At Bar Dupont, Don’t Just Saddle Up to the Bar, Get Behind It
James Bond may prefer his martini shaken, not stirred, but why should you have to choose? With Bar Dupont’s new Shaken & Stirred Lab, you have the chance to learn about all the various methods of making classy cocktails, worthy of Mr. Bond’s sophisticated lifestyle. (Then again, British medical researchers calculated that Bond drinks the equivalent of 18 ounces of 200-proof alcohol per week, so maybe we shouldn’t trust his judgment on this.)
Luckily, Bar Manager Chris McNeal is the one showing you the ropes at these labs, and he truly does have the right palette for this not-so-top-secret job. McNeal has curated a series of five classes, each one with a different theme, where he takes you step-by-step through three different cocktail recipes. Be sure to pay close attention, because you get to drink them when you’re done.
The first class of the series was earlier this month, with a focus on wine-based cocktails. The next class will be held on October 10th. Upcoming themes include apértifs, punch bowls, hot cocktails, and more. The $50 admission includes the three cocktails, small-group instruction (the classes are capped at 20), and light bites.
If you sign up for one of McNeal’s upcoming classes, here’s what you can expect.
The expansive cocktail table in the private classroom looks more like a laboratory than a bar – all of the supplies and elixirs you’ll need are laid out, ready for the lesson. Relax, note-taking isn’t required – you’ll get a booklet of recipes to refer to later.
During the class I attended, we started off with a simple yet classy champagne cocktail. Simple, because all you do is pour sparkling wine over a white sugar cube and add some Angostura bitters. Classy, because your guests will think you’re the most impressive host/hostess when you greet them at the door with a playful cocktail that could make Bubbles from “Finding Nemo” crazy. (The sugar cube really does act like a treasure chest full of bubbles.)
But, the champagne cocktail was just to ease us into things. McNeal quickly ramped up the complexity factor with a punch bowl recipe that starts with oleo saccharum. For those of us who don’t speak Latin (Pope Francis, I’m not looking at you), this literally translates to “oil sugar.” It sounds bourgy, but all you have to do is combine lemon peels and sugar and then really go at it with a muddler (for 10-15 minutes) until the lemon peels shed their oils. To make the “From the Hips” punch bowl, add thyme to the oleo saccharum before you begin muddling.
Then, pour in 8 ounces of Belvedere Vodka, 2 ounces of Rose Hip Liquor, 2 ounces of lemon, 2 ounces of simple syrup, 10 dashes of Peyschaud Bitters, and half a bottle of Chandon Blanc.
Fun fact: McNeal is experimenting with making his own bitters that he uses for Bar Dupont’s cocktails. All you need is a bittering agent (like black walnut leaf, burdock root, citrus peel, dandelion root and leaf, or wormwood), an aromatic agent to round out the bitters (any herb, spice, flower, or fruit, such as lavender, orange, coffee, chamomile, ginger, etc.), a high-proof, neutral tasting liquor (minimum of 100-proof, or 50% alcohol), and an optional syrupy sweetener. Simply combine the ingredients and let them work their magic. (The length of time for infusion depends on the ingredients, so be sure to closely monitor your creation.) I can’t wait to try making my own!
The punch bowl looks a little empty at first, but that’s because this is a super concentrated version of the drink. Now, you add lots of ice so that the mix reaches the perfect level of dilution. A diluted drink may sound like the bar is just trying to rip you off, but a good mixologist understands that drinks are made at a stronger concentration and then diluted to the right ratio using ice – either when shaken in a shaker, or as the ice melts, like in a punch bowl. You don’t want to over-dilute the drink, but you also don’t want to knock your guests out with a lighter-fluid strength punch.
For a party, a punch bowl cocktail is the best option, because you’re not stuck in the kitchen all night refilling drinks. Just mix it and forget it!
Next on the docket was the “Bee’s Knees,” a cocktail that dates back to prohibition era. The drink is simple: just gin, honey syrup, and lemon juice. It was created as a way to mask the unpleasant smell and taste of bathtub gin (if my gin came out of a bathtub, I’d want to drown it in honey and lemon juice, too). It’s name comes from the popular slang term. Calling something the “bee’s knees” meant that it was awesome. (As in, “Nerts! Your fedora is the bee’s knees! You are one cool cat!”)
The ratio of honey syrup and lemon juice is they key to a balanced cocktail. “Sours” (whiskey sour, gimlet, margarita, pisco sour) are drinks that have a higher proportion of the sour ingredient than the sweetener. For this cocktail, you want the ratio or sour to sweet to be equal: 2 parts gin, 1/2 part lemon, 1/2 part honey syrup. Then, you shake it with ice to dilute it, strain it, and it’s ready to drink.
(Side Note: Honey syrup is just honey plus enough water to create a syrupy consistency. You can also infuse it with herbs if you like.)
If you’re ready to be a more sophisticated drinker, mixologist, and party host, then sign up for one of Bar Dupont’s upcoming Shaken & Stirred cocktail classes!
Bar Dupont (at the Dupont Circle Hotel)
1500 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Shaken & Stirred Lab (by reservation only)
Thursdays from 6 pm – 8 pm (October 8th & 29th, November 5th, December 17th)
$50 per person (including drinks and light bites)