Julie Reiner and Francesco Lafranconi Lead Farm to Glass Mixology Seminar at Hawaii Food and Wine Festival

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Cocktail Class Hawaii

Hawaii already had an easy way of attracting food and beverage stars to mix work with tropical pleasure, but Honolulu took matters to another level in 2011 with the advent of the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival. On October 1, as part of the three-day event series, Las Vegas-based mixologist Francesco Lafranconi taught alongside vaunted New York bartender Julie Reiner at a farm to glass mixology class. Curious tourists and local cocktail pros filled a room above the Lewers Lounge in Waikiki’s grand Halekulani Hotel . Happily (or sadly?), this wasn’t my first class that came with six cocktails, but it was the most fun, concise and informative class.

Cocktail Class Hawaii
Julie Reiner has gained acclaim at Flatiron Lounge, Clover Club and Lani Kai, but grew up on Oahu’s Waialae Iki Ridge, where mom made tequila and mango cocktails with excess fruit from the house. She started us with a Southside Fizz, a shaken Champagne cocktail with gin, citrus, cucumber and mint that she described as “the drink for gin haters.” She muddled 8 -10 mint leaves with 2 slices of seedless English cucumbers and 1 oz. simple syrup, reminding us to “never muddle dry.” She added 2 oz. of Plymouth Gin, 3/4 oz. “fresh squeezed lime juice,” squeezed to order to avoid oxidation. She shook with Kold Draft ice – big “cocktail ice” to avoid dilution – and used metal on metal to better conduct the cold. “Shake it like you mean it.” Reiner fine strained over fresh ice so it’s not watery, and topped the drink with champagne to dry it.

Cocktail Class Hawaii
When the “students” arrived, they found a decorative mise en place with all the bottles and fruits Reiner and Lafranconi would need to make cocktails, and more. In general, Reiner said it’s key to “know what you’re working with.” Constantly ask why you’re using each ingredient. “If it doesn’t cone through in the glass, you shouldn’t use it.”

Lafranconi’s first drink involved kalamansi (Filipino lime) and local basil. His Inka Mama Fizz was a Pisco sour with Barsol pisco, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, and egg white, an emulsifier that adds “texture and foam.” He utilized more island ingredients to achieve the desired effect of “a little bit of Italianity with some Hawaiian flair,” including guava soda and strawberries soaked in Campari. The final touch: “Release the magic of lime zest.”

Lafranconi said to start building cocktails with dry ingredients before adding liquor. He added another key element: “You’ve got to show enthusiasm.”

Cocktail Class Hawaii
Reiner discussed farmers market finds like ginger. She runs ginger through a juice extractor to create agave syrup and soda. She steeps for hour with lime juice and brown sugar.

She showcased Maria Sin Sangre a “bloodless Mary” brunch option at her pre-Prohibition style bar in Brooklyn, Clover Club. She used 8 basil leaves and 4 cherry tomatoes, saying, “In Brooklyn I need six of them to get the juice I need.” She added 1 oz. simple syrup and muddled before adding dry sack, a medium dry sherry that blends Pedro Ximenez and Palomini grapes – which “just adds such interesting depth to cocktails and nutty flavors.” In goes 2 oz. Don Julio Blanco Tequila, 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice to “balance out the sugar content,” a dash of ground pepper and a pinch of salt. Reiner said Thai basil adds extra spice, if people are considering tweaks. Lafranconi suggested pairing with bruschetta with goat cheese and balsamic glaze.

Throughout the event, our teachers made multiple suggestions on how to improve cocktails. Reiner said that making ice the night before will absorb surrounding flavors. Lafranconi said one possible solution is to bag the ice to avoid aroma absorption.

Making punch for party reduces labor and frees up time for host enjoyment. Use “Punch ice” which involves a 24-hour freeze. Lafranconi suggested freezing hot water, which leads to clear ice.

Reiner and Lafranconi discussed the Anatomy of the Cocktail, beginning with 1.5 – 2 oz. spirit. Alcoholic modifier is half the amount of spirit due to intensity, anywhere from 0.5 – 0.75 oz. Add bitter-aromatic components, drops/dashes. Something sour or astringent falls in the 0.5 – 1 oz. range. A non-alcoholic modifier runs 0.35 – 0.4 oz. Sweetener, if needed, accounts for 0.35 – 1 oz.

Reiner and Lafranconi coached two people for five minutes to make “Hawaiian fresh produce cocktails” and then three people judged “Iron Chef”-style. “Julie and I are very competitive,” said Lafranconi. “We are going to go to war here at the Halekulani.” Holly and Reiner made a Ginger Rogers with mint and muddled ginger syrup, lemon juice and Hayman’s Old Tom Gin. Terry and Lafranconi made Hawaiian Sangria with berries, kalamansi, simple syrup, Ketel One vodka and champagne. Holly and Reiner won on votes, but other attendees still got plenty of good info (and cocktails), so nobody really lost.

Note: Oahu Visitors Bureau organized a six-day island tour, and my complimentary admission to Hawaii Food & Wine was part of the experience.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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