The Art of the Cocktail with Greg Seider

There are some men who can call others “cats” and it’s cool. Greg Seider is one of those men.

Seider took a sip of his negroni, pursed his lips and gave a nod of satisfaction. He passed around the tumbler–like a priest giving out sacramental wine–filled with the amber concoction, orange peel and large, square ice cubes to the eight attendees as a reference drink. That makes Seider Jesus and us his boozy disciples.

He started the evening chatting with us about chugging wine coolers, the first drink he ever made, the death of clubs in New York in the late ’90s and his disdain for bottle service. “Who the fuck is paying $600 for Grey Goose? Definitely people I don’t want to drink with.” Preach on my cocktail prophet. Whenever someone mentions Grey Goose I always associate a date from years ago. I suggested a date pay for a third game of bowling after I paid for the previous two. She ceased talking. Unlaced her rented fungus holders, then silently walked to my car. In one of the many regrets in my dating adventures, I asked her if she wanted to get a drink. We went to a beer-focused bar and she ordered a $15 Grey Goose and soda, There was no third game and I opted not to see her again.

Thankfully the first cocktail Seider taught us called for gin, not premium vodka. Negronis are equal parts aperol, bitters and gin. The underlying tenet to making great cocktails is to use quality ingredients.

Aaron, a former colleague and fellow craft cocktail lover, sent me the cryptic text “you have plans tonight?”

My response, as always, was “I can be free.”

He invited me to join him for a mixology class. There were no other details beyond having to jump the Brown line to the spot. With that, I shut down my laptop and layered up for the blustery evening adventure.

We found ourselves shivering and standing outside of 3701 Ravenswood, but getting in proved more difficult. The door marked for Rare Tea Cellar was locked and no one answered our knocks. We bumped into two women aiming to join the master class and they shared the same struggle. After walking the perimeter, we tried the door again. This time a man with a flowing beard (Moses?) told us we were at the wrong spot, paused, and said he was just messing with us.

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Once inside, I discovered Rare Tea Cellar is like no place I’ve ever been. It’s the three-way love child of the health section at Whole Foods, Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and what I imagine drug warehouses look like. Scanning the room while head-shaking soul music that just makes tap your foot played in the background at just the right level, I ogled shelves stacked with boxes whose contents were labeled in cursive using black sharpie. There were bags of tea neatly arranged around the large space. The center of the room was setup with tables stocked with booze, mini labeled bottles and tools.

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Negroni

  • 1 1/2 oz No. 3 London Dry Gin
  • 3/4 oz Aperol
  • 3/4 oz Dolin sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters
  • Orange peel

Negronis require stirring, so Seider showed how to do it properly. Place the bar spoon in between your middle and ring fingers, placing the spoon end neatly in the corner of your mixing glass. Then, flick the spoon around the glass with your bottom two fingers, then flick up. Like any expert in their field, Seider has developed preferences for ingredients, liquors and his tools. He rattled off differences between certain gins, and why he prefers the balance of one over another. Later he described the subtlety and smooth, vanilla characteristics of Japanese whiskey. The glassware and mixing glasses at each station were from Japan.

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During the demo of his second drink, The Guv’noh, a shaken cocktail with Japanese whiskey, he ran through how to use shakers. When serving a shaken drink, load the shaker cup about 70% full with ice. Measure and pour the ingredients in the smaller cup.

Bachelor Tip: Place your jigger level with the rim slightly overlapping that of your smaller cup when filling. This ensures you don’t spill any booze in the transition.

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The Guv’noh

  • 2 oz Yamazaki 12-year-old Japanese whiskey
  • 1/2 oz unsalted yuzu juice
  • 3/4 oz cardamom-infused agave mix
  • 1/2 oz fresh orange juice

I started yesterday’s commute listening to a podcast from Life is a Marathon. The message was similar to most other self-improvement mantras: we only have today. Set your focus to do what you love. Tomorrow isn’t a certainty, so there’s no reason to live a life you hate.

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Remember the bearded Moses from the beginning? He’s Jeremie Kittredge, Seider’s business partner in opening new spots and consulting bars on creating the right vibe. I asked him how he got to be in this spot, traveling the world opening bars.

“Dumb fucking luck. I was around the right people at the right time.”

Paging through Seider’s book Alchemy in a Glass, I learned that his path to now involved some speed bumps. The book is a must-read for cocktail lovers. Now you can learn the basics and be the one your friends call a cool cat. After moving out to L.A., he ran through his savings and moved back home. He started up again in NYC and mixed flavor profiles learned from chefs on Food Network with his knowledge of spirits and flavors. He opened The Summit Bar, which New York Magazine named Best Cocktail Bar. Then it was accolade after accolade and opening restaurants.

I spoke to Rodrick Markus, owner of Rare Tea Cellars. After showing us a large box of white truffles imported from Italy and other far off lands, he shared “I’ve been broke nearly 10 times in the past few years.”

I asked them if they checked out Untitled, one of my favorite drinking spots in Chicago. They had one more session, but said they’d be up for going out. Aaron and I opted to grab dinner then decide. We both live in the ‘burbs and had work the next day. Despite the podcast encouraging to live for today, we let tomorrow get in the way of revelry today. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to share more stories with Seider and Co. while sipping fine liquors.

Three cats all doing what they love, but their road was seldom serene. Thanks to Seider and the gang a well-made cocktail should help smooth out the bumps as you find your way.

Now, which drink will best shake off regret?

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