Cocktails are making a comeback on the social scene and with a vengeance. Recently, I learned why when I enrolled in the Academy of Spirits and Fine Service sponsored by Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois and the United States Bartenders Guild Illinois chapter.
Though the name is kind of stuffy, the content was fabulous! Twelve weeks of tasting — aperitifs, beer, brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey (both bourbon and scotch), and wine — combined with lab exercises designed to unleash your creativity on the classic cocktail.
Mixologist Bridget Albert was our instructor. Bridget honed her skills as lead bartender at the Bellagio Las Vegas. You may have seen her compete with Chef Gadsby, if you were watching Iron Chef March 8, 2007. Bridget brought a wealth of knowledge and tremendous enthusiasm to our classroom.
Our guest speakers included Master Distiller Fred Noe, great-grandson of Jim Beam whose own great-grandfather Jacob was the first distiller of Jim Beam products. For an hour, we sat together and sipped bourbon while Fred shared insights on his family’s contributions to the world of spirits.
Beam Wine Estates Director of Education Luis Torres was our guest instructor for the wine lesson. Now this was no ordinary wine tasting. Our time together was spent educating our palates on pairing wine with food.
Sadly, I learned that my tongue must have fewer taste buds than the average person because my pairing preferences were clearly in the minority. Ah, but therein lies the fun…we can like different combinations yet each have a wonderful dining or tasting experience!
The summer session of the Academy was taught at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. Our student population included experienced bar and restaurant professionals as well as students from CHIC.
Earning special mention was Charles Joly. His ‘Nooner’ bourbon cocktail won our final exam competition. It is an amazing taste and presentation experience! Watch for it to appear soon on a cocktail menu at one of the Three Headed locations.
Charles’ success really demonstrates why cocktails are popular again. There is a creativity and an excitement involved in preparing and serving a cocktail that you just do not get when pouring a glass of beer or wine. I fully expect to see restaurants recommend a cocktail — and a beer — pairing along with wine for featured entrees on their menus in the near future.
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