On a recent Wednesday evening, 20 participants belly up to long, chest-high tables set with bartender tools: stir sticks, strainers and shot glasses. There are also small cups containing ingredients from a local farm: sliced melon, mint and honey.
The group hushes as Kiera Mulvey, executive director for FairShare CSA Coalition, begins to explain exactly what a mixology class is. Flanked by two two-story-tall cauldrons at the distillery for Death's Door Spirits, Mulvey talks about the importance of buying food locally and compliments the distillery for the success of their flagship line of gin. "It's a perfect mix," she says, and then laughs lightly at her inadvertent joke - "so to speak."
The Farm Fresh Mixology workshop is a wonderful evening event. A tasting, tour and brief tutorial about mixing drinks, the 90-minute class is a multifaceted introduction to seasonal foods, local businesses, and the craft and science of bartending. Held at the new distillery at 2220 Eagle Dr. on the outskirts of Middleton's industrial park, Farm Fresh Mixology is also a fundraiser for FairShare, a nonprofit that supports area farms' CSAs.
The mood is appropriately relaxed. Most participants arrive in pairs, although two men show up solo, sent there by their wives. The group mingles easily, along with a couple bartenders from Madison's trendiest restaurants and the earnest and enthused young farmer from Keewaydin Farms who supplied this evening's ingredients.
Grant Hurless, the lead bartender from Nostrano, gets down to the business of drink-making. He explains how to best put together the ingredients into his own concoction, a gin-based drink he has named "Meloncholy and GinFinite Sadness" after the old Smashing Pumpkins recording.
Hurless reminds the group to measure carefully, and not to over-muddle the melons and herbs. ("Muddling" means combining ingredients with a stick called a muddler.) The room quickly fills with intent chatter and the sound of rattling ice cubes. Just as quickly it quiets, as participants taste their drinks. It's a light, understated summer concoction, silky with a gentle, prickly fizz. The second drink is a bit sassier, a melon and mint punch. Finally, participants tour the impressive new facility that supports the rapidly expanding Death's Door.
Three more classes remain in the series. Each session costs $18. On Sept. 19, Hastings Cameron of Forequarter leads the class, with ingredients supplied by Driftless Organics. The series continues on Oct. 17 and Nov. 7. Reservations are recommended; the first session sold out quickly. Call 608-226-0300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.