Academy of Bartending

Independent and proud of it, the Academy of Bartending is Terry Dickerson’s baby, and the culmination of a career spent teaching the fine art of tending bar.

Dickerson was an instructor at Virginia Beach’s Barmasters School for many years but decided to put her expertise to good use in her local community, striking out on her own in 2005. She was swayed by the realisation that people were willing to travel some considerable distance to sit in on her classes, and that the surrounding area really needed an injection of professionalism in its hospitality staff.

A decade later – the company has just celebrated its tenth anniversary – and her very own Academy of Bartending continues to go from strength to strength. Tucked near the pioneering Hilton Village development on the southwestern flank of the Virginia Peninsula, the school is just a block or two from the James River and Highway 60 and perfectly located for students from towns and cities such as Chesapeake, Williamsburg and even Richmond.

Mixing serious training with a real sense of fun, the Academy’s mission is ‘to teach you all the latest, greatest, most popular drinks and provide you with the all the ever-changing ABC regulations and laws’; ‘Virginia’s health codes and alcohol/licensing laws are a core plank of the curriculum, and the school itself has been recognised for this work – it is accredited by SCHEV (the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia) and is certified to include TIPS (Training in Intervention ProcedureS) training into its program.

The Academy’s neat premises in Newport News houses an impressive L-shaped mock bar setup, replete with genuine liquor bottles (although, like most schools, real alcohol is not used), and is where tips and tricks of the trade are learned and students are taught all aspects of alcohol history and trivia. Courses contain myriad modules and topics, including handling transactions during busy shifts, correct pouring methods, the different demands faced when working corporate functions, weddings or in a hectic downtown watering hole, and even appropriate dress codes. Pupils on the main training program will sit a final test which includes a practical – prepping drinks, and fast – and written exam – and Dickerson warns that no errors are allowed if you expect to pass…

The Academy of Bartending offers a handful of small courses alongside its primary teaching package: the ‘Certificate of Completion in Bartending/Mixology’. For $495 (frequently less with special offers on the company website) students get the chance to become a fully-trained mixologist via an intensive forty hour series of classes which include lectures, written work and hands-on prep of multiple drinks. More than two hundred recipes – from classic cocktails to contemporary favourites – are taught, along with beer/wine knowledge, bar equipment and their uses, setting up/closing down bar and responsible customer service (covered by the aforementioned TIPS training). This program runs every Monday and can be completed in either one (eight hours a day, Monday to Friday) or two weeks, where instruction takes place for four hours per day, either in the morning or evening.

Of the smaller courses, for those looking to extend their drinks-mixing skills at private home parties or just increase their basic alcohol knowledge, $55 gets you a four hour ‘Mixology 101’ period of instruction where you will learn everything you need to create stupendous drinks and earn the applause of friends and family at the next gathering. ‘Mixing it up with friends!’ ($200 per four people) is a variation on the 101 course, where you and at least three other friends spend three hours learning to perfect the mixing techniques of your favourite cocktails or shooters.

‘Advanced Bartending Classes’ are available, and designed for graduates who would like to further perfect their skills and abilities, or seasoned vets who feel they are becoming a little ring-rusty. The Academy occasionally includes sections on advanced beer knowledge and micro-breweries, plus advanced wine and wine appreciation modules. Finally, TIPS (already included in the ‘Certificate of Completion in Bartending/Mixology’ package) is available as a standalone course, where for $35 anyone can become certified in order to find work in a bar, club or restaurant.

Dickerson and her team also provide job placement assistance to all of the school’s alumni, along with free ongoing after-care and support to anyone who takes one of their courses. Free lifetime refreshers are always available, with ex-pupils welcomed back with open arms to sit in on a class or get stuck in to recharge those bartending batteries, while since 2006 the Academy has partnered with the iconic Hampton Coliseum in order to place students and graduates in jobs during large events and concerts.

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