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Back to (Night) School

I’ve had a fascination with cocktail culture for years.  Every now and then I talk about cocktails on this blog but for a little over a year I edited and wrote for another blog called The Spirit World and spent quite a lot of time immersed in that culture learning, experimenting and writing about all things cocktail related.  Once I left that blog my interest in writing about everything I had to drink waned, mainly due to lack of time, but my interest in learning has remained.  So I’m always looking for new cocktail bars that open and ways to expand my knowledge. 
There’s a new series of classes in town that brings the best of mostly local mixologists into a classroom of sorts – the bar in The Hunt Club at the Sorrento Hotel.  These classes are known as Night School.  The idea and classes have been pulled together by an interesting group of people.  Michael Hebberoy, the catalyst behind seems to be doing the scheduling and recruiting of the mixologists; documents the classes with photos, recipes and commentary; and The Hunt Club provides the classroom. 
Classes are small, just twelve seats around the bar, although others are encouraged to watch from the "back row", otherwise known as the table seating in the bar.  The atmosphere is convivial and light with questions and interactions encouraged and the "lectures" are occasionally broken with outbreaks of lively banter. 
The night I attended Murray Stenson, who has been at the Zig Zag Cafe for several years, was holding court.  Anyone who has any sort of serious interest in cocktails knows of Murray.  Not only has he been a Seattle fixture for around thirty years but in that time he has trained or mentored many of the other serious mixologists in town.  When I was writing for The Spirit World he was my go-to guy for all kinds of topics and information.  Not only is he a great bartender, he’s very generous with time and information.  It was a pleasure to see him at work but under more relaxed conditions.  He knows his craft, but it’s not just the quality of his concoctions that draws people to Murray.  His easy going laugh and his keen ability to make it seem as if you’ve known him (or he’s known you) for years are the real attractions. 
The class was attended by an interesting mix of people.  There was a group of bartenders on one side of me, a group of friends of Micheal Hebberoy on the other side and a few assorted others – at least one other blogger – at the other end of the bar. 
Murray concocted three drinks for us and while doing so gave us background information about the liquors being used (sweet Vermouth was originally Italian and dry Vermouth French); useful tips for mixing (if a drink is primarily made of liquor it should be stirred, if made with fruit juices then shaken); and commentary (St Germain is to bartenders what bacon is to chefs). 
We started with a simple and refreshing drink, the Cin Cin, which is simply equal portions of dry and sweet Vermouth served over rocks.  Next we moved on to what Murray described as a light Manhattan, the Bianco Bulleit.  The name nearly gives you the recipe as it’s made with Bianco Vermouth and Bulleit Bourbon.  A lemon twist finishes it off.  Our final cocktail of the night was a Murray original, the Hot Charlotte, apparently named after a woman of Murray’s acquaintance.  This last drink had a little bite to it from a few drops of hot sauce and was primarily composed of gin and St. Germain, hence the quote above. 
Throughout the evening little bites from the kitchen were brought out to accompany the cocktails.  All of the food, prepared by Chef Matthew Mina, was interesting and I mean that in a good way.  There was a carpaccio and cheese combination; a crab and corn stuffed springroll; and, my favorite, a creamy, roasted chanterelle soup. 
There are several more classes on the schedule with an interesting lineup of personalities.  I hope to take one or two more of them and will perhaps "audit" a couple others.  Classes are $50 and fill quickly.  You can find more information about them here
All food and cocktail recipes from this session can be found on Foodsita here
A few more of my photos are here
To visit Murray in his natural environment you can visit him at the Zig Zag Cafe. 
The Hunt Club
Sorrento Hotel
900 Madison

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