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A day at the Diageo Bar Academy

I received the privilege to attend one of the Diageo Bar Academy lessons recently. It took me right away to my days at the university, most of the students had slept for less than 3hrs, everybody took notes and forgot them at the end of the day. Then everybody went for a beer… All in good jest, we’ve learned some interesting and important lessons that day.

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Our professor of that day was the great Mr. Belmans. Our campus was the famous Charlatan bar in Ghent.

One of the basic key words to success in a bar is “consistency“. If there’s a Mojito on your menu, then every Mojito ordered must look the same, taste the same and take equal amount of time to make. If you make a decent Mojito, chances are your guest will order a second one, if that second one tastes different, chances are that your guest will not order a Mojito in your bar ever again.

Speed“, does not mean to hasten yourself. Speed is an effect of your efficiency, achieved through experience and – very important – preparation.

If you want to achieve consistency ànd speed, then “preparation” is a life-safer and a necessity. World Championship Football is coming up, going to do a lot of Caipirinhas? Stop muddling your limes. Get a couple dozens of them through a citrus press and bottle the juice before you open the bar. You will achieve speed once all hell breaks loose, because you’ve done half the work beforehand. You’ll achieve consistency, because now you can measure exactly how much lime juice there will be in your Caipis. You will have gained efficiency ànd the Caipirinhas probably taste better too.

In absence of decent glassware you can always use an aquarium.
In absence of decent glassware you can always use an aquarium. I would have taken out the pebbles though.

Don’t keep your ice in a plastic bucket on top of the bar. Plastic isn’t exactly the best conductor on the planet, your ice will be wet and gone, like a Brazilian virgin, before you can make your second cocktail. Find yourself a metal container with holes in the bottom or buy an ice-chest (30€ at ISPC).   Take care and attention of your ice. Ice is the common ingredient of all cocktails, it is also probably the most important ingredient of all cocktails. Not only does it cool your cocktail, it also dilutes it. And dilution is necessary and a good thing (if you know how to control it). It mellows the sharp bite of the alcohol and sort of glues the different tastes of all the  ingredients together. The right amount of dilution allows certain aromas of spirits to manifest, that would otherwise stay hidden. Try it: pour a whiskey and sniff it. Now add a drop of water and sniff it again. Then again, too much dilution gives you a watered down drink, yet not enough dilution will give you a harsh and unbalanced drink. And herein lies the mastery of mixing drinks in my opinion, controlling the dilution.

Some whiskey on your rock sir?
Some whiskey on your rock sir?

Dilution happens not only through heat and warmth, but also through movement. By shaking and stirring our ice, we cause dilution ànd we cool down our drink at the same time. Normally we shake every cocktail that contains fruit juices and we stir all the others. We also shake instead of stir to add tiny air bubbles to our drink, which becomes opaque and a little bit of foam forms on top. The tiny air bubbles quickly disappear, but the effect of ‘shaking’ remains permanent on a molecular level and you will experience a slight difference in taste. When you shake, try shaking in such a manner that the ice and liquid make a spiral movement in your shaker to achieve the best effect. Apparently there’s also a zero-point to dilution and cooling when you shake. After a good 15 seconds of vigorous shaking, dilution and cooling down stops, so you don’t need to shake any longer . Also, never forget to put enough ice in your shaker (filled up to 3/4 with cubes will do). When you have shaken well, 60% of your drink will be ice water and that’s what we want to achieve. It surprises people, but most cocktails have an ABV no stronger than a glas of wine (11°-13°).

Never shake 4 shakers at once. Don't try this at your bar, not even your home. It makes no sense.
Never shake 4 shakers at once. Don’t try this at your bar, not even your home. It makes no sense…but it’s badass.

That was just a small sample of all the knowledge that is poured into you on one day. It is a brilliant initiative of Diageo and I can recommend it to any bartender. This was a basic course, but there are courses for all levels of bartenders, you can check them and register on their website: Diageo Bar Academy. It’s for free (thank you Diageo).

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There’s one more lesson we’ve learned… Besides werewolves there’s something else with an aversion for silver apparently: cream! Ben was demonstrating us how to make a perfect Irish coffee and therefore needed some thickened cream. So he shook some up in a silver coated shaker. The cream however refused to thicken at all and eventually, covered in cream, when he changed shakers with a regular one, the cream thickened immediately. Any chemical engineer who can explain that?

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

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