Locals high on Food Fest mixology class

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2005

Two parts base spirit, one part sweet spirits and one part flavoring.

With that basic recipe, you can make the vast majority of mixed drinks right at your own home bar, said Chris McMillian, manager of the Library Lounge Ritz Carlton in New Orleans.

That’s the message he gave the crowd that gathered Saturday at the Castle at Dunleith for a &uot;mixology&uot; class that was part humor, part history lesson and, according to partakers, mmmmarvelous.

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Sounds easy enough. But according to McMillian, whose class was part of the weekend’s Great River Road Food Festival, there are plenty of tricks to keep in mind in perfecting one’s drinkmaking.

Those who spent just a couple of hours in McMillian’s tutelage Saturday, for example, learned the right to bruise spearmint leaves to give a mint julep the right flavor without making it bitter.

They learned to always keep a bottle of simple syrup &045; 1 part sugar mixed with 1 part water &045; on hand at their home bars to sweeten drinks.

That’s because granulated sugar doesn’t dissolve well; confectioner’s sugar leaves a chalky taste and feel.

They learned the bar tool used to bruise mint leaves and crush fruit (for such drinks as McMillian’s raspberry Collins) is called a &uot;muddler&uot; &045; and saw the right way to use it.

As an added bonus, they got an ample serving of high-proof history along the way &045; from how gin started as a medicine base in Holland to the quirks of law that dictate how spirits must be manufactured in various countries.

And a full cast of characters were there to benefit from the lessons McMillian’s learned over the years.

The Connoisseur, asking over-your-head questions about the vagaries of various drinks and spirits.

The Barely 21, attempting to look knowledgeable and cool.

The Eager Student, hanging on every word and taking notes.

The Giggler. The Retiree. The Silently Sipping Gourmet. The Tourists, complete with a folded-over map doubling as a coaster.

All seemed entertained by McMillian.

And almost all asked enough questions to keep the mixologist as busy giving answers and as he was measuring ingredients, crushing ice and shaking tumblers.

But although one could argue McMillian and his audience participants were the stars of the show, all seemed to agree the real stars of the show were the drinks &045; sidecars, juleps and Collins &045; he mixed up for them to sample.

&uot;How are they, folks?&uot; McMillian said.

&uot;Good,&uot; the audience said in unison, careful not to spill their drinks as they burst into laughter.

Along with the Giggler.