On Monday night, Melissa and I attended the first Beverage Academy class at Bourbon & Branch. This class focused on Gin, and was taught by Todd Smith, the bar director at Bourbon & Branch.
The class was held in the room they call the Library. The room has high ceilings, and shelves lined with books. At one end is the bar, and for the class they set up a long table in the middle of the room to accommodate the 12 students (5 gals, 7 guys). The table was prepared with a mixing glass, shot glass, strainers, a muddler, cocktail glasses, some tasting glasses containing gins, and a nicely printed booklet for each student. There were several bottles of spirits, big buckets of ice, and botanicals used in gin making — such as juniper berries, orange peel, and coriander — were sprinkled on the table. It was a first-class setup.
Todd talked about how gin is made, and we tasted three gins blind: Plymouth, Tanqueray No. 10, and Distillery 209. Each of us had our favorite, and used it to make our first cocktail, the classic Gin & Tonic. We also tasted Bombay Sapphire (a gin they don’t carry at Bourbon & Branch, because it has such a light flavor), a Genever style gin that came in a cool looking porcelain bottle, and a Genever style gin from Anchor Steam Distillery that is not yet available (apparently it pays to be a well-known and respected bartender!)
Next up, we made a cocktail called The Rolls Royce:
1.5 oz gin
0.5 oz sweet vermouth
0.5 oz dry vermouth
1 tsp Benedictine
Combine in a mixing glass, add ice, stir well, strain into a cocktail glass.
After that was Todd’s favorite cocktail of all time, the Negroni:
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz gin
Combine in a mixing glass, add ice, stir well, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with flamed orange peel.
This cocktail was delicious. It has a wonderful bitterness from the Campari, which is balanced nicely by the sweet vermouth and the botanicals in the gin.
While we were making these cocktails, Todd talked about the history of gin, including the dark time in American history known as Prohibition. He also talked about some of the great local distilleries, gave us some advice on stocking our own bars, and shared some of his favorite infusion recipes. After we had made 2 cocktails, Todd made us a Lonsdale (gin, lemon, apple, simple syrup, and a muddled basil leaf), and the cocktail that he is most known for making: the Cucumber Gimlet (cucumber infused gin, lime, elderflower, orange bitters, float of Champange). The cocktails were very different from each other, but equally delicious.
[Todd’s Cucumber Gimlet]
Todd was a great instructor. He kept things casual and interesting, and obviously really enjoyed sharing his passion for gin and cocktails with us. I asked him how he felt about sharing his signature cocktails and infusions, and he replied, “I love it! What am I going to do with them?” That attitude of being willing to share his knowledge with us really made the class something special. If you are interested in attending one of the next classes, I recommend that you keep an eye on the Bourbon & Branch blog and sign up quickly when the classes are announced; they sell out quickly.
We had very high expectations for the Beverage Academy based on our prior experiences at Bourbon & Branch, and I am happy to say that we were not disappointed. We are looking forward to attending another class soon — most likely a bourbon or Scotch whisky class will be our next choice. As you can see, they had no objections to photography, which I greatly appreciated. I would like to say a special thanks to Todd for allowing me to shoot his portrait after the class. Thanks to Todd, his assistant Melissa, and the whole staff at Bourbon & Branch for making this class such a success!
Update: Photos from the night can be seen here.