Best way for my brother to learn about good drinks and cocktail culture?
What is the best way to introduce a well-intentioned and enthusiastic person to good cocktails? I have a good relationship with my brother, and he'd benefit from some education from someone who knows a thing or two about mixing drinks.
He's enthusiastic about drinks, he loves to entertain, he can stock his bar with the right ingredients. Unfortunately, he'll mix a little vodka with some fruit juice, put it in a stemmed glass, and call it a martini.
I'd love to teach him how to stock his cabinet. How to mix a drink. How to think about rye and bitters. Honor tradition. Learn about new trends. And, selfishly, I'd love for someone in the family to be able to make a good drink. ; )
Bartending classes aren't out of the question, but they have to be the right kind of classes. I'd err on the side of "put on a bow tie and learn about prohibition cocktails" over "torn jeans and rum n Coke" classes.
He's near Philadelphia. Any suggestions on what I can do? Any books, people, classes or bars I should know about?
Here in Boston, a local cocktail supply shop runs great one-night seminars: www.thebostonshaker.com. There might be something similar in Philadelphia -- perhaps at a good liquor store.
Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails is all vintage, entertaining to read, has a little history, and has a lay-flat binding (convenient when making drinks). Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology is more comprehensive, has info on technique and equipment, and has a good organization of drinks. Or an on-line craft cocktail database is a good source of inspiration for good recipes. ;-)
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I think the first thing is to take him to a serious bar with good bartenders and have a couple of drinks. Especially if you can go when it's quiet and talk to the bartender a bit, leave your drink choice in the bartender's hands, that kind of thing to show how it's done and hopefully have some delicious drinks. From a quick web search, Southwark sounds like that kind of place in Philly.
Giving him a book would be a good next step, I can recommend The Essential Bartender's Guide by Robert Hess, as my favorite first cocktail book. The latest Mr. Boston's Guide looks like it would be another good first book (Jim Meehan has made it actually worthwhile unlike earlier editions). For something with nice pictures, Craft of the Cocktail or the Essential Cocktail by Dale DeGroff. I can also second the Joy of Mixology by Gary Regan as a good one. Ted Haigh's book is great but most drinks in it require a stock of somewhat unusual ingredients.
If he really gets into it, there is the online BarSmarts course, but as far as gaining technical chops obviously hands-on is best. Haven't taken it myself but it is one of the few respected programs I know of.
There are some really good craft cocktail bars in Phili.
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Tell him to go with an open mind and to watch every technique the bartender does. Then go watch videos (like Robert Hess' series) to learn how and why they did that. Going on the Boston Shaker, Keg Works, Cocktail Kingdom or other to get similar tools and liquor stores and supermarkets to get the right ingredients.
Good reading materials -- like cocktail books and blogs -- will also get him the recipes and more technique advice to round things out. Some good book advice is above.