Monday, May 14, 2012

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic: A Seminar With Tony Abou-Ganim




It’s May! The weather gets warmer … the trees grow greener … and my thirst is harder to quench! … But no worries – The Manhattan Cocktail Classic has finally come to town!

Thankfully, they hosted a seminar called, “Making Great Gin Cocktails At Home: From Classic To Contemporary”, led by The Modern Mixologist himself, Tony Abou-Ganim! If you’re familiar with the TV show “Iron Chef America” on The Food Network, then you’ve probably seen Tony at some point …



Tony’s seminar focused on Bombay Sapphire gin, but I’m sure you could probably use your favorite gin for most of these cocktails, which I’ll discuss next time. This part of my blog post, however, will focus on another aspect of Tony’s seminar, which is how to supply your home bar.

The seminar began with Tony introducing us to some basic barware items that every mixology hobbyist should have at home: a Boston shaker (shaking tin with mixing glass), a Hawthorne strainer, a Julep strainer, a bar spoon, a muddler , a jigger, a lime squeezer and a canvas bag to use when making crushed ice. A nice surprise was that at the end of the seminar, we were allowed to take all of these items home with us!



About the Boston Shaker, Tony stressed its importance by saying that just as the chef’s knife is an essential tool in the kitchen, so the Boston Shaker is to the bartender.

Regarding the difference between the two strainers, Tony said that the choice between which strainer to use depends upon how the drink is made. If you make the cocktail in the tin shaker, then you should use the Hawthorne strainer because it fits perfectly over the top of the shaker and you can easily control the flow of the liquid when it is poured into the glass. On the other hand, if you try to use the Julep strainer in the shaking tin, it may not work; since the strainer needs to be held at an angle (as opposed to the Hawthorne strainer, which is held flat atop the shaker), the shaker is so wide that the Julep strainer could easily fall right in. With the smaller dimensions of the mixing glass, however, the Julep strainer is perfectly sized and shaped for straining all drinks made in that glass.


Interestingly, the muddler – especially if you have a large one – can be used to crush ice as well as for muddling cocktail ingredients, provided you don’t have a device at home that will automatically crush ice for you. That’s how we used the canvas bag that was among the tools provided for the day; filling the bag with ice, we folded it closed and used the muddler to beat the daylights out of it in order to effectively crush the ice for a Mojito-like cocktail we were making. It’s a poor man’s approach to crushing ice, but effective nevertheless.

Bitters, Tony said, were an essential element of your tools when making any cocktail. Originally, martini recipes included the use of bitters, but eventually, common practice moved away from this. Use of bitters in mixing a cocktail, he said, was like the use of salt and pepper when cooking. Unfortunately, Tony added, bitters often go either underutilized or unused altogether in the home bars of most people. In order to illustrate this point, he told an old bartenders joke, “Which will last longer in your home – your marriage or your bottle of Angostura bitters?”.

In Part II of this blog post, I’ll talk about some of the amazing gin-based cocktails we made during this seminar.

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