Event Recap: Cocktail Classes at SAAM at Bazaar [Gallery]

By Kirk Pynchon

This past Sunday The Bazaar at Beverly Hills’ SLS Hotel hosted a small group of people there to learn about vodka and, even more pleasurable, drink vodka.

Rob Floyd, lead mixologist at The Bazaar, teaches an interactive educational series incorporating tastings, history lessons on featured spirits, and tips on how to create both classic and modern libations. This most recent class was called “From Russia With Love,” exploring, naturally, the national spirit of Russia.

Floyd started off the evening with a disclaimer: “Just a warning label; I will be entertaining most of the time, but only historically correct part of the time.” And entertaining he was! Part teacher, part mixologist and part host, Floyd talked of how vodka was first used in Russia as medicine, became standardized by Dmitri Mendeleev (inventor of the periodic table) who took vodka on as a project and officially made it 80 proof, and finally how France fell in love with vodka from, of all things, the war of 1812.

The night offered two tastings of vodka, one from the old world and one from the new. For the old world the selection was Russian Standard, which is distilled twice and has a creaminess and smoothness, almost like a vanilla or custard. From the new world came Hophead Vodka, a San Francisco-based vodka made from hops and lemon verbena, which gives it an almost gin-like quality. The tastings were complemented with black bread (as Floyd commented, “we taste like Russians would”) and with the instructions to open your mouth while you sniff the vodka to get the full effect of the aroma (contrary to popular belief, vodka is not odorless — nor tasteless).

The most interesting part of the night was Floyd explaining the best and easiest way to test the quality of vodka. Place a few drops of vodka in your hand and then rub them together; if it dries quickly that means there are no additives and that’s a high quality vodka. If it stays wet that means there’s more than just vodka in there and it’s of a cheaper quality.

Of course, this being a cocktail class, the highlight of the evening was the cocktail making. “I want us all to become liquid chefs,” said Floyd. “And mixology is to bartending like cliff diving is to jumping off a springboard.” The theme of the cocktails was vodka drinks that we all tried as novice cocktail lovers, but done in a sophisticated and upscale style. “Tonight we are all going to be 21 again, ” joked Floyd. Lemon Drops were made with chartreuse, mixed in an atomizer and then lit on fire. They were definitely not your Lemon Drops from college! Next Floyd and his assistant Mike made chocolate martinis, this with a housemade marshmallow foam. Theirs was a glorious, boozy dessert drink expertly created that eliminates all shame in drinking it.

Ringing in the new year with a bite of a rare Japanese baby peach and a wish before you eat it, Floyd pulled out one of his most entertaining (and tasty) cocktails of the class: a vodka infused with the Japanese baby peach, lemon juice, St. Germain and then topped with liquid nitrogen. It was the perfect closing cocktail, encapsulating all of the fun and charm that Floyd provided.

Ever the class act, Floyd sent everyone home with a jar filled with two vanilla beans so they could make their own vanilla-infused vodka at home. “Use a great product and you look like a genius,” instructed Floyd.