Students at Mercadito Mixology Academy, tasting their work — Photo courtesy of Megy Karydes
“Never forget the 2-1-1,” says Tad Carducci, one of the two Tippling Bros. and an award-winning mixologist, as he leads a Mercadito Mixology Academy session on a fine Tuesday evening at Mercadito restaurant in Chicago. Carducci was referring to the ratio that makes up the perfect cocktail: two parts strong (the booze), one part sweet and one part tart. From there, he says, you can adjust the taste to your liking, but that equation is the benchmark for the core cocktail.
You have to get the ingredients just right to create the perfect cocktail — Photo courtesy of Megy Karydes
Cocktail classes are becoming de rigueur as a way for bars to introduce their offerings to the burgeoning interests among many who grew up drinking craft beers rather than Old Fashioneds. Fueled by shows like Mad Men that made it popular to host cocktail parties, restaurants like Mercadito in Chicago’s River North neighborhood have found success in their monthly drink academy, a mixture of education and drinking.
What does a typical class look like? About a dozen eager-to-learn students filter into the basement, where a complete bar and Carducci greet them. As soon as they sit in one of the tufted booths, they're likely served a Pisco Sour.
Once the ingredients are added, the shaking begins! — Photo courtesy of Megy Karydes
Once everyone arrives, Carducci takes the first 15 minutes to give everyone the history of some of the cocktails and Tippling Bros., as well as details of what they'll be creating that evening. Then he invites everyone up to the bar, where each person's station comes equipped with all the necessary pieces to create their cocktails, from the shakers to the alcohol and the garnishes.
Throughout the evening, each person prepares a mixture of drinks, perhaps a traditional margarita, a pegu club and a classic sidecar. Carducci peppers the evening with a history lesson about each of the drinks, although as the night wears on, it's entirely possibly that less and less of the history is being processed. A word of warning: Four boozy drinks to enjoy over a period of an hour and a half can be too much for some people, so it's advised to prepare the cocktails wisely.
Each month focuses on different types of cocktail, which makes it a great way to schedule a night with friends to get together and learn how to create cocktails with one of the best mixologists in the country.
Interested parties should definitely make reservations ahead of time at Mercadito and let their server know they have reservations to take a Mixology Academy class in the basement; this allows time to eat before you start imbibing.
Students leave Mercadito's Mixology Academy with recipes of each of the drinks they created during that evening, but most just opt to keep returning for another class. Classes cost $55 per person, and they tend to sell out quickly.
Check the restaurant website for the next Mercadito Mixology Academy, and make a date with friends.