I came across Andrew “the Alchemist” Willett years ago when I conducted a pupusa crawl down Beverly Boulevard. Jaragua was our last stop. I was ready for a beer after all the cheesy pupusas we had. What I found instead was a drinks list organized by glass type. I was intrigued the drinks were by Andrew the Alchemist. I eventually learned he taught classes under the name Elemental Mixology and some of my bartender pals have taken his classes. Past students include Giovanni Martinez at Sadie, Greg Bryson at the Wallace, Adam Fournier at Areal and Rosie Ruiz formerly of Big Bar.
Andrew has a few different series of classes. It’s recommended you take the Standard Mixing course first. It’s a six-week long class and each session is four hours long. The class is comprised of working bartenders, home enthusiasts and even chefs. My class also consisted of people who wanted to own bars to long-term students who Andrew called his apprentices. They help with cleaning the “bar” (classroom) and encouraging newbies on the art of drink making.
The first cocktail is what we think of as an old fashioned cocktail; spirit, sugar, water, bitters. By those ingredients alone, you might notice punches and other drinks can’t be defined that way. Yet somehow the word cocktail got adopted as the name of all mixed drinks. There are several drink families. Cocktails actually fall into the Sling family. Much like Americans adopted the word “cocktail” for all mixed drinks, the British use the word “sling.” The most famous sling of them all, the Singapore Sling is not actually a sling! It’s amusing then to wonder what if another word was picked instead. Like fizz. Tales of the Cocktail could have been called Tales of the Fizz!
Andrew has put together a huge compendium of recipes, history and a blueprint of how to think about making drinks. The class was not so much as memorizing drink recipes but about techniques, hospitality and stories. One of the first things I learned was placing a drink napkin (not cocktail napkin or even fizz napkin) down for the guest with the folded point towards their right shoulder (the ruffled side faces away from them). You may also place a glass of water to the left of the glass.
I must admit I never did pick up how to peel citrus (garniture) — I will always use a vegetable peeler and though I understand measurements of drinks relate to the jigger, I am not very good at math. I am glad jiggers are marked and there are enough various sized spoons you never have to guess the amount. While I knew what a scruple was before taking the class (two dashes), I never actually had seen the scruple measuring spoon.
The last class had arrived. This day was the final class where the students were given a mystery ingredient and had to come up with a drink on the fly.
My secret ingredient was passionfruit shrub. We had learned about milk punches and once I tasted the shrub, I knew I wanted to do something with that. Andrew seemed surprised by my choice. But I was going for that tart, yogurt drink that Asian kids adore. I went with rum as my base as a nod to the fruit. A friend later suggested the name, The Passion Project.
The Passion Project by The Minty
- 2 oz overproof rum
- 2 oz whole milk
- .5 oz passionfruit shrub
- 1 tablespoon sugar (or .75 oz simple syrup)
Shake all ingredients plus ice and double strain into a 11 oz glass with fresh ice (4 square ice cubes are recommended). Garnish with a Luxardo cherry. The passionfruit shrub came from Whole Foods and I used Wray & Nephew overproof rum.
I took the class because I wanted to further educate myself of the drinks history and for the opportunity to make drinks for people. While I probably won’t bartend full time, I could be persuaded to guest bartend again. I did fear I would become an even bigger snob at the end of the class but I was surprised to find I’ve become a bit more compassionate. While it’s cool to impress your fellow drinks nerds with knowledge, it’s not cool if you make people uncomfortable. And when it comes down to it, this business is about having a good time. Bartending should be a fun job because you’re helping people to have a better time at the bar than they would at home.
The next Standard Mixing course starts June 14.
Check out more of my photos from class here.
© The Minty 2014
Filed under: alcohol education, booze, cocktalian, events, foodie alert, minty life, photography, recipes, writing Tagged: andrew willett, bartending classes, cocktail school, cocktails, drinkwire, elemental mixology, la cocktails, mixing drinks, pre-prohibition cocktails, pre-prohibition drinks, the minty