Shaken & Stirred: A Stout Beer Cocktail—and a Lesson in Schooling

by Michael Cecconi

To teach. Perchance to learn. Aye, there’s the rub.

How to teach:

Shall I berate you? Shall I coddle you? Am I your best friend or your worst enemy. Are you to be led by example? Micromanaged into a box in which your true potential can be realized? And do we ever stop needing teachers in our lives? Can we, on our own, stop, climb up on that desk in order to get a new view of the room, and shout “Carpe Diem”? When will we rise up, armed with the knowledge of calculus, to overthrow our Gringo Overlords? Was that “wax on” with the right hand or the left? Who can make us fulfill our promise beyond our natural talent to truly be the man now, dog? And if that teacher is a heroin addict, could the lesson of the day be to pay it forward? And though a teacher can lead us to water, can they trigger the cognitive leap of signifier-referent connection and provide a bridge of communication?

KarateKidBonus points if you can list the six references in the first paragraph. And maybe I won’t throw a chair at your head.

In Whiplash , J.K. Simmons is Fletcher, the tyrannical leader of a jazz band at a music school in NYC. He embodies the “berate” pedagogical method. Also the “holding students to impossible standards to realize their potential” method. As well as the “just when they are about to revolt show them your human side to reel them back in” method. Also the “I am a Machiavellian master of my domain, wherein every manipulation leads to a better player.” But, spoiler alert, he’s a driven psychopath who is basically spreading that same mentality like a disease. He has built his whole kingdom on the notion that there is only one way to create a great artist: break them down and build them up in your image. But where is the artistry in that? To not acknowledge the frail, individual vision is to merely make a bunch of asshole musicians. Insert musicians-are-assholes-who-just-happen-to-play-music joke here.

WhiplashI teach what I know: cocktails. How to make them. How to decontruct classic ingredients and formulas and rebuild them into something new. When I am training new bartenders I give them the tools, show them the way and then let them decide whether or not they can deliver on doing the job to my standards. When I am teaching interested amateurs it is the long con I am playing. Oh, I make a show of wanting them to learn, and for them to get the most out of my classes, but in reality it is all for me. The more open-minded, informed, curious drinkers I can create through my classes, the better it is for me and my bartending siblings.

School is rarely out of session. What might appear as friendly conversation is actually me sizing you up, and those suggestions? Total à la minute profiling to see how far I can push you, and how much information I can cram into your head before you realize you’ve been schooled. The main lesson I teach, all kidding aside, is that taste matters. The company with whom you drink matters. Paying attention to what you drink is an investment that yields countless dividends. And I can get you there without abuse, without anger, and the only ice I need is for the drinks, not the bloody hand ice down.HostelWhiplash , for all its talk of pushing someone to be their best and of making great artists, is nothing more than torture porn. The only difference is that our protagonist Andrew has the illusion of freedom, i.e., he is not waking up in a locked room chained to a sink with a dead body; or ready to be tortured because he thought he was going to a brothel; or having someone’s face attached to his rump-roast. But how much freedom do we really have at 18? I would say it is in inverse relation to the amount of time we have spent on our dream. How much power do authority figures wield over us? Andrew is not free to leave and Fletcher knows it. That’s how he ramps up the abuse so quickly.

Bonus points if you can list the three references in that last paragraph. And maybe I won’t invite you to the red room.


So what the fuck, pardon my French, is up with America? Whiplash is nominated for multiple Academy Awards®. 50 Shades of Grey has made a bajillion dollars in book form and its tepid transfer to film has made a bajillion more. When did this puritanical nation lose its ability to celebrate sex and insist on seeing violence and submission as the ends to so many goals (aka American Sniper-ing it)? I’d say it was the uptight settlers who found England too liberated that set us on our path. And as I look around I see that the fruition of that path is a bacchanalian celebration of violence and a prudish inability to exalt sex … the one thing (and funnest thing) we truly have in common. So if the relationship on screen is couched in violence/abuse then we, as Americans, are all in.

I understand that BDSM relationships are between consenting adults, and should, as such be discussed separately from abuse, but my larger point is this: when did we skip the stage where we could talk simply about sex without paroxysms of shame and recrimination?

So if you have the chance to come to one of my classes at Two Sisters Bar & Books in San Francisco or The Institute of Culinary Education in NYC rest assured that the lessons learned will be delicious and enlightening without all the storm and stress of assaultive pedagogy or kinky sex. And as a show of good faith, below is an incredible stout beer cocktail that will warm your cockles in the waning days of winter, Dark Matter.


Dark Matter. Photo by Jeanmarie Theobalds.

Dark Matter

  • 1 ½ oz Spiced Dark Rhum*
  • ¾ oz Simple Syrup
  • Top w/ a stout beer (2-4 ounces)

Combine rhum, syrup, and ice in mixing tin. Shake and strain into small wine or rocks glass, then top with stout. Sit back and enjoy the rich (dairy-free) creaminess that is fortified stout.

*Spiced Dark Rum:

  • 1 vanilla bean split length-wise
  • 5-8 cloves
  • 1 750 ml bottle of dark rhum (eg Barbancourt 5 Star, Brugal)

Place vanilla and cloves in rhum bottle and let sit, shaking periodically, for 2 days.

This beer cocktail continues the tradition set up by the Yerba Buena 75 (a great gin, ginger, pilsner cocktail). Where that one was tall, crisp, refreshing, the Dark Matter is more warming, soothing, and restorative. This is meant to be a tight, short sipping drink, more akin to a martini than a pint of beer. Keep it short, and don’t forget to recycle the vanilla beans! And for a simple winter highball try adding root beer to 2 ounces of the spiced rhum then top with ice.

Dark matter is that 75% of the universe that we can’t see but have surmised it is holding us together. Dark Matter is a radically smaller portion of the universe, but I like to believe that it (and all the cocktails I make) are a gravitational force for good keeping us together … in a bar.

Horizontal RuleMichaelCecconiMichael likes all things drink related. Michael likes movies. And, in an odd twist of fate, Michael loves words about movies. These three facts combine to make a perfect storm of sensibility, ability, and inebriation needed to fulfill duties at EatDrinkFilms. When not rhapsodizing about film, Michael tends the bar at Two Sisters Bar & Books in San Francisco. He teaches mixology in San Francisco and New York. And lately, he’s been trying to capture the magic of what he does in a bottle so he can spread his tasty libations across the land. Please feel free to contact him at with all queries.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s