Golden Era’s Cocktail 101 class

“WE’RE GOING TO SHAKE, MAKE AND measure together,” said veteran bartender Eric Giardina, standing behind the restored 1890s-bar at Golden Era Lounge with a shaker and strainer in hand.

And with that, a dozen of us sitting on the barstools at the swank Nevada City lounge immerse ourselves into the world of mixology for the next two hours in “Cocktails 101.” The class, taught by mixology “pros,” is the latest example of the emerging craft cocktail scene in the foothills.

Under Eric’s tutelage, we learned about the history of cocktails (while sipping a Prospector Punch). Some highlights: Punch recipes made with liquor, sugar, water, citrus and spices date back to the 1600s. Modern cocktails are merely single-serving punches.

The first written record of the cocktail was 1803, called a “bittered sling.” The block ice trade, dating back to the 1800s, revolutionized cocktails. And the first cocktail book, “The Bon Vivant’s Companion” contained over 235 recipes.

We learned about the tools of the trade, including a metal-on-metal shaker (28 oz. tin and an 18 oz. tin), a julep strainer (resembling a tea strainer), a Hawthorne strainer (flat disc with a wire coil around the edge), a bar spoon and a jigger (for measuring).

We learned about ingredients: “A drink is only as good as its weakest ingredients.” Fresh citrus is a sign of a quality bar. And homemade bitters and syrups make the perfect handcrafted cocktail.

Then we made three drinks—a Margarita, a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned—perfecting the art of mixing, shaking and stirring.

“We shake a cocktail when we want to blend dissimilar ingredients (syrup, citrus and egg whites) and we stir a cocktail when we want to bring similar ingredients together (hard spirits, vermouths, and bitters),” Eric tells us. Standard shaking time is 7-16 seconds; stirring time is 35-50 revolutions.

Straining is important. Most drinks are made with a Hawthorne strainer, but a fine-mesh strainer removes particles (such as mint and ice chips) so a drinker doesn’t get a faceful of mint and crushed ice in their glass.

The classes—the first Monday of the month—are taught by Eric and Darren Crawford. Both are partners in Golden Era and seasoned bartenders from San Francisco (Devil’s Acre, Bourbon & Branch and Rickhouse). Moderation and responsibility is encouraged in the classes. For more information, visit

(Photo: Kial James)

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