Review – Cocktail Masterclass at 69 Colebrooke Row
I’m a big fan of making cocktails at home; in fact I probably drink more cocktails at home than I do in bars. Sure, I have my fair share of major failures, but overall it is great fun and plenty cheaper than drinking out! The problem is, you do need to know a little bit about what you are doing, and that knowledge can be tricky to acquire simply by reading books or watching bartenders in action. Fortunately help is at hand, as I learned when I popped along to a masterclass held at the world renowned 69 Colebrooke Row.
69 Colebrooke Row is famed for its scientific approach to cocktail making, with the ingredients for many of its drinks being created in the ‘lab’ a couple of streets away. The drinks are amongst the best you will find anywhere (check out my review here), and the team are passionate about using the very best ingredients. The idea of a cocktail masterclass that might impart some of this knowledge and skill on my amateur efforts sounded very appealing indeed. Each masterclass focuses on a different theme (check out their website for upcoming classes), with this one looking at how to make a range of syrups and cordials. The class was small, with just 9 people on the day I attended; and even when fully booked the maximum you can expect is 20. This provides for a very intimate experience, and an opportunity for everyone to ask questions. Our ‘teacher’ for the afternoon Marcis was not only extremely knowledgeable but also presented in a very approachable way so that those guests a little less familiar with the ingredients or techniques were not left out.
We started off being led through how to make two types of sugar syrup; one using equal parts sugar and water, and the other using two parts sugar to one part water. Sugar syrup is a key ingredient in many cocktails and hardly the most difficult of things to make (add ingredients to bowl, stir!), but the benefits of being taught by an expert was soon clear to see. Oftentimes recipes for sugar syrup call for them to be heated gently when dissolving the sugar, but Marcis explained that any heat will start to caramelise the sugar and thus change the flavour. All that is needed is a bit of patience and stirring to get the sugar to dissolve. Marcis used the resulting syrups to make two daiquiris to demonstrate the effect on the finished drink. Of course this left two very tasty (but different) daiquiris to be drunk by the attendee’s!
Next up was homemade grenadine (pomegranate juice and sugar), which we learned is ridiculously easy to make and super tasty; there really is no excuse for buying the fluorescent red stuff you see in the supermarket. Chamomile and honey syrup followed (chamomile flowers, honey, water), then nettle cordial (nettle tea, water,sugar, citric acid, tartaric acid) and finally lemon sherbet (lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar). Each one was delicious on it’s own and although a couple of the ingredients will require searching out in specialist shops, all were easily within reach of the amateur mixologist. The presentation was studded with handy hints and practical tips including where to source the ingredients and how to assess quality as well how the finished product could be used in cocktails.
Of course, the whole idea behind making such wonderful syrups and cordials is to drink them in cocktails, so Marcis demonstrated a cocktail for each product which the attendees then quickly polished off in the name of quality assurance. Each guest received a print out of the various recipes demonstrated, plus a bottle of the freshly made grenadine and nettle cordial to experiment with at home. All in all it was a very enjoyable couple of hours and I left feeling inspired to have a go with the recipes at home. Although there was little by way of audience participation in the creating of the drinks or ingredients (but plenty of tasting of the results!), I have been to a session before that enabled everyone to have a go behind the bar as well. Certainly if you wanted to get more hands on, I’m sure you would be allowed. We were quite content watching the master at work! I particularly liked how this masterclass managed to cater for a range of skills and experiences all at the same time. Whilst I might have made what seems like gallons of sugar syrup at home, the more ‘advanced’ nettle cordial and sherbet were new to me; equally other attendees has less experience and found the opportunity to get a good foundation in the basic techniques very helpful indeed.
At £40 per head for two hours of masterclass in one of the countries best bars, plenty of tasting, and goodies to take home, this is a great buy for anyone who is a keen cocktail drinker and wants to advance their skills.