Bartending school offers crash course in ‘mixology’

(Published August 25, 2003)

By PETER STOLZ

Staff Writer

Have you ever wanted to learn how to tend bar like a pro? Well now you can pick up a few pointers at an informal bartending crash course held at the Degrees restaurant inside the Ritz-Carlton of Georgetown.

The classes are being taught by Degrees bartender Michael Brown, 27, who in July was nominated as the District’s "Bartender of the Month" by washingtonpost.com. Brown is joined in teaching the class by fellow Degrees "mixologist" Mathew Alexander.

The idea of holding monthly bartending lessons came to Ritz-Carlton of Georgetown’s director of public relations, Colleen Evans, after trying to figure out how to publicize the new restaurant-bar, which opened last April along with the hotel itself. When she realized what a prize the restaurant had in veteran bartender Brown, she said she knew exactly what to do.

"He’s just so charismatic and he’s got a movie star smile," said Evans, who noted that there is now a waiting list of 104 students to take Brown’s class.

For his part, Brown said he likes to "play it cool" by remaining humble, which he considers one of the keys to being a successful bartender.

"I just want people to come in, relax, learn how to make a couple nice drinks and have a good time," said Brown, who graduated from Howard University in 2000.

As an English major, Brown had initially planned on becoming a schoolteacher but quickly realized his gift for bartending would prove to be much more financially rewarding.

Each 90-minute class has room for 25 students. The students have ranged in age from 25 to 50. Students are taught everything from how to mix the latest drinks to bar conversation etiquette. A vodka expert teaches students to distinguish a fine vodka from some of the more ordinary varieties.

Students learn how to make at least five of Brown’s own fancy concoctions. Brown said he selects which drinks to teach based on the season.

D.C. resident Patti Cumming attended the class last month and said she was pleased with her experience.

"It was great fun. We broke up into teams and (Brown) came around and taught us how to make the drinks, then we tested them out," Cumming said.

Brown said he begins each class by serving his students a glass of fancy rum punch.

"It’s important to get my students to ease up and get comfortable from the beginning," he said.

Brown teaches his students to use only the finest ingredients when making cocktails. These include all natural fruit juices and purees for mixers, instead of artificially flavored syrups. Following this rule worked out well for Cumming, who has been using her newfound bartending skills to make exotic drinks like the "Ketel One Cosmo" and "D.C. IDER."

"People get lazy serving wine or gin and tonics. This has more sex appeal for entertaining," said Cumming who said she has impressed her friends by making the drinks she learned about in the class.

The class is given once a month and reservations are required. Cost is $30 per person. For more information, call (800) 241-3333.

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator