Cocktails are a delicious but potentially expensive commodity, and for those with a penchant for this particular treat it might be worth booking into some classes to recreate the classics at home. Or maybe you just really love the stuff and want to learn more. But where to start? The following is a list of our top picks — from the most feted to those that should be better known. They cover all occasions and we've even thrown in some with cooking included, a couple of stay-at-home options (laaaaazy) and a course where you can distil your own hooch.
All prices are per person, and all include a turn (or two) behind the bar to make up your own drinks.
The Bar With No Name (AKA: 69 Colebrook Row)
Great for: Beginners, advanced, groups, couples
Capacity: Maximum 25 people
When: Saturdays, 2-4pm
One of the most famous bars on our list, opened by bar-tending legend Tony Conigliaro, hosts a regular series of ever-changing, top-notch masterclasses. A balance of history, hands-on practical application and openly encouraged Q&A make this an accessible session. Each class runs along a theme or spirit ranging from a classic Champagne focus to a Mad Men themed afternoon of merriment. The venue is also releasing a book, with a one-off masterclass to go with it, which takes place on 16 August 2014.
The Bar With No Name, 69 Colebrooke Row, London, N1 8AA. 07540 528 593.
Great for: beginners/intermediate, recreating at home, groups, parties, booze lovers, stomach lining
Capacity: 6-20 people
Cost: £35, £55 with dinner at nearby Penkul & Banks
One of Rivington Street’s finest and a regular on the ‘World’s 50 Best Bars’ list for quite a few years now, Callooh Callay holds two hour long masterclasses in the secluded members only Upstairs Bar (formerly known as the Jub Jub). The event includes a cocktail on arrival, a six-strong drink demonstration and recipes that can easily be replicated at home. Don’t drink, can’t drink? The class can be amended to accommodate pregnant/heavily hungover/teetotal members of your group.
Callooh Callay, 65 Rivington Street, London, EC2A 3A. 020 7739 4781
Harvey Nichols' Champagne Bar
Great for: Absolute beginners, groups, couples, stomach lining, early risers
When: Every Saturday, 8.30am
Cost: £60 (light breakfast and restaurant lunch included)
Led by dynamic Italian Stani Visciano, this class strikes a perfect balance of iconic glamour without any stuffy formality. With a pre-breakfast and post-class lunch included, it maintains a civilised air. The emphasis is on the basics — from the importance of freshness to how to use a bar spoon (pro tip: don’t hit people with it; it makes them angry for some reason). Participants are guided through the classics and the tutelage is hands-on, making this perfect for anyone who’s never held a shaker, let alone fine-strained before.
Harvey Nichols, 109-125 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RJ
Great for: Hardcore martini lovers, special occasions, multi-linguals
Capacity: 6-8 people
Cost: £95 + service charge
The classic martini is the signature serve here and bar manager Alessandro Palazzi educates on how to make this simple tipple perfectly. If you hail from Italy, France or Spain, you’re in luck, as the talented Mr Palazzi speaks your language. The version here is zesty and dry — and by dry we mean just a spritz of vermouth with your choice of frozen gin (yes) or vodka (no — that’s not a real martini, sorry). Each person gets one martini during the lesson and, while it’s not exactly cheap, you can be guaranteed it’ll be one of the best you’ve ever had. While we’re here — did you know that -7 degrees is considered to be the ideal temperature for the perfect martini? You do now.
Dukes, St James's Place, London, SW1A 1NY. 0207 491 4840
London Cocktail Club
Great for: Beginners, advanced, drinks geeks, recreating at home, parties, people who can handle their liquor
Capacity: Maximum 25 people
Cost: £35-£45. Non-alcoholic option available on request
Be warned — this is a very boozy, feel-good affair (unless you opt for non-alcoholic). It starts with a welcome cocktail, typically a bellini, ends with an espresso martini and has a whole load in between. The class is flexible so there’s room for requests, and there’s a range of simple-to-recreate pop-culture staples in addition to the opportunity to taste some serious barside-only treats such as the bacon martini (a tangible manifestation of two of the best things ever) and the irreverently named Brixton Riot — which includes fire. The focus here is on having fun and, obviously, drinking. A lot. Don’t make plans for afterwards, chances are, you won’t be sticking to them.
London Cocktail Club, various locations — check the website for your nearest branch.
Peg + Patriot
Great for: Beginners, advanced, drinks geeks, groups
Capacity: 6-12 or 20-40 people
Cost: £50, £60, £70
The latest venture from the creative force behind Purl, Worship Street Whistling Shop and Talented Mr Fox has set up shop in Bethnal Green and has three masterclasses on offer. The Ultra Classics class (£50) features the likes of the famous martini, while the Drinks Through the Ages class (£60) traces a path through the ever-changing drinks landscape. Then there’s the Ultra Modern class (£70) where we can only begin to imagine what the purveyors of Marmite martinis, salt beef sazaracs and ant protein will come up with.
Peg + Patriot, Patriot Square, London E2 9NF
Great for: Rum lovers, drinks geeks, fully tailor made
Cost: From £40
For a tailor-made, bespoke experience, this hidden subterranean bar will curate a two-hour masterclass to your exact(ing) requirements. They have a range of spirits, but rum is at the burning tiki heart of the place. And to get a class here is to learn about the history, distillation process and story behind the birth of whatever drink you opt for (but seriously, just choose the rum). Be prepared for plenty of tastings (with beard stroking and sage nodding) before getting stuck into the cocktail constructions and — should you be the competitive type — races, games and assorted challenges, which will in no way get harder the more you drink. No sir.
Trailer Happiness, 177 Portobello Rd, London W11 2D. 020 7041 9833
Want more than cocktails in London bars? See some further ideas below:
Cooking And Cocktails
If you want food to feature more in your class — which is a good idea considering how hungry you’ll get afterwards — try out a dim sum masterclass, before you shake up a storm. School of Wok handle the food, while drinks experts Blackleaf take care of the booze.
Classes At Home
If you want a masterclass from the comfort of your own home or you’re a non-Londoner reading this (Hello! Come over to the Big Smoke — it’s great here) there are plenty of options, including Organic Spirit, who have experience in both large-scale events and small, intimate gatherings. Also, purveyors of quality mail-order spirits and gift sets Alexander & James have a ‘Mixology at Home’ string to their boozy bow, with prices starting from about £2,000.
Distilling Your Own
If the drinks classes are child’s play to you — get serious and distill your own. If you’ve always wanted to make your own gin, head to the Ginstitute where you not only distill your own unique bottle under the expert guidance of Jake F Burger, but your gin is kept on file, ready to be ordered whenever, forever.
And if you’re more into Asian alcohol, you can book in a session with the ‘shochu master’ at Shochu Lounge, the bar under Roka, just off Goodge Street.