The ‘Crazy Bar Lady’ taught me how to make 3 cocktails. Here’s what happened + photo evidence

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Confession: I’m no cocktail-making maven. I love to imbibe; don’t get me wrong. But I’m not great at the DIY part — much beyond the basics stresses me out. My garnishes usually stop at citrus. And I don’t have fancy toothpicks like Colleen Hughes gets to play with at Haberdish.

So when I announced to my husband that what our dining area really needs is a beautiful bar cart filled with beautiful barware (#legit), he issued a challenge: Learn to make some fancy cocktails first.

Touché.

Sooo … now what? Do I buy a book? Do I stalk some of the amazing bartenders and mixologists we feature here at Sip for a tutorial?

Like an answer to prayer, I saw a post about Liberate Your Palate that same week.

Tamu Curtis started Liberate Your Palate upon moving to Charlotte from California. “The restaurant industry in Charlotte was booming,” she says, “but people were drinking vodka cranberries in plastic cups.”

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Meet Tamu Curtis, founder of of Liberate Your Palate. Also meet me, back middle, clearly paying close attention.

Curtis wanted to enlighten locals about the growing craft cocktail scene. So she started offering cocktail tours at top restaurants around the city.

The tours were so successful that Curtis decided to partner with bar consultant and Scotch enthusiast Emily Elda (better known as The Crazy Bar Lady on Instagram) to begin offering interactive cocktail-making classes as well.

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That’s Emily “Crazy Bar Lady” Elda on the right. And yes, she’s wearing a boot. She broke her foot “being clumsy,” she says.

The premise: For $55 a person, you — along with a small group of 15 to 20 other people who signed up — get a personal cocktail station with bar tools, hands-on instruction for how to make three different cocktails (which you get to drink, obviously), plus some take-home recipes and light bites.

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It seemed like my kind of event, the kind of place where I could chat it up with my table, ask stupid questions, and enjoy some delicious beverages. So I enlisted my friend Cass Bradley (also a professional photographer) — who’s always down for a good cocktail, as long as it’s not bourbon — and we signed up.

Meet Cass.
Meet Cass.

We each Uber-ed to Uptown’s Level Coworking (#responsible), where tables were set up in the main kitchen and seating area.

We arrived 30 minutes early to take some preliminary pictures and were surprised to find how many go-getters also arrived early. It was pretty quiet at first, as Cass and I bustled around with a light stand and off-camera flash. People nibbled on the hors d’oeuvres — a veggie platter, seasoned shrimp, pimento cheese and chicken skewers. There was some small talk.

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But the fun started when Elda (and our cocktail instruction) began.

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First up: “A Punch to Remember.”

The ingredients: Sutler’s Gin, Crazy Bar Lady’s homemade orange liqueur, citrus syrup, cold-brewed sparking tea (also homemade) and an assortment of fruits and herbs for garnish. There was even a star fruit on our platter — one of those $4 delicacies at Harris Teeter I always wonder about but never buy. View More: http://cassbradley.pass.us/sip

As a group, we combined the ingredients in a punch bowl and served it up. Beautiful and delicious. (Pro tip: If you’re going to make a punch at home, Elda recommends that you freeze the punch bowl beforehand. Use two bowls, putting the smaller bowl you’ll use for punch inside a larger bowl full of ice.)

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The communal punch was a great way to start the class, to get people to loosen up and work together. The couple across the table from us were a little hesitant to chat when they initially saw my notebook. But after a few sips, we were all buddies.

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See? Fast friends.

Next up was the “Blushing Mule,” made with Doc Porter’s Vodka, homemade ginger liqueur, lemon-mint syrup, beet shaving and a mint spring for garnish.

View More: http://cassbradley.pass.us/sipView More: http://cassbradley.pass.us/sipWe even crushed our own ice for this one. (Remedial pro tip: Put ice in a gallon-size ziplock bag and crush with a glass.)

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Not being super into beets, I was kinda iffy on this one at first. But it turned out to be oh-so delicious. You could barely even taste the beets, which were mostly there for color. We didn’t quite get that figured out, though. See below.

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The finale was a spiced Old Fashioned. Cass (with her “anything-but-bourbon” rule) was pretty skeptical. We’ve tried many an Old Fashioned variation in the past, and — never being really sold on it — she’s good at the ol’ one-sip-and-pass routine.

But this one made her a believer: In this drink and the Crazy Bar Lady herself, at least.

We started by making the orange-twist garnish; don’t want to water down the drink while you make the garnish later.

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We then combined 2 oz of bourbon, 1.5 oz of homemade spiced pear shrub (#divine), a dash of Angostura bitters and a splash of water in a shaker. Next we added ice, stirred, and strained the concoction over ice.

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The whole class was supposed to last a couple of hours. But most of us stayed longer, chatting, drinking, finishing off the platter of fruit garnishes. And we were bummed when the class was over, vowing to take another one and to tell everyone we know about the experience.

So here’s my heartfelt endorsement, folks, and some info on the next one, a Valentine’s cocktail class on Feb. 10. Sign up. You won’t regret it.

Meanwhile, I’m starting my hunt for a bar cart.

Photos: BlueSky by Cass Bradley 

BONUS: Some not-so-professional shots of my own. #BoozyOuttakes

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Sip Charlotte is a weekly email newsletter for beer, wine, and cocktail enthusiasts across the region. Click here to subscribe. Have a story idea? Feedback? Connect with editor Caroline Portillo at cportillo@charlotteobserver.com. Cheers!

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