident. It’s kind of fun to see how quickly they progress,” Thompson says with a laugh.
At the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (101–1505 West 2nd Avenue), Joanne Sasvari offers a more extensive class for those who really want to geek out on cocktails. Her new $499, eight-week “Shaken and Stirred” course (Monday evenings starting September 24) is distinct in that it takes an in-depth historical and culinary look at cocktails and the spirits they showcase.
“We’ll be talking about the whole picture, not just about shaking your drinks,” Sasvari says during a phone chat. To help broaden students’ cocktail knowledge, she’s enlisted a variety of expert guest speakers, from Tyler Schramm of Pemberton Distillery, who will discuss the science of distillation, to David Wolowidnyk, bar manager at West Restaurant, who will talk about pairing cocktails with food. The course culminates in a two-part written and demo evaluation, and a three-course paired cocktail dinner at the school’s Bistro 101.
Sasvari’s goal is to teach students to be flag bearers for high-quality, craft cocktails. “We’re at a real tipping point with the cocktail trend. People are excited, but the level of sophistication hasn’t gone beyond a core group. I think we’re at a point at which this will change.”
One of Sasvari’s speakers, Danielle Tatarin, president of the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association and general manager of the Keefer Bar (135 Keefer Street), also runs her own school, Designer Cocktail Company. Her classes are geared to groups of friends who want an intimate learning experience.
Groups of four to 12 people can call Tatarin at least two weeks in advance and book her for a cocktail seminar that takes place Monday to Thursday, from roughly 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. (The cost is $50 per person plus a 20 percent gratuity.) Depending on the size of the group, she’ll teach the class at the Keefer’s corner bar or in the back room.
Tatarin says she’ll ask clients if they have ideas for the focus of the class, such as martinis or contemporary cocktails, and then she’ll customize a series of four drinks.
She’ll give students a recipe booklet with a write-up about each drink, as well as samples of each of the cocktails to try during the session.
“The class is interactive,” she explains over the phone. “It’s more of a conversation. I’ll get one or two people to help me out.” Tatarin takes drink making seriously, but as with the other cocktail teachers around the city, she wants her students to enjoy mixing and learning about cocktails.