Monday, January 31, 2011

Cocktails 101 at Stir Cooking School

A few weeks back, a friend suggested we check out the classes at Stir Cooking School. He'd enjoyed a sauces class there. In particular, he said, "the bar/classroom setup is brilliant. How civilized to be able to grab another glass of a Spanish white midway through the course."

While the food classes intrigued me, the Cocktails 101 class looked like something the Sergeant could enjoy, too. We have a lot of booze at home but not a strong grasp of what to do with it beyond, say, scotch on the rocks or gin and tonic.
The class was taught by Mike Henderson, currently bartender at Lou's Food Bar, a new Frank Bonanno place. Mike is formerly of Colt & Gray, TAG, Beatrice and Woodsley and more, and well-regarded (as well as closely watched by Westword).
He began with an overview of bar tools, then moved on to the subject of ice. You can shake a drink with ice or stir it, depending on the drink. We tried a little gin chilled both ways and found it's true: your martini will be smoother if it's stirred, not shaken.
When you're stirring a drink, you don't need to agitate the ice, just spin it around in the glass with a spoon. Then you strain the drink into a chilled glass.

We all practiced our stirring technique with glasses of water.
Mike went over the many varieties of liquor you can put in cocktails and suggested some of his favorites. We are already set with the basic spirits, but it was good to have some idea of what to look for in vermouth, liqueurs and bitters.

The four drinks we made – Martini, Sidecar, Old Fashioned and Mojito – encompassed the main categories and styles of drinks. The Old Fashioned, shown here, was made with rye, simple syrup and bitters. And it was darn tasty, with a little snap of orange peel.

The mojito was different from my usual; it was a cucumber ginger mojito.
The Sergeant and I started with that one when we moved to the work stations (don't you wish all work stations looked like this?). You muddle cucumber, mint, lime and ginger liqueur, then add rum and ice, shake, pour, top with soda and garnish. VoilĂ !

I would suggest, though, that you taste the cuke before you use it. Some of them have a very bitter skin, so you may need to peel it.

We also got to try out the most awesome ice "cube" maker ever.
You start out with a big cube of ice (freeze a pan of water and cut it up, or use a silicone mold). You end up with a perfect sphere, with zero effort and no power tools.

How? Through the magic of thermal conductivity. Copper is so conducive that it can suck the cold right out of ice. With gravity helping, a heavy copper mold turns a cube into a sphere in seconds flat.
A big sphere of ice is ideal for chilling your expensive scotch, because you get the maximum surface area with minimal dilution. This novelty item, a Japanese invention, isn't cheap. The Macallan scotch folks got a bunch to use for promotion (very effective, I'd say), but if you want to buy your own, it'll cost you about $1,000. Here's a video I took of it in action:

Only silver and gold have higher conductivity, so there's no real cheap way to make your own device. Still, I covet!
Stir has lots of interesting food classes: "All About Fish," "Not Your Everyday Chicken," "Pies and Tarts," "Moroccan Cooking," to list a few. And other drinks classes: "Martinis and More," "Perfect Valentine's Cocktails," "Cocktails from Your Fridge," etc.

The classes are not limited to weeknights (always a plus for us swing-shifters) and you'll get a lunch if you're studying drinks (really good pizza, in our case).

As our friend said, the layout is quite civilized, with the bar in front and a comfortable kitchen classroom behind a glass wall.
So even if you're not taking a class, you can stop in and enjoy a well-made drink and watch the fun.

Or you can swing by our place, where the Sergeant will be happy to serve you up an awesome Old Fashioned, a tasty Tequila Daisy or a sublime Sidecar.
Stir Cooking School
3215 Zuni Street
Denver, CO 80211


  1. Wow, that looks like a fun class. I also noticed my two favorite ingredients for a classic martini, plymouth gin and noilly pratt vermouth! Looks like someone knows what they are doing!

  2. Excellent photography, as well as the "Cocktails 101 at Stir Cooking School" blog. For now, will stick with Rum Tings.

  3. ok that is majorly COOL!!! thanks for taking that video! science is amazing.
    yes. i am a dork.

  4. Mike makes some great cocktails! I was lucky enough to take part in an event at Stir and do some sampling. Rise & Shine (opening in the Highlands Feb 14) will be teaching Biscuit 101 in March at Stir.

  5. I took the class and it was fantastic! Learned a lot...and drank a good amount too. Mike's not too hard on the eyes either:)

  6. I took this class and absolutely loved it! Mike's great...the cocktails were great and I dare say that drinking & thinking is fun. Definitely learned a how little I knew about cocktails and can't wait to take my newfound cocktail snobbery and put bartenders to the test!