History and Alcohol Mix at Old Town Whiskey Classes
Published: Friday, October 26, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 1, 2012 15:11
Any seasoned bartender or spirit enthusiast will tell you the cocktail is as much of an art form as anything else. John Christie, head bartender at Old Town Whiskey would be the first to agree. With 15 years behind the bar and a history degree to boot, there couldn’t be a better suited person to teach people about whiskey and cocktail crafting.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I took my seat at the dark wooden bar at Old Town Whiskey, an American spirit bar inside the Saguaro hotel in Old Town Scottsdale. I was excited about my first cocktail class and, okay, a little nervous I would drink too much. I was about to sample cocktails and whiskey for the next two hours and wasn’t sure if I had eaten a big enough lunch. But when Christie greeted us, a class of two students, I eased up.
Normally Christie teaches groups of 10 to 15 people, but for the sake of this story he accepted a smaller group.
The evening began with an introduction to the old-school mentality that has been incorporated into the bar’s service. Christie holds all of his bartenders to a high standard – one bartenders used to have back when slinging drinks behind a bar was viewed as a profession, he said.
“Consistency means professionalism and that is what we want to exude here,” he said. “I want someone to have that experience that the person serving them knows what they’re talking about.”
Christie is certainly one of those people who knows what he is talking about. He is professional, knowledgeable and wants his students and customers to learn. As he poured our first whiskey sample, he explained how the American bourbon and American rye we were drinking differed. Bourbon is an American spirit and has to consist of 51 percent more corn than rye. Rye, on the other hand, has to be 51 percent more rye, which makes it a slightly spicier, hotter whiskey.
We “nosed” each whiskey we sampled then took a tiny sip to let it wash over our tongue. Christie walked us through the complex flavors and helped us understand how to identify what we were drinking.
Just as we finished off our whiskey, a server brought a beautiful presentation of some of the restaurant’s menu items – pickled herb cherry tomatoes, duck fat fries with San Tan cheddar sauce and tater tots. It was a perfect way to ease into the pre-prohibition cocktail portion of the class, because as Christie explained, food is a big part of the cocktail experience.
As an American spirit tavern, Old Town Whiskey focuses its cocktail classes on the three eras of the American cocktail throughout history: pre-prohibition, prohibition and repeal.
“The cocktail is very much of a reflection of America,” Christie said.
In recent years, craft-cocktailing has regained popularity and this is something that Old Town Whiskey embraces. Some people might say the craft cocktail is just a cocktail that takes a long time to make, but it is so much more.
“The reason it takes a long time is because we want you to have an experience,” Christie said.
As Christie prepare three distinct cocktails – The Old Fashioned, The Sazerac and The Bronx – it was clear, with all his shaking, stirring, and glass coating, that the crafting of these cocktails was a very entertaining art to watch. Everything is done with such precision and purpose. Who knew that a cocktail could have so much meaning?
We followed the same routine of sniff, taste and analyze for the remainder of the session and as he taught our class, Christie, being the history buff that he is, inserted fun facts about cocktails and bars in American history.
What was great about the class was that for the price, it felt like a true value. The amount of alcohol and food served is great for the ticket price. Not only that, but it’s a unique group experience that you just don’t get every day. Never static, a whiskey or cocktail class is a fun way to interact with people, a great date idea or something different to do with your friends. Christie said he often suggests this as a unique bachelor party activity before a night out.
Though on this particular occasion I was given a hybrid of the classes, typically The Saguaro will host either a whiskey class or a cocktail class once a month. I may not have walked away an expert, but I did walk away with some valuable knowledge on whiskey and a nice little buzz.
Old Town Whiskey School featuring American Bourbon & Whiskeys from the Buffalo Trace Distillery, The Saguaro, 4000 N. Drinkwater Boulevard, Scottsdale, 480.970.4444, Saturday, October 27, reservations required, 3 to 5 p.m., $40