When they first asked me if I wanted to attend the VIP launch of the new cocktail masterclasses at Black Dog NWS, I hesitated. I asked myself: Am I qualified to review such an event? True, I like drinking cocktails. Then I remembered that I used to work behind the bar of a well-known sports ground that pretty much only sold cold Stella or warm Greene King IPA. So, technically, I am an ex-professional barman. I even made a shandy one time, which I’m pretty sure counts as a cocktail.
It turns out that the Black Dog cocktail ‘masterclasses’ aren’t exclusive gatherings for master mixologists, but actually events that punters, of any level of experience, can book for birthday parties, dates, hen nights etc. What could be more fun than a couple of hours of messing around behind a bar making tasty drinks and then drinking them? So, I accepted.
Arriving at Black Dog for the launch event, things got off to a great start with a welcome Bellini. Our hosts explained that the classes come in three themes: ‘Studio 54’, ‘Boardwalk’, and ‘Poco Loco’, each with its own selection of drinks and featuring a mix of classics and more unusual concoctions. There were demonstrations of each theme running simultaneously.
We grabbed a stool at the bar where the ‘Studio 54’ masterclass was being showcased. The class is named after the legendary late ’70s New York nightclub where Rick James once punched Eddie Murphy’s brother in the head. Accordingly, the theme has a retro New York flavour. After watching a couple of Espresso Martinis and Manhattans being made, it was my turn behind the bar. I chose to make a New York Sour, which I’m told was actually invented in Chicago. The barman talked me through the process: a couple of shots of bourbon, some sugar syrup, lemon juice, and bitters all shaken twice, both with and without ice. So far, that’s a pretty standard Whisky Sour. What makes it a New York Sour is a glug of red wine. The resultant drink, garnished with a slice of lemon, was very good. You might have heard that you aren’t supposed to mix the grape and the grain, but the combination of whisky and wine makes for a delicious combination of sourness, sweetness, and astringency.
Next, like some kind of moth, I found myself drawn to the flickering flames on the other side of the room. This turned out be the demonstration of ‘Poco Loco’, a ‘south of the border’ themed class (that’s Mexico, not Stockport). While waiting to make a drink, I sipped on a Hurricane: a fruity rum drink that looked like a caricature of a cocktail sipped on a tropical beach. It even had a giant straw and a big slice of pineapple in. When my turn came, I went for a Flaming Tequila Sunrise. Following instructions, I layered grenadine, orange juice, and chucked in some syrup and tequila. The fun bit came last, with the ignition of a sugar cube placed on half a lime and soaked in Wray and Nephew overproof rum (63% ABV!). The floating, flaming garnish looked awesome. Sensibly, the safety-conscious barman recommended extinguishing before attempting to drink.
Determined to leave no stone unturned in my quest to drink more cocktails, I headed round the corner to check out ‘the Boardwalk’. This class is supposed to hark back to that time when the USA decided to ban booze but people kept drinking anyway, also known as Prohibition. The cocktails here are strong and old school but with a classy feel. I made a New Orleans Sazerac, a short drink a little like a Negroni and consisting of a potent mixture of Absinthe, syrup, rye whiskey, and bitters, and served over cubed ice.
After this, we convinced our barman Josh to go off piste and to make us a cocktail of his own creation. He made us a remix of a classic Italian cocktail in the form of the ‘Obi Wan Negroni’, which he had dreamt up in honour of the release of the new Star Wars film. I don’t even like Star Wars, but I know a good pun when I see one. The drink was bloody good, too.
Not only are Black Dog’s barfolk helpful and friendly, they clearly know their drinks and how to mix them, even beyond the confines of their masterclass menus. Black Dog’s masterclasses are £25 per head, which makes it a bit more expensive than a trip to JD Wetherspoon. However, good cocktails always cost a bit more, and at Black Dog NWS you have the added bonus of getting behind the bar and learning about the drinks in the process.
One word of warning: if you ask your housemate where ‘Black Dog NWS’ is and he says, ‘Northern Quarter’, ignore him. It’s on New Wakefield Street, near Oxford Road Station. If, like I did, you take this advice, you might find yourself steaming across Manchester so that you don’t miss your cocktail class. On the other hand, arriving out of breath after a 20-minute power walk is a good way to work up a thirst.
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