I’ll admit it. When a friend of mine invited me to go to a local bar to try out a popular new mixologist, I didn’t understand the hype. What could a mixologist do that a bartender couldn’t? Was there anything that unique about putting alcohol in a glass? And could fresh fruit juice really be better than the usual mix?
I simply couldn’t imagine than any fancy cocktail could be good enough to endure the hassle of an overpacked bar. Or be worth the exorbitant price.
Against my better judgement, I let my friend take me along to experience the difference. After weaving my way through the thick crowd of excited fans, I ordered the bar’s special, a rum-based drink. Still skeptical, I watched the mixologist closely.
The next five minutes changed my whole perspective on the subject.
Despite the noise of the bar, the patrons eagerly waving for his attention, and the bartenders moving frantically around him, the mixologist went to work with incredible focus.
Utilizing a graceful speed, he placed a few sprigs of fresh mint into my glass along with a spoonful of raw sugar, crushing them together perfectly with a few short twists of a muddler (the pestle-like tool used for breaking down larger ingredients). The result was a pungent mint syrup at the bottom of the glass.
Before I knew it, the muddler was replaced with a bottle of rum, tipped high over the glass so that the alcohol fell in a delicate cascade on top of the mixture at the bottom. In another swift exchange, the mixologist had half of a fresh lime in one hand and a manual juicer in the other, surprising me with how quickly he could juice the lime, and then another, and then another, until my drink was filled to the brim with the tasty mix.
For the finishing touch, my mixologist cut off a long curl of lime peel with a short pairing knife, and, reaching under the bar counter, brought out some kind of lighter. Miraculously, he was able to light the peel on fire just long enough to curl it into the perfect shape before wedging it lightly on the edge of my glass and handing me the finished product.
After such a show, I felt bad ruining the mixologist’s work of art by drinking it. But once I had my first sip, I couldn’t put it down. Never again would I be able to enjoy a drink made with juice made from concentrate or canned fruit. The quality of the rum made the bottom shelf stuff I was used to taste like lighter fluid, and the raw sugar added just the right amount of sweetness that didn’t get clogged up at the bottom.
My skepticism was gone. This was one refined drink that deserved the reputation and the price tag.
The next day, I headed to my local grocery store and stocked up on everything I would need to recreate the elixir: top quality ingredients, a pestle, a juicer. Two hours and many attempts later, I was still not happy with the result. I could have sworn that I was following the same steps, but somehow the mixologist’s creation was simply better than mine.
My frustration, of course, was silly. Mixology is a complex field; its professionals are trained in everything from seasonal harvests to flavor pairings to presentation. In other words, it is not a self-taught endeavor and cannot be learned in a day.
For those out there who still want to create that perfect experience at home, there is still hope. Classbento now offers a mixology cocktail making course in Sydney, lead by mixology expert, Robin Tabari, who was schooled in the field at Britain’s Mal Maison Group. A beginner’s class goes over fundamental skills like finding the best ingredients, manipulating flavors like acidity and sweetness, and navigating the complex world of brand names and spirit categories.
And, recent studies show that attending the cocktail making class may offer more than just a really useful skill set. ABC Health and Wellness (1) reviewed some of the observational studies that linked a decreased risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes for people who drank moderately (about one drink per day.) These participants tended to avoid such diseases longer than those who did not drink at all.
Other experts, such as Japanese professor Takeshi Tanigawa from the Ehime University Graduate School of Medicine (2), encourages moderate to light social drinking to improve happiness and overall health.
So if you want to maximize your new set of mixology skills, you’ll need to share your wonderful drinks with friends. Professor Tanigawa adds in one particularly fun tip: incorporate karaoke into your mixology parties; the deep breathing required of singing has a positive effect on the nervous system.
In addition to the inherent benefits of controlled alcohol consumption, there are other ways to utilize your new mixology skills to improve your health. One bartender (3) from the U.S., for instance, made dieting enjoyable by using his knowledge of mixology to blend delicious, health-conscious concoctions from fresh juice and vegetables.
Along the same vein, bars across the world are introducing more health-conscious options on their menus. Instead of offering the usual sugar-intensive favourites, these mixologists (4) are showcasing health-conscious beverages that use less sugar and offer more nutritional value. A few of the more unique mixers are:
• kombucha - a tasty fermented tea that offers an array of beneficial bacteria and a lower sugar content than traditional mixers
• matcha - green tea that is high in antioxidants, and can lead to lower cholesterol and increased cognitive function
• vegetable juices - we all know the many benefits of vegetables, from essential vitamins and nutrients, to increased athletic performance
Mixologists are jumping on the opportunity to incorporate these unusual ingredients into their repertoire, especially for a health conscious audience.
With your new mixology skills, you can also learn which healthy mixers blend well with your favourite spirits or brands. So get creative! Try a mixology class today!