The Art of Mixology: Mastering Cocktails with Chris LeBeau
The Cookbook Creative
Welcome to the world of mixology, where science meets art to create magic in a glass.
Chris LeBeau, founder of Decoding Cocktails, is a full-time mixologist based in St. Louis, Missouri. And whether you're entertaining guests or hosting a team-building experience for your staff, Chris’s virtual and live classes can teach you everything you need to know to create cocktails that are delicious, creative, and visually stunning. Best of all, he simplifies the mixology process so you can make a lasting impression on your guests for years to come.
A trip to a boutique liquor store set Chris’s cocktail career in motion. “I went to a store called Intoxicology,” says Chris. “It’s the opposite of the big chain liquor stores. They only stock the shelves with the products they personally know and like. It gave me the urge to start experimenting more and creating drinks for friends.”
As Chris’s knowledge grew, he got books such as The Cocktail Codex, which he admits isn’t always the best book for beginners. It’s written by bartenders for bartenders. But it worked for him. “The book makes an argument that there are only six cocktails in the world,” he says. “And I remember thinking, if suddenly you don’t look at every cocktail as a one-off, but as belonging to a family of liquors, now suddenly the universe of creating this becomes a lot more like cooking.” He is a big fan of the book, The Four-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss and The Book of Cocktail Ratios by Michael Ruhlman (which won’t have you running back to the liquor store every time you try to make a new drink).
Instead of memorizing hundreds of recipes, Chris shows his clients how focusing on the right ratios can make it easy to create quality cocktails every time. For example, a classic margarita has a ratio of 2:1:1 (two parts tequila, one part lime juice, and one part orange liqueur). Once you have this ratio memorized, it's easy to create variations like a strawberry margarita or a spicy jalapeño margarita.
“Here’s another one,” he says. “A daiquiri is a three-ingredient cocktail. And if you begin to see cocktails in terms of ratios and basic technique, suddenly you realize the gin gimlet, daiquiri, whiskey sour, and lemon drop are basically the same drink (the same ratios) just with different ingredients. If you can make one, then you can actually make 12.”
If you’re ready to master mixology, Chris recommends starting with simple recipes such as margaritas or daiquiris before moving on to more complex drinks. “If you’re browsing the internet and you see someone with an eight-ingredient recipe, exit that page immediately,” he says. “Making a cocktail shouldn’t feel hard or be expensive and complex recipes are the death of cocktails for a lot of people. But once you feel confident with simple recipes, you can experiment with different ingredients like bitters, simple syrups, or infusions. The possibilities are endless, and the experimentation process is part of what makes mixology so exciting.”
Keep this in mind as you learn, too. Simple syrup, sugar, and dilution are the best weapons against booziness. If you’re trying a cocktail that is just too strong, try a little extra sugar. “I know lots of people have an aversion to sugar these days, “ says Chris, “but if you begin to pull sugar out of a cocktail, it's going to become harsher.”
Virtual Cocktail Classes
Chris hosts cocktail classes online where you can learn mixology from the comfort of your own home. You can either entertain guests with a class or you can just enjoy honing your own skills. During these classes, Chris shows you how to create classic cocktails, as shares some of his own unique creations. You'll also learn about different ratios, techniques, and ingredients.
In a recent free virtual class Chris demonstrated a 350-year-old process called Milk Clarification using a whiskey sour. The short description is that the cocktail is poured into whole milk. “When the acid and the milk interact, like with cheese, it curdles,” says Chris. “And the curds begin to bond to the pulp and the lemon and absorb the tannins in the whiskey. When you strain the cocktail, you create a very rich, textured, thick cocktail that can be kept in the refrigerator. It works with any cocktail that has a large citrus element.”
Some ideas are much easier to share in a video, so here’s Chris’s video of the Milk Clarification process.
Live Party Experiences
For those who want to have a ton of fun and take their mixology skills to the next level, Decoding Cocktails also offers live party experiences. These events are an engaging way to learn more about mixology and impress your guests. During these events, Chris provides all the necessary tools and ingredients. All you need to do is show up and have a blast. You'll learn how to create a variety of cocktails, as well as get a chance to experiment with different ingredients and techniques.
These days, Chris offers everything from team-building and corporate events to private parties. “People expect to have fun,” he says, “but they also believe this is going to be hard. After 10 or 15 minutes, people start looking around and thinking: I’m actually learning how to do this!”
Add Some Pizzazz
Here’s another book Chris recommends for home bartenders looking to learn more about technique. It’s The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler. The book covers everything from building a home bar to stocking it with essential tools and ingredients. For anyone who’s serious about learning mixology, this one is a must read.
Chris is a walking library. He suggests one last book, Brunch is Hell: Save the World by Throwing a Dinner Party. He’s taken the somewhat-irreverent book to heart and throws dinner parties every month. The idea is that nothing has to be perfect, because nobody will care. What’s important is time well spent with good friends. “Turn on some music, don’t forget to clean your bathroom, and don’t do anything too complicated,” says Chris. “Just say, ‘come over and let me make something for you.’”
Be sure to follow Chris!
Quick Tip from Elaine: Event Marketing
I spend as much time with marketing clients as I do cookbook clients and I loved talking to Chris. If you’re looking for a great opportunity for entertaining clients, this is it. When you make memories together, you build lasting relationships and earn repeat business.