Derek Brown Mockingbird Hill owner Derek Brown leads a sherry tasting every Tuesday afternoon at his bar in Shaw. (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

When Derek Brown opened Mockingbird Hill, his new ham and sherry bar in Shaw, he knew he'd have to teach people about the Spanish wine -- that it's not just something you cook with, or the sweet, creamy stuff your grandmother drank. That's why he decided to offer free public sherry tasting classes every Tuesday at 5 p.m..

The series kicked off last week with a 45-minute version of Sherry 101. Attendees got a quick lecture on how sherry is made; the geography of the "Sherry Triangle" in Cadiz, where the grapes are grown; and the different styles of sherry that Mockingbird Hill sells. "One of the difficult things about explaining sherry is that it's almost like explaining wine," Brown said. "There are so many different styles to explore."

Well, a guided tasting is an easy way to get started. Brown poured fino, manzanilla, amontillado and amaroso for everyone in the room -- for free -- accompanied by nuts and snacks. Bottles were passed around. There was the loose revelry of a wine-tasting party rather than a formal class, with questions and comments encouraged.

Brown says each week will have a different theme. A schedule will be posted on a chalkboard in Mockingbird Hill's back room. Just arrive by 5 p.m. to snag a seat -- a time that can be tight for some people -- and don't forget that a similar class, covering ham, is offered Wednesdays at the same time.