Black Door is a dark, no-frills Chelsea bar; a low-key hangout that few could find something to complain about. This bar is as unpretentious as they come, but with a classy crowd; the atmosphere is quiet enough for one to have a solid conversation, but the last way to describe this place would be stuffy or boring. And most importantly, down- and up-towners alike turn out at Black Door for one key reason – the drinks are flat-out delicious.
Black Door is a cocktail maven’s sort of bar; there are no beers on tap (though there are upwards of twenty available by the bottle, as well as a baker’s dozen varieties of wine), and so it was fitting that this was the bar I journeyed to last night for a quick lesson in cocktail making, just in time for one of the biggest drinking holidays in American culture, Halloween.
The Halloween Cocktails Class was being thrown by TastingTable.com, who provides a daily email newsletter rounding up the best of two epicurean realms – the NYC restaurant news circuit, and recipes provided by NYC’s celebri-chefs – making it the perfect newsletter for any Manhattanite foodie. The event itself was sponsored by Ketel One Oranje Vodka (oranje… for Halloween… hmm, wonder if that was on purpose…) And the best part was, this class was totally free to all attendees, who were chosen winners of an internet sweepstakes promotion run on a TastingTable newsletter a few weeks back.
As someone who is rather skeptical of most cooking and/or cocktail classes, usually assuming you won’t get quite as much as you paid for, my expectations for this free event were somewhat (realistically) low. But much to my delight, they were quickly blown out of the water by the very well done event that TastingTable had put together. Upon arriving at Black Door, my guest and I were escorted through the dimly lit main room to a much more elegant, brightly lit back room, where the doorway was flanked by hostesses with guest lists and many well-clad New Yorkers had already begun to mingle. One side of the room was lined by a fine wooden bar, backdropped by a large carved mirror upon which cocktails and prices were scrawled in white marker.
With the event welcoming guests at 6:30, and officially starting at 7, neither myself nor my friend had had time for dinner, and we were extremely psyched to find not just finger foods, but a veritable smorgasbord of charcuterie (an autumn staple) as a preface to the main event. There were thick hunks of soft country bread, a heaping platter of mortadella, prosciutto, salami, and Genoa, piles upon piles of various cheeses, including a triple cream brie, crumbly sharp cheddar, and tart pecorino. There were also crackers and bread sticks and teeny tiny pickles. All in all, I was impressed. All this, for free? In Manhattan, no less? As a well-dressed cocktail waitress handed me an orange Ketel One concoction, I thought to myself, I must be dreaming…
But the dream was only to get better! At 7pm sharp, our attention was drawn from the cocktails, cuisine, and conversation by the soft clinking of a knife against a glass, and we turned to find a man in a suit standing atop a chair, smiling down at the crowd. He welcomed us, expressing his excitement for the evening ahead, and providing TastingTable’s shameless plug. But really, he wasted no time in getting to the main event, introducing us to who was essentially to be our EmCee, teacher, and entertainment for the evening: Toby Maloney.
For those of you who don’t know who Toby Maloney is (which I certainly did not before last night), apparently this guy is a bit of a bartending legend in NYC. Once the beverage director at the Rusty Knot, Maloney has also whipped up cocktails at famous New York watering holes such as Milk & Honey, Pegu Club (and who doesn’t love their Champagne Opportunities!) and now, Black Door. He also opened the famed bar, The Violet Hour, in Chicago a few years back, seriously upping the ante on Chi-town’s haute-cocktail culture. He is mixoligist meets Alton Brown meets Neal Cafferty meets your neighborhood Irish pub bartender, and as he spun bottles and dazzled the crowd last night, I got the feeling it wouldn’t be long before he had his own Food Network show. For more on the magic of Maloney, click here. But now, onto the tremendous lessons and recipes in cocktail making that he imparted onto us!
The first lesson that Maloney enforced on cocktail making was to always taste as you go. Seems simple, and pretty obvious, right? This is something that I do all the time with cooking – how else can you know if you’re on the right track before you create your finished product? – but a rule I rarely put into place when mixing drinks. As such, Toby took the opportunity to taste all the various liquors he was working with as he went, throwing back half-shots of Oranje Vodka, peach and ginger liqueurs, and smiling as he said, “Yup – that’s how that tastes!”
The second lesson he taught us, which goes hand in hand with the “taste as you go” mantra, is that ice is water. Again, simple. Why didn’t I think of that? Okay, everyone knows that ice is water, but what most of us don’t consider is that when you make a drink, the way it tastes before you pour it over ice is not the way it’s going to taste in ten minutes. The ice will melt, and the drink will evolve, and unless it’s a shot, chances are good that you’ll be enjoying that cocktail for a while. So in tasting your recipe, ebb on the side of stronger and more flavorful, even if it seems a bit too much in the moment. In about five minutes, your drink will have achieved a perfect balance.
Maloney also taught us some good stuff about batching drinks, using various types of sodas or sparkling beverages to provide effervescence and complexity to our cocktails, not to mention indulged us with a little bartender showmanship. But the best part of this lesson was that after each demonstration, we were instructed to break into small groups, head to our own personal cocktail making station, and get to work putting our newfound knowledge into action. And of course, we got to “sample” (read: drink full glasses, topped off more than once, of) the finish products. All of these cocktails were made with Ketel One Oranje Vodka, which was really quite delicious and would be great on the rocks or with a splash of soda, but if you prefer another brand you could certainly sub in any orange-flavored vodka.
That being said, here’s what we learned to make, listed in order from good, to great, to un-freaking-real. Keep in mind that all these recipes are for “batches” of drinks, so if you want to make one for just yourself (I don’t recommend this, mostly because whoever you serve these to will love you forever if you make these for them), just divide all the proportions by the number of people the batch will serve, and you’ve got just enough for one.
Ketel One Fizz – Serves 8 imbibers
- 1 1/2 cups of Ketel One Oranje
- 1/2 cup of fresh lime juice (this must must must be fresh. Toby will come kick your ass if it’s not)
- 1/4 cup of simple syrup (1 part sugar + 1 part water = 3 parts delicious. Mixologist synergy, if you will)
- Club soda (we used one can for the whole pitcher, and that was plenty)
- Lime and orange wheels, for garnish.
Fill a pitcher with ice. Add the lime juice and simple syrup (Taste!) and then add the Ketel One. Stir well, taste some more. Pour into ice-topped collins glasses and top with club soda. Garnish each glass with one lime and one orange wheel, and serve. Or drink yourself. Either way.
Reformation Day – Makes 10 drinks
- 1 1/4 cups Ketel One Oranje
- 1/2 cups Stirrings Peach Liqueur
- 2 cups of orange juice (freshly squeezed is preferred, no-pulp is a must)
- Lemon-lime soda (a can of 7-Up will do)
- Lime wedges for garnish
Fill a pitcher with ice, then add the Ketel One Oranje, peach liqueur, and orange juice. Stir well, taste test, adjust ingredients as needed. This should taste strong in the pitcher, as the soda will dilute this significantly. Pour into ice topped low-ball glasses and top each with soda. Garnish with lime wedges and proceed to get very happy.
The Bite – Makes 12-14 drinks
This drink is a bit drier than the others, making it the ideal follow-up to the first two cocktails, which were on the sweeter side. It’s got a great complexity of flavor from the combination of ginger and Angostura bitters, and is definitely the way to go if you’re looking to wow your Halloween guests with your new-found mixology skills and sophisticated palate.
- 2 cups of Ketel One Oranje (yep, 2 cups. Get in there!)
- 1 1/2 cups of Stirrings Ginger Liqueur
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) of Angostura Bitters
- Ginger ale
- Lime wedges, for garnish
You know the drill – fill a pitcher with ice, add the Ketel One Oranje, Stirrings Ginger Liqueur, and bitters. I’ll say this – our team went a little heavy on both the vodka and the bitters, and in the pitcher, one taste of this made all our eyebrows go up. But, since it was our third drink, we decided to go with it, and once we poured the pitcher’s contents over ice and topped it off with ginger ale, this drink was unbelievable. The sweetness of the soda balanced the bitterness of the alcohol, and all that was left was a light, somewhat savory ginger flavor that none of us could get enough of.
Garnish with a lime wedge, and enjoy the fact that getting older means you can replace Halloween candy with treats like this one :) Hope everyone has a very Happy Halloween!!