The holidays are just around the corner and for me, that means it’s time to obsessively plan festive get-togethers. It’s that time of year when you can never have enough homemade chicken stock and bourbon in the freezer. I consider myself a great cook, but when it comes to alcohol, a gin and tonic is about as creative as I get. I took Anthony Caporale’s Culinary Mixology recreational class last week hoping to add a new trick to my repertoire of party ideas. Now, I’ll be adding something new to my holiday soirées — culinary cocktails.

So what exactly is culinary mixology? It’s the incorporation of herbs, spices, and vegetables into cocktails. After we got a feel for cocktail making with classic culinary cocktails like Bloody Marys and Mint Juleps, we got a little more adventurous with a few goodies from the fridge. Red bell pepper added an amazing kick to a mojito. We charred thyme on a grill pan to add a hint of smokiness to a limoncello and gin cocktail. After hollowing-out a massive pumpkin, we filled it with an apple rum punch — the longer the autumn beverage sits in the pumpkin punch bowl, the more the pumpkin’s flavor infuses the punch. Anthony even showed us how to infuse bourbon with smoky bacon, then added maple syrup and bitters to make PDT’s famous Bacon-Infused Old Fashioned.

Not only was it a unique lesson in using herbs, spices and vegetables, but I learned a lot about making drinks and mixology in general. Here are some of Anthony’s tips for perfect cocktails:

*Whenever you muddle ingredients, there’s no need to mash it into a paste. Muddle just enough to get the flavor of the ingredient into the alcohol you’ll use.

*Ice is an ingredient. Cocktails are meant to be slightly watered down.

*Don’t buy an expensive cocktail shaker. Have you ever seen one in a bar? They’re not necessary. Buy a 28-ounce stainless steel shaker and cap it with a 16-ounce glass. Get yourself a strainer, and that’s all you need.

*When using your own cocktail shaker place a hand on the top and bottom and shake rigorously up and down until frost forms on the outside of the steel shaker.

Anthony ended the class by encouraging the students, “you now have more knowledge than 80% of the bartenders out there. Everyone is going to want to come to your home for drinks from now on.” Bring on the holidays!

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