The Art of the Craft Cocktail

Courtesy Priya Hunter

It was a chilly Sunday afternoon and the snow guns were blowing hard preparing for opening day at Northstar California. People lounge in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe while others sat outdoors on the deck around a fire pit preparing to watch the sun set. It was an excellent time to learn how to make cocktails that warm the soul on a cold night.

The art of making a cocktail is a must-know for any hostess or host, especially with the holidays on the horizon. The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe offers a delightful opportunity in which to cozy up and learn how to craft the perfect winter cocktail from master mixologists.

I attended their Art of Mixology class with Tahoe Weekly publisher Katherine Hill and Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe communications director Shawna Faris and her husband David. The class was held at the Manzanita bar in the hotel’s large open living room. We introduced ourselves to a couple from San Francisco also taking the class. A lovely charcuterie plate with assorted meats, cheeses and nuts awaited us.

Nubbia Gamez, our gracious mixologist, welcomed us and introduced the class: “Today we will learn how to prepare a few of our new winter cocktails.” On the menu were her original creation, the White Christmas Margarita, as well as a Nutty Irishman, Old Fashioned and Negroni.

White Christmas Margarita cocktail with lime and strawberries. | Courtesy Priya Hunter

White Christmas Margarita

“I decorate the cocktail with red berries and lime so it’s red, white and green,” she said.

Her secret was cream of coconut, which gave the drink a slight white hue. She placed the ingredients on the bar and explained that cocktails are a balance of spirits, liquor and sweetener. Her margarita was prepared with 1½ ounces of tequila, ½ ounce of triple sec, 1 oz. of lime juice, 1 teaspoon of Coco Lopez and 1 teaspoon of agave.

Gamez offered a few variations such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier instead of triple sec. She shook the mixture in a copper cocktail shaker for 30 seconds with a bit of ice and strained the beverage into a glass. The delicious cocktail had a subtle hint of coconut and was rich and creamy. It boasted a lovely combination of sweet and tangy with a hint of the tropics, perfect for the holiday season.

Nutty Irishman

The Nutty Irishman was a combination of four spirits: Jameson Irish Whiskey; Frangelico, a hazelnut-flavored liquor; Disaronno amaretto, an almond-flavored liquor; and Bailey’s Irish Cream, a blend of whiskey and cream. Gamez poured a half ounce of each spirit into a glass coffee mug; we had our choice of coffee or hot chocolate, topped with whipped cream. It was a wonderful winter nightcap or holiday morning beverage — absolutely nutty, sweet scrumptiousness.

The Ritz-Carlton Old Fashioned with brandy-soaked cherries. | Courtesy Priya Hunter

Old Fashioned

Next was a choice between a Ritz-Carlton Negroni or an Old Fashioned. We were split — three for an Old Fashioned and three for a classic Italian Negroni cocktail. She decided to teach us how to make both.

“Any bourbon is a whiskey, but not any whiskey is a bourbon. Bourbon is only made in the U.S.,” she said.

Gamez prepared two Old Fashioned drinks with rye and one for me with bourbon. The rye Old Fashioned was a bit smoother while the bourbon had a dash more kick. She used agave as the sweetener in this twist on the old-school classic cocktail.

“Never shake an Old Fashioned; blend it by stirring,” she said, adding that shaking dilutes the components of the cocktail.

Ritz-Carlton Negroni

The Ritz-Carlton Negroni was fabulous and one of Gamez’s personal favorites. She poured a touch of St. George absinthe just to coat the glass, then added ¾ oz. of Hendricks Gin, Campari (an infusion of herbs and fruit) and Dolin vermouth. She added a dash of Angostura bitters and then rubbed the rim with an orange peel and squeezed the oils into the glass. She stirred the mixture for 20 seconds,

The Art of Mixology is a delightful and unique way to spend a winter afternoon or host a special event such as a birthday or bachelorette party. The class is offered on Sundays from 3 to 4 p.m. or by special arrangement. The cost is $60 per person. Reservations should be made 24 hours in advance. | ritzcarlton.com, (530) 562-3050