When I was about seven years old, I used to sneak into my grandfather’s study. I would tiptoe past the piano, crawl behind the burgundy leather Chesterfield, feel along the bookshelf for the small metal key, and slip it into the lock on the cabinet below.
I would turn the key feeling like Alice down the rabbit hole, and I would slowly open the small mahogany door to reveal a glittering array of crystalware.
The “bar” was really quite small, with one glass shelf dividing the space, but the back and sides were lined with mirrors, which multiplied the decanters and glasses and bottles of alcohol until it looked, to my young eyes, like a sparkling wonderland. I never touched anything, not even the apothecary jars at the back filled with sugared almonds.
I just liked looking at them.
I fully expected that by the time I turned 21 I would know everything there was to know about this magical cabinet, like what that funny silver thing was, or why anyone would need that many different kinds of glasses…
Sadly, at the age of 21 I was still drinking WKD Blue straight from the bottle, so apparently my expectations were both too high and too premature.
I no longer drink WKD (‘Thank God,’ say both you and my liver), and I now have a space in my apartment that functions as a drinks cabinet. I have alcohol. I have glasses. I have what I think might be whisky tumblers. I even have my grandfather’s apothecary jars, which I keep stocked with sweets in his memory. And then, over Christmas, I received a cocktail shaker set.
I pulled out a familiar-looking funny silver thing and read the description: ‘cocktail strainer.’ I ran my finger over the spring and then waved it back and forth. Mystery solved! I placed it over the empty cocktail shaker and pretended to pour out an imaginary drink. Then, as I sat cross-legged on the floor of my sitting room, I cast an eye over the rest of the unfamiliar instruments and realised I still didn’t know how to use most of them. And this, my friends, is the long and winding explanation as to how I ended up in The Blind Pig on Saturday for a cocktail-making class.
If you enjoy vintage cocktails and you ever find yourself in Dublin, Ireland, The Blind Pig is the place to go. It’s a prohibition-era styled speakeasy with live music, delicious cocktails, and a secret entrance. I’d been once before so at the appointed time, I made my way in (I won’t tell you how!) and sat at one of the two tables in front of the bar.
Paul Lambert, the award-winning mixologist who would be our cocktail teacher for the afternoon, stood confidently behind the bar. As my classmates filtered in, he mixed up ten Dark n’ Stormy cocktails for us and told us a bit about himself and The Blind Pig. We listened. We drank. I briefly regretted my decision to skip lunch.
He explained to us that he would be teaching us how to make three cocktails. First he would demonstrate, and then we would all get a chance to try our hand at replicating the drink. He pulled a few bottles from the bar and launched into the history of the Cosmopolitan. At this point I had swallowed down half my drink, and was starting to feel very content. I forgot about lunch. I watched him pour things into the shaker. I opened up the Keep app on my phone and typed:
Clear triple sec
Then I took another sip of my Dark n’ Stormy and watched as Paul showed us how and when to use a cocktail strainer (!), and why some drinks should be shaken and not stirred, (and vice versa). When it was my turn I made a decent, although definitely pinker, version of his Cosmo, and carried it back to my table with pride.
I drank it quite quickly.
He showed us how to make an Old Fashioned, and then moved on to how to make a Corn and Oil. This revolting-sounding concoction is actually their bestselling cocktail, which just goes to show you can’t judge a drink by its moniker. I’m not sure where the name comes from, but I can promise you that the drink itself is delicious. I am the ultimate lightweight, so by the time we got to the Corn and Oil I was smiling happily at the rest of my table, floating on a cloud of citrus spray, rum, whisky, and gin. Paul pulled out the ingredients and announced the name of each one as he placed it on the bar.
“Velvet Valernum,” he said.
Velvet Valernm, I typed.
I closed the app confidently, feeling like an excellent student, and watched as he made magic happen. Then I got up and managed to make the same cocktail, only I ended up with twice as much of it. I’m not sure how that happened. I side-eyed my classmate’s cocktail, which filled half her glass, then looked down at my own which was close to spilling over. Paul’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. My classmate’s husband leaned over and grinned, “That’s the way to do it!”
Glassy-eyed, I carefully carried my double cocktail back to the table and sipped on it as we swapped restaurant recommendations and alcohol-related anecdotes. The class ended, and we all decided to stay for another. And then another. By the time we stumbled out onto the street I was ready to hunt down the nearest, largest Margherita pizza and inhale it cheese-first.
The next morning I checked my “notes” and discovered a few spelling mistakes and a curious lack of instructions.
But at least now I know how to use a cocktail strainer!