Are you good at retaining information while consuming a formidable amount of alcohol? If so, then chances are you'd get a lot out of The Gladly's Summer Cocktail Camp, a series of bi-monthly cocktail classes featuring some of the Valley's top mixologists this summer.
Each booze-soaked camp features a different theme and at last Sunday's event, Chow Bella was invited to explore the history of whiskey cocktails with Travis Nass of Last Drop Bar at the Hermosa Inn. The class included demonstrations and recipes for four whiskey-based cocktails dating back as far as the late 1700s.
A few dozen attendees gathered around The Gladly's bar on Sunday afternoon to watch Nass mix and shake up the drinks while explaining the history behind each cocktail. After watching each demonstration, co-host and The Gladly mixologist Brian Goodwin passed out cocktails for the crowd to enjoy.
The whiskey journey began with the oldest of the four drinks, a mint julep, which dates back to 1784. Nass' simple recipe included just two ingredients: whiskey (in this case, Builleit 10 year) and mint syrup. Nass explained that the mint julep was originally prescribed by doctors as a means for treating stomach illnesses.
Though a two ingredient drink might seem pretty straightforward to make, Nass shared a few of his tricks to taking your julep game to the next level. For example, he explained that lightly hitting fresh mint springs on the edge of the glass releases the herbs' essential oils directly into the cocktail -- as opposed to slapping them in your hand, which puts the oils on your palm. Another surprising tip: buy bags of crushed ice from Sonic to get the perfect consistency for a julep.
From there the course jumped forward to 1870 with a New York Whiskey Sour. Nass' recipe for the East Coast style whiskey sour included an egg white, which gives the drink a frothy texture.
"Think of the egg white as meringue," Nass explained.
When using egg white in a cocktail, Nass advised the crowd to use smaller eggs that are as cold and fresh as possible. It's also important to keep the whites separate from the rest of the ingredients as long as possible, he said; once they're incorporated together, the citrus in the cocktail will start cooking the white, which could lead to pieces of egg floating in your drink.
Nass also told the group that making your own sweet and sour mix is key to a well-balanced whiskey sour. For this cocktail Nass used one part honey syrup and one part fresh lemon juice.
Finally, he used two dashes of locally-made Arizona Bitters Labs' Figgy Pudding Bitters on top of the egg white foam. The bitters add contrast, flavor, and aroma -- a key when using egg whites in a drink since they can have an off-putting smell.
The close quarters of the camp made it a pretty interactive experience for the attendees, who were able to ask questions throughout the demos. By about this point in the class -- two cocktails or more into the experience -- the crowd seemed to a hit the sweet spot between buzzed but still learning and drunk and not retaining much.
The last pre-Prohibition cocktail of the camp was the Manhattan, though Nass doesn't adhere to just any old recipe for this classic drink. For the event, Nass featured legendary bartender William "The Only William" Schmidt's recipe, which uses a 2:1:1 ratio of rye, vermouth, and maraschino liqueur, as well as an absinthe rinse.
To get the best balance of flavor, Nass recommends using two types of vermouth and two types of bitters. Doing so allows for various layers of flavors, which the drinker should be able to explore deeper and deeper with each sip.
"This is what I call a 'contemplative cocktail,'" Nass told the crowd.
Finally, the whiskey education arrived in the 1900s with the Blinker, a less familiar rye whiskey cocktail. Nass explained it's one of the few drinks to come out of the time period between when Prohibition ended and when the tiki cocktail craze started.
The refreshing cocktail, created in 1934, combines rye whiskey with fresh grapefruit juice and a half ounce of raspberry syrup or raspberry liqueur.
With the demonstrations concluded, the mixer portion of the event began. Nass floated from table to table to speak with cocktail campers and answer any additional questions. The Gladly mixologists also opened the bar up for additional drink orders, though most of the quests still had one or two partially finished drinks to work on from the class. We were feeling pretty buzzed by the end of the camp, but still managed to retain a lot of good information about the whiskey drinks and cocktail-making.
If you're interested in experiencing your own booz-y cocktail camp, there are still four sessions left between now and the end of September. You can view the complete schedule here -- but space is limited so you'll want to act fast.