This Saturday, Bob Louison will teach the thirteenth in a series of cocktail classes held by his company Spirit It. The lessons have covered everything from the classics to creations inspired by Thailand, India, France, and the United States. I asked him a few questions about the class, the Beijing cocktail scene in general, and my pet peeve – flair bartending.
What can someone expect to experience in your cocktail classes?
You will experience the feeling of making cocktails like a bartender. You will have your own station and tools, and will learn a few bartending basics, such as how to create balance in your cocktail, how to blend flavors, and how to free pour. During each class, you will learn three or four cocktail recipes that you won’t find in Beijing as well as some classics.They all contain Grand Marnier since it is the sponsor.
Finally, we will test your skills. This includes taking the ingredients used during the class and coming up with your own cocktail. The best one wins a bottle of Grand Marnier.
What are the three biggest problems with the way cocktails are made in most Beijing bars?
I would say the biggest problem is consistency. You can order three Cosmopolitans and each will taste different. Second, bartenders often don’t know how to balance the ingredients, so the drink comes out too strong, too sour, or even too watery if the bartender shakes it too long. And third would be speed. It often takes a long time to get a cocktail because the bartender is not sure of the recipe and has to check the menu and, even worse, guess how much of each ingredient to include.
Where are your favorite places to have a cocktail in Beijing and what do you usually order?
I like Face Bar very much. They have a pretty nice cocktail list and keep the quality high. It is a pleasure to either sit in the lounge or on the patio, with the red lanterns providing a magical atmosphere. I love their Creme Brulee Martini.
I also like Lan Club. They just made a new cocktail list, with every drink containing Grand Marnier, and it is pretty impressive. I especially like their Forbidden Red Dragon cocktail.
And Maison Boulud also makes great cocktails. I think the head bartender is one of the best in Beijing, but few people know about him.
What is your favorite cocktail made with local ingredients?
I like to use local ingredients. I love hawthorn, lychee, ginger, lemongrass, yuzu, dragon fruit, and very sweet Chinese cherries. I even make my own jasmine syrup. My favorite cocktail is my own: the Jasmine Martini. It includes jasmine syrup, two orange wedges, vodka, Grand Marnier, and lemon juice, with a jasmine flower as a garnish.
Flair bartenders: I am not a big fan, especially when it involves fire, but it seems popular in Beijing. What is your take?
I like it very much, but Beijing bartenders don’t put it to good use. They put the quality of the cocktail aside while they are performing. The purpose of flair is to entertain the customers while you make a quality cocktail. These bartenders need to first learn how to make good cocktails, then practice flair. And flair should be visual and efficient, allowing you to work faster, not slower.
How did you get involved with cocktails and how did you end up in China?
I became a bartender at 18 years old in Paris to help pay for my studies. I fell in love with it and have practiced since. I was attracted to China for years and the Olympics provided a good opportunity to come here and look for a job. Since I wanted to open my own bar consulting and event company, I thought China would offer many chances. Now that I have Spirit It, it has turned out to be true.