Lessons in bartending with cocktail maestro Greg Seider

Alchemy’s secret is precision

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A less-than-perfect whiskey sour diluting quickly because I didn’t get the drink cold enough before straining - STEPHANIE BURT
  • Stephanie Burt
  • A less-than-perfect whiskey sour diluting quickly because I didn’t get the drink cold enough before straining
Greg Seider illustrates the proper way to glean a big peel—but no pith—of orange - STEPHANIE BURT
  • Stephanie Burt
  • Greg Seider illustrates the proper way to glean a big peel—but no pith—of orange
It's no secret that a large number of Charleston's bartenders take their craft very seriously. So much so, that when a big name mixologist comes to town, they line up to get a lesson. And last night was no different.

At the private Virgil Kaine “Alchemist Session” last evening at Butcher & Bee, the devil was in the details. Yep, that’s a tired phrase, but just getting to the class during the tail end of a Charleston summer storm (ahem, flood) was a feat in itself. But once we all gathered, there was a bevy of bartending accoutrements assembled and waiting for each one of us. Shakers, strainers, labeled glass bottles, and three types of ice were at every station, along with bitters, citrus, and Virgil Kaine's Robber Baron Rye and High Rye Bourbon. It was time for a drink.

Greg Seider, cocktail maestro and author of Alchemy in a Glass, wanted us to start with the old fashioned. The man behind drinks at Le Bernardin restaurant and Minetta Tavern, Seider is also a cocktail program consultant. What this means in straight talk is that Seider was the man to teach us the proper way to craft a drink. Sometimes, of course, a drink is just a drink, but sometimes you want to take the time to make something beautiful, and for Seider, that means layering flavors through hand crafted mixers and syrups, precisely measuring, and lots of discussion about ice.

“Don’t start with shitty ice,” he said. “Ice makes all the difference.”

Essentially, we learned that the trick is to impart chilling to the drink without water dilution, and that has to do with the right ice (which is bigger and more square than the stuff that shoots out of most fridges and all hotel machines). Then you have to shake and stir correctly, which have precise methods too. Eighty percent of us did it wrong, except for the bartenders in the room, but when done correctly, the drink becomes viscous with the cold, as Seider so deftly illustrated with a double strained old fashioned poured over a single cube.

I saw one bartender pull a drink thermometer out of his pocket to test his creation. Damn, these people were serious, and so were the beverages, all made with bourbon and rye. I may not express orange oil over my drink every time, but it is time for “new” ice. Cheers.

Two kinds of bitters, two kinds of liquor, two kinds of citrus, and two tools to impart citrus flavor to the drink - STEPHANIE BURT
  • Stephanie Burt
  • Two kinds of bitters, two kinds of liquor, two kinds of citrus, and two tools to impart citrus flavor to the drink
The assemblage for each student - STEPHANIE BURT
  • Stephanie Burt
  • The assemblage for each student
 


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