Cocktail seminars at The Passenger in Washington

Want to improve your culinary literacy? Dozens of classes around town can help boost your knowledge about all things food and drink.
Friday, April 9, 2010

Setting the table: The methods of bespoke bartenders -- the over-the-shoulder martini shakes, the ritualistic igniting of the orange peel that you might see at the Gibson, Tabard Inn or PX -- can seem even more opaque than those of the city's top chefs.

But in the private back room of the Passenger, co-owner Derek Brown, a former sommelier who tended bar at the Gibson, is changing that, turning his Columbia Room into a minor training ground for would-be home mixologists.

What you learn: At the vermouth class in March, the 18 students were warmly greeted and then seated at the long tiled bar. (It felt like being a guest in a friend's gourmet kitchen.) As Brown launched into his explanation of the beverage's history and flavors, he passed glass jars filled with herbs and ground citrus peel for students to sniff, and his assistants poured sips of the spirits. Expect to go granular about such subjects as storage of spirits and proper serving, but you won't get a chance to try your hand behind the bar. You will walk away with a few insider secrets: At the vermouth class, Brown revealed techniques for his ideal martini and Manhattan.

Nice to know: The classes, which are listed as ending by 8:30 p.m., often run long (the vermouth class ended about 9:30).

Take notes. It was a bit of a disappointment to go home empty-handed. A handout with a recipe or two might have spurred me to try making a Negroni or Manhattan at home.

Perks: Brown and his assistants pour mini versions of his cocktails and rare spirits from around the world. In all, I sipped about a half-dozen vermouth variations as well as two takes on the classic martini and one Manhattan -- but it all added up to no more than two drinks.

What's up next? "The Perfect Mint Julep" on Wednesday and "Layering" May 12. "How to Make Drinks of the Caribbean" is June 9, and "Cherries, Cherries, Cherries" is June 23.

Classes are held on occasional Wednesdays and begin at 7 p.m.

Price: $65 for a 1 1/2 -hour class.

1021 Seventh St. NW. 202-393-0220.

-- Lavanya Ramanathan

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