I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an evening called “Drinking Lessons”. I knew I signed up for a $50 “class” with 12 other people, I knew it took place at the bar in Sorrento’s Hunt Club restaurant, and I knew that on this evening we’d have the rare privilege of being students of Seattle’s most renowned bartender, Murray Stenson. But that was about it.
As it turns out, the details were missing intentionally. This project, part of an ongoing series, was the brainchild of OnePot’s Michael Hebb, who has been working with the Sorrento Hotel to create a greater presence between the historic hotel and the community. As Hebb introduced Murray, he told us that there was no syllabus, and that each evening would be left entirely up to the visiting bartender (/professor). And so it was, and it was good.
With little fanfare, but a deep respect from the dozen or so eager drinkers who lined the bar, Murray took center stage. He, too, wasn’t quite sure how the evening would unfold, or what to expect from his “students” that night. As we introduced ourselves to Murray and each other, one pattern emerged: we all had a good appreciation for a great drink.
Murray began mixing the first round almost as if by instinct. He narrated his actions, describing the character and tone of the liquors he poured. He discussed the use of bitters and the spectrum of other aromatics that are rare on American bars. He talked about his favorite Seattle bars, and recalled the best drink he’d ever had, and shared his thoughts on the classic Manhattan and Martini as the real test of a bartender. The whole time his hands pouring, stirring, straining and serving, seemingly independent of the rest of his body.
Foodista’s got a great writeup of the evening, complete with Murray’s recipes, so I’ll skip the details. But, if you’re even a little curious about what you can learn from an experienced bartender in two hours in a historic hotel bar, I’d recommend you sign yourself up soon. Here’s a hint: what’ you learn about liquor isn’t half the wisdom that someone like Murray has to share.