Wine & Spirits: Cocktail Classes for the Masses

by WL Author

Hit the book and then the bottle with one of knowledge- and thirst-quenching seminars.

By Kelly A. Magyarics

The Columbia Room offers ongoing mixology education for cocktail enthusiasts.

The Columbia Room offers ongoing mixology education for cocktail enthusiasts. Photo courtesy of Jim Webb.

Sure, there are a ton of great bar books out there on store shelves, but it’s much more fun to learn how to make a great cocktail in person from a pro. Luckily, Washington, DC is awash with bar stars eager to share their knowledge. So grab a few friends and plan to hone up on your beverage-ducation:

Duane Sylvestre will lead Bourbon Steak's first cocktail class.

Duane Sylvestre will lead Bourbon Steak's first cocktail class.

Over at Bourbon Steak (2800 Pennsylvania Ave NW, 202.944.2026,) ace mixologist Duane Sylvestre will be leading the restaurant’s first mixology course on Sunday, June 27 from 12-2 PM. The hands-on class is perfect for aspiring home mixologists seeking to expand their skills. Guests will receive a primer on basic bar techniques and current cocktail trends, and learn about the science behind flavor combinations. Once you get some knowledge under your belts, you’ll be let loose to grab a shaker to create your own signature sips from a large selection of spirits, mixers, juices, herbs and spices. Sylvestre will be on hand for the entire session, guiding students on taste and technique, and the restaurant will also project the class on flat screens behind the bar to offer all guests an unobstructed view. Students will taste dishes especially made for the occasion by Executive Chef David Varley, including Black truffle popcorn, Eco-Friendly chicharrones with Michael Mina’s special BBQ sauce and Gunpowder bison jerky. The menu will also include Mina’s signature burger, a juicy Oak-Fired prime dry-aged steak burger with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, house made pickles and a secret sauce. Each lucky participant will leave with a mixology tool kit filled with house made bitters and unique hand picked spirits to continue their “studies” at home. Reservations are $95 and can be made by calling 202.944.2026.

James Beard nominated-mixologist Derek Brown loves sharing his back bar knowledge, and his ongoing classes at

Derek Brown of The Columbia Room teaches ongoing classes to cocktail enthusiasts.

Derek Brown of The Columbia Room teaches ongoing classes to cocktail enthusiasts. Photo courtesy of Jim Webb.

the Columbia Room cocktail den adjacent to The Passenger teach booze enthusiasts everything from the Mint Julep to Champagne Cocktails. June 9’s class on Caribbean Cocktails including the Mojito, Swizzle and Ti’Punch is perfect for summer entertaining. Students will learn how to swizzle and muddle along with other techniques which make these great hot-weather classics sizzle. The class will be held from 7-8:30 PM, the fee is $65, and you can email to make a reservation.

With summer gatherings al fresco, as well as the impending opening of the Washington, DC location of Cuba Libre and its killer Mojitos (made with freshly squeezed cane juice, no less,) it’s a smart idea to brush up on the cocktails from Old Havana. Phil Greene, who is the Brand Ambassador for Domaine de Canton, and internationally renowned mixtress Charlotte Voisey will present a cocktail seminar title “When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba” on June 10 from 7-8:30 PM at Mie N Yu Restaurant (3125 M Street NW, 202.333.6122.) Voisey will give an overview of the rum category of spirits—specifically its lighter style brought to fame in Cuba, and she’ll share some inspired use in cocktails and punches. Greene will offer up tales from the days when Cuba was America ‘s favorite playground, especially during Prohibition when Havana became “the unofficial United States saloon.”  Enjoy delicious appetizers and, of course,sample cocktails from Cuba. Tickets are $45.00 in advance, $50.00 at the door. Register here.

Can’t wait for school to start? Here’s a recipe courtesy of Sylvestre. Aperol is so great–a bit kinder and gentler than Campari, and perfectly refreshing when the thermometer hits 90 or more:

Milanese Sour
Courtesy of Duane Sylvestre, Bourbon Steak, Washington, DC

1 oz. Plymouth Gin
1 oz. Aperol
3/4 oz. lemon juice
1/2 oz. simple syrup
3/4 oz. egg white
2 dashes Fee Brothers grapefruit bitters

Add all to a cocktail shaker, and dry shake without ice. Add ice and shake again, and double strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an lemon peel.

Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, DC area. She can be reached through her website,, or on

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