One of the best things about visiting distilleries is that it never gets old. Every distillery is different and every tour changes with new additions to the lineup. Even a small place like the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse in Louisville, Kentucky manages to keep things interesting in their 4300 square foot urban distillery by changing up their events from time to time. The latest addition to the lineup is an $18 cocktail class wherein guests learn about the history of whiskey cocktails and mix up their own concoction, which they are able to drink before taking the glass home with them. I recently stopped by to check out this new offering.
Daniel Dougherty, a former bartender himself, taught the What’s Your Jam class. The basic cocktail we were learning about during this session was a classic whiskey sour. The idea is to master a basic cocktail and then learn how to build off of that, which makes this an invaluable class for any aspiring home bartenders. Dougherty pointed out that sour mix is basically lemon juice and simple syrup, and if you switch the lemon out for lime and use tequila instead of whiskey you’ve made a margarita, while if you switch the whiskey out for amaretto you’ve made an amaretto sour. Once you learn a few core cocktails you can make almost anything imaginable.
Dougherty spent the first portion of the cocktail class talking about core whiskey cocktails as well as the history of not only making cocktails but writing down the recipes. “There is a family of whiskey cocktails that are the cornerstone of mixology. The head is the Old Fashioned,” he says. 19th century bartenders Tom Bullock and James E. Pepper are credited not only for inventing the Old Fashioned at the Pendennis Club in Louisville Kentucky, but Bullock is the first person believed to have written down recipes as well as guidelines for professional bartenders.
We then turned our attention to the cocktails. Fresh ingredients, Dougherty says, make a far superior cocktail than pre-made shelf-stable mixers. “If you give people crazy ingredients they’ll never be able to recreate it at home,” he says.
After watching him make up a standard whiskey sour it was my turn. I picked jalapeño marmalade from an array of jams on the table and mixed it straight into my whiskey in a highball glass. I then added the house-made sour mix and egg whites. Dougherty walked me through all the technical processes, from how to use the Boston shaker top to how to hold the Hawthorne strainer. It was great having the opportunity to hone my technique.
Once I strained the cocktail into the rocks glass I was able to taste it before adding some Bourbon Barrel Foods Bourbon Smoked Salt and trying it again. I then added a twist of orange and garnished the cocktail with mint and a flower. Doing these things in separate steps really highlighted the differences that each seemingly insignificant increment brings to a good craft cocktail.
Dougherty had some advice for home bartenders who want to be more like the professionals:
Pour your ingredients into a clear glass so guests can watch the process
Mix the cheapest ingredients first in case you make a mistake
Shake your cocktail away from guests so any spills hit you instead of them
1 part house-made sour mix (equal parts lemon juice and simple syrup, about 1/2 an oz each)
½ an egg white
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into rocks glass.
You can add on things like jams and marmalades or bitters to alter the basic flavor. Garnish with citrus peel, mint or other herbs, or flowers.
This class is available at the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse on the hour starting at 3 p.m. daily. The cocktails change regularly- last week they featured a blackberry Mint Julep, the week before a classic Mint Julep. Guests can even request a specific whiskey cocktail within reason- they have to have the ingredients on hand. There is also a craft cocktail bar at the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse Fridays and Saturdays where guests can skip the class and go straight for the cocktail for $8-10 each. All of the cocktail offerings are in addition to the regular tours and guided tastings offered at the Urban Stillhouse. In addition, visitors can even bottle their own bourbon.
Maggie Kimberl is a bourbon writer focusing on bourbon culture and tourism in Louisville and Kentucky. When she's not covering the bourbon beat you can find her browsing through vintage vinyl with her kids or tending to her homegrown tomatoes. Follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/LouGirl502 Instagram https://www.instagram.com/lougirl502/ and check out her blog LouGirl502.com.