When it comes to making a cocktail, to quote my favorite line in the movie Mr. Mom, “You’re doing it wrong.”

Here’s how I can be sure. I just got back from Bartender Bootcamp at St. Charles Exchange, where I had an in-depth, hands-on course on making a cocktail the right way. And I mean a course, complete with bartender books, a power-point presentation and a drink making station.


So this post is going to serve two purposes for you. First, I’ll relay to you in a Cliff’s Notes version how to make a cocktail. It’s easy, and it sure does make a big difference when you do it correctly. Second, I’ll preview some of the food at St. Charles Exchange, which is wonderful.

St. Charles Exchange’s lineup of homemade syrups and concoctions.

For starters, St. Charles Exchange is a beautiful restaurant with a great bar and great private room.


Private room


A close up of that back wall which incorporates re-purposed whiskey barrels.

I’d love to stay and peruse the place a little, but the bell is ringing, so it’s time to get to class. Our teacher is Josh Durr, proprietor of Hawthorn Beverage Group, a bar and brand consulting firm.

This night, we stuck to the Kentucky basics: The Old Fashioned, The Manhattan and The Mint Julep.

Here is the major point of the night:

Method is more important than ingredients.

Here is the basic bar set-up that you need.

Our stations: glass tumblers, jiggers, long handle mixing spoon, the appropriate cocktail glasses, towels and ice scoops. Oh, and the alcohol. That’s important too.


Small and large jiggers. A Japanese style long-handle mixing spoon.

All cocktails begin the same way.

In a large glass tumbler, measure out your shots of alcohol in the jigger and pour them into the glass.

My husband Patrick relished the opportunity to mix all the drinks at our station.

 Add other liquid components (ie. simple syrup, vermouth, bitters).

Then add ice, all the way to the top of the glass. Stir with long spoon.

Using a strainer, pour into another appropriate cup. Add ice if needed. Add garnish (ie. peel, mint).

Peeling the orange and lemon


A delicious Old-Fashioned.

Notice that the ice was added after the alcohol was measured and poured, not the other way around.  That is why I have been making a drink wrong.

Here are the recipes we made.

The Old Fashioned

  • 2 Ounces 100-proof Bourbon–we used Old Forester Signature
  • 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 Tsp Demerara Syrup (this is a simple syrup made with Demerara sugar, similar to Sugar in the Raw)
  • Lemon and orange peel
In a large glass tumbler, combine bourbon, simple syrup and bitters. Add ice to top of tumbler and stir. Strain into the proper cocktail glass. Add ice to this proper cocktail glass (they used one big ice ball). Twist peel of lemon and orange over cocktail, rub on the sides of the glass and then add to drink.

The Manhattan:

A proper Manhattan. Note: NO CHERRIES.


  • 2 ounces Rye or Bourbon–we used  Rittenhouse Rye
  • 1 ounce Vermouth–we used Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
  • 2 Dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters
  • Orange peel
 Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Stir well to dilution. Strain with a julep strainer in to a coupe glass. Garnish with an orange zest.

The Mint Julep:


  • 2 ounces Bourbon–we used Old Forester Signature
  • 1/2 ounce Demerara Syrup  (this is a simple syrup made with Demerara sugar, similar to Sugar in the Raw)
  • 4 Sprigs of fresh mint
Add mint to a silver julep glass. Lightly press mint oils to extract using a muddler. Remove mint. Add Bourbon and syrup. Stir lightly with a bar spoon to integrate ingredients. Add Scotsman ice or crushed ice. Stir well to dilution with a bar spoon. Stop dilution quickly by packing the julep with additional ice and creating a snowball effect. Be careful not to over dilute or let the liquid get to high and overflow. Add two cut in half straws to the glass. Add mint garnish carefully placed by the cut straws to make sure the mint hits the nose when drinking. Imbibe on a hot summer’s day.

Packing the ice in. Be sure to put your straw in before you do this.


Smells like the Derby….


So now you have three great drinks in your arsenal. We needed some serious food after this lesson.

The St. Charles Exchange menu is top notch. They are known for their St. Chuck Burger, made from lamb and served on an English Muffin with sharp cheddar, crisp curried onions, mint and sweet pea mayo. Not to mention the fries cooked in lamb fat.

St. Chuck Burger-actually a lamb burger on an English Muffin.

I had the Scottish Salmon and it was wonderful. This was served on a bed of spinach mousse with potato pancake and lump crab.

Scottish Salmon.

All in all, a great place to eat and drink (and learn to drink). You will never look at a cocktail the same again. And, you will most certainly not put the ice into the glass first before you pour your alcohol. Or measure it by your fingers like I’ve been doing for 20 years.