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[Photo: booleansplit on Flickr]

So you've got the cocktail equipment and we're sending cocktail recipes your way, but that doesn't give you all the tools you need to shake, stir, and serve like an expert. The additional ingredient that's lacking? Knowledge. Start with the basics and build from there.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of taking Home Bar Basics at Astor Center with Don Lee and Wil Wilmot, and would heartily recommend it to anyone wanting to learn to make a quality drink at home. In this hands-on class, Lee and Wilmot walked us through the proper usage of essential bar tools, and taught us to approach cocktail recipes not as individual recipes, but rather as families of cocktails, with several variations within each family. For example, both a margarita and a daquiri are sours, but with different base spirits.

For those looking for a little more kick, or who are enthusiastic afficionados looking to dabble in the cocktail world a bit more seriously, consider Bar Smarts Wired. Bar Smarts is an educational program designed for bartenders and others in the spirits industry by Pernod Ricard, and is taught by the partners of Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR), LLC: Dale DeGroff, Doug Frost, Steve Olson, F. Paul Pacult, Andy Seymour and David Wondrich.

Although live classes are offered, the Wired version is all online, and consists of reading and video modules on how spirits are made, different spirits categories, cocktail history, bartending and mixology basics, tools, and guidelines for providing efficient, quality service behind the bar. After each module, you are given a test, which you are required to pass in order to proceed. The final component is the "virtual drink builder," which allows you to make cocktails online by selecting and "measuring" spirits, juices, shaking or stirring as appropriate, then choosing the appropriate glassware and garnish. You have to make at least four cocktails correctly from the list of "25 Cocktails Every Bartender Should Know" in order to pass.

Registration is currently closed, but will open again in February. The Astor Center class is being offered next on December 11th.

One of the simplest drinks featured in both the Astor class and Bar Smarts Wired is the Manhattan. Although it was developed in the 1870's, it is truly timeless. Take one of these classes and soon you'll be mixing them up like a pro.

Manhattan

Ingredients

2 ounces rye whiskey of your choosing (although some prefer bourbon)
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Procedure

Pour all ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and stir to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cherry (Luxardo or brandied cherries are ideal) or an orange twist.

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