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Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Beer Guy Goes to Bartending School

Posted By on Thu, May 14, 2015 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Fake cocktails - CHRIS COHEN
  • Chris Cohen
  • Fake cocktails

Quick: What’s the difference between an Orgasm and a Screaming Orgasm? Do you prefer regular Blowjobs or Grandma’s Blowjobs? Who is the Surfer on Acid? What do you do if you’re opening a bar that has full liquor, but you’re a beer guy?

You start by going to bartending school, of course!

click to enlarge Jeremy Vassey teaching the class. - CHRIS COHEN
  • Chris Cohen
  • Jeremy Vassey teaching the class.
The SF Bartending Academy (SFBA) had great reviews, so my business partner, Carson Beker, and I chose their weeklong training program, held at Bar Basic in SOMA. Our teacher,  SFBA owner Jeremy Vassey, was a fun and charismatic guy — the kind of dude who rides a motorcycle, has tattoos, and does a great job of making people comfortable and building community with a group. Many of my classmates happened to be tatted-up motorcycle riders themselves. Some of us were doing it for art (including Carson, a struggling writer and theater type), one was an ex-Air Force guy, another an ex-teacher, and one of us was doing it for love (good luck in Japan with your girl, man!).

I walked in on the first day of class and right away I was shoveling ice, rattling drinks in a Boston Shaker, pouring shooters, and mixing highballs. On day two, I was feeling like a Boss; this was easy. Then I dropped a bottle of fake Grand Marnier and smashed it in my ice bin, slicing a finger wide-open in the process — a major time-consuming screw-up on a busy shift. Each day we learned dozens of drinks made from different base spirits. On the last day all of us novice bartenders were standing out front of the bar cramming for our test like we were in high school — what’s in a Zombie again? The class was just intense enough, challenging without being frustrating. Some flashcard studying was required.

click to enlarge Carson Beker and Jeremy Vassey after Beker passed her cocktail exam - CHRIS COHEN
  • Chris Cohen
  • Carson Beker and Jeremy Vassey after Beker passed her cocktail exam
The course prepares students for the basics of any type of bartending, so while I seriously doubt I’ll be asked to make Red Headed Slut, a Sex on the Beach or an Adios Motherfucker at Old Devil Moon, my set-to-open-in-late-2015 bar, I happily learned those right along with the Old Fashioneds, Mint Julips, Rob Roys, Gin Gimlets, and other classier drinks I will likely be stirring up for patrons.

I’m a legit beer guy. I wrote the book many people use to study for the Certified Cicerone exam. I am not a man accustomed to being humbled by alcoholic beverages. The beer program at Old Devil Moon is going to be absolutely killer, but we’re also going to feature a list of classy cocktails and lots of whisk(e)y. One of my partners, Andrew Kelley, has experience creating great cocktail programs, but I want to learn the ropes so I can contribute from behind the bar, too. 

And just so you know, Carson got the highest score in our class. So you should probably order your cocktail from her when you come check out Old Devil Moon.

Chris Cohen is a Certified Cicerone, a certified BJCP beer judge, and author of the Beer Scholar Study Guide for the Certified Cicerone Exam. He is opening a bar, Old Devil Moon, in Bernal Heights in late 2015. 

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Chris Cohen


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