Mixing it Up

Creating a smart cocktail with the right flavors can sometimes be daunting, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Sometimes all it takes is a cocktail guru to help tap into that libation-making potential.

That’s exactly what Marshall Carter thought.

The outlets manager at the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza in Chicago began hosting Mixology 101 classes at the hotel’s Cityscape Bar in January after a trip to New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail last July inspired him.

“I brought the idea to the food-and-beverage director, and he let me run with the idea,” Carter says.City Scape

Classes are during the second Thursday of each month, and Carter is working on the fourth class, which will focus on whiskey and scotch. And it turns out Carter has a knack for it.

“I’m constantly talking to people about spirits and the culinary sides of things, too,” he explains. After Tales of the Cocktail and numerous bartending gigs around Chicago, Carter knew that he could create a following of loyal imbibers.

Classes begin with Carter giving background on each spirit, followed by a demonstration on how to use that liquor in cocktails.

Carter works months in advance to gather information about each spirit. Before planning for the event itself and its subsequent demonstration, Carter says he “makes sure all things are in place” two weeks in advance for the cocktail-making portion.

Though Carter has covered rum and vodka in the past and has plans for tequila and gin in the future, he says whiskey “is going to be an interesting one.”

“Whiskey is becoming a drink that we’re trying to, at this time, appeal to women,” he explains. “Whiskey, bourbon, scotch have been male-dominated spirits for such a long time. My focus is not only on the history of the spirit but also include some drinks I created that appeal to women. It’s a malleable liquor. It can be marketed to women if it’s done in the correct way.”

This includes a whiskey cocktail that is “very similar to a mojito,” he says, adding, “and women love it.

Classes are free, and Carter sets a limit at 40 people, which are usually full.

While Carter demonstrates drink making for his guests, he encourages the class to be interactive. “I usually have them come up and help me. It’s all interactive, and people really learn a lot.”

“I see a lot of repeat faces,” he says, “and they really enjoy it.” Although Carter said he initially worried the class would attract only people who were interested in receiving “free tchotchkes,” he noticed the people coming on a regular basis are interested in mixology. “It adds a little pizzazz to what they’re doing." 

By gathering a following of fellow lovers of the drink, Carter is changing the Chicago drinking scene one cocktail at a time.