A room full of some of the best bartenders in L.A. (and even the nation)….and me. It was my secret little heaven. My boys from Seven Grand were there, too, of course — Aidan, Patrick and Damian. It was so cool to hang out with those guys on the other side of the bar for a change. Marcos Tello — also of Seven Grand and cocktail catering company, For Medicinal Purposes — hosted this exclusive bartender-only event and snuck me in so I could witness the mixology stylings of renowned New York bartenders Christy Pope and Chad Solomon.
At Hennessy’s Art of Mixing Academy, thrown at the historic and still posh Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Pope and Solomon would take their audience of bartenders through the history of the cocktail while mixing up the drinks in an effort to demonstrate the cognac’s cocktail versatility. We’d follow along with our tastebuds as the concoctions were then passed out to the room in little sipping glasses.
There were six vintage cocktails to cover. I know, eesh! (Shhh, truth be told I didn’t empty all my glasses. That’s a lot to drink in less than two hours, dude.)
Pope did most of the mixing, carefully using the jiggers to measure the ingredients. She explained how like cooks, bartenders should measure the amounts to achieve the right taste in a cocktail. Meanwhile Solomon gave everyone a history lesson of each drink and talked us through the process of the recipes. These two were awesome to watch and I wish I could have seen them when they worked their magic at some of the best establishments in New York. Such charisma and huge breadth of knowledge.
The showcased cocktails:
Sazerac: A New Orleans cocktail where instead of rye whiskey, they used Hennessy VS Cognac along with simple syrup, bitters, anise liqueur and lemon peel. This tasted undiluted and pure, just as if it were the cognac served neat. A bit much for me. Pope demonstrated how one should serve the cocktail with the lemon peel shiny side up and afloat in the glass.
Brandy Smash: In the 1850s, the Smash was all the rage, sort of like how the Cosmopolitan was several years ago. A different take on the Smash I love at Seven Grand, this one mixes the cognac with muddled lemons, fresh mint and simple syrup. Most recipes call for sugar, club soda, or orange juice. This one was still surprisingly sweet and one of my faves at the event as was shown by my emptied glass. First, Pope dropped three slices of lemon into a mixing glass and then muddled them, saying that to do so would bring out the oils in the rind. Damian said this was different from his recipe where he just uses fresh lemon juice without muddling.
Champs-Elysee: Another one I wasn’t too crazy about, this cocktail calls for the cognac with Yellow Chartreuse, lemon juice and Angostura Bitters. A bit too bitter for me.
East India Cocktail: My second favorite at the event, this baby was sweet but not overly done as it simply mixed cognac with Grand Marnier, pineapple juice and Angostura Bitters. Pope then grated some fresh nutmeg on it and garnished with a flamed orange peel. This was so easy to drink, too easy. Most recipes call for the use of brandy and even rum, but this one tasted sweet and perfect as it was.
Side Car: Another classic but another one I couldn’t finish. This recipe involves cognac, Grand Marnier and lemon juice, garnished with a flamed orange peel.
Left Bank Masala Chai: A chai tea-infused cognac was mixed with honey syrup, almond milk, egg white and toasted almonds — nice and creamy! I downed this puppy pretty quickly as it tasted like the dessert to finish off the session. Since this recipe calls for egg whites, Solomon made sure to emphasize that bartenders use fresh, organic eggs. Mixing a cocktail with this ingredient also calls for a different shaking technique where you shake the egg whites for about five seconds without ice first and then add the ice to shake again for 10-15 more seconds. This helps give it a nice silky texture that drinkers love.
So that concluded the lesson portion of the evening. I learned so much and realized more than ever how much I want to go to bartending school, especially this sort where you learn to develop an appreciation for the history of the cocktail.
Afterward, I got to mix and mingle with some of the bartenders. I’m terrible with names but I did get to chat with the fellas from Comme Ca, Sona and Osteria Mozza. All, like the Seven Grand crew, take their mixology very seriously. A lot of them even jumped behind the bar to play with the ingredients on hand — fresh berries, mint, juices, etc. — making drinks for each other or no one in particular.
Marcos said he’d love to strengthen the guild of L.A. bartenders by continuing to offer these sorts of events to them. His goal? To make L.A. the next cocktail capital of the world and bring the art of the cocktail back. As a “friend of the cocktail community,” I’m with you there, Marcos!