SF Mixology aims to add depth, pizzazz and a 21st Century sheen to an already bustling ‘bartending school’ industry with a mixture of interactive classes, team building workshops and unique events – with the emphasis on that evergreen favourite, the cocktail.
Since September 2009, founder Shawn Refoua – a vastly experienced program director and student of behavioural psychology – has spent six years creating and perfecting his academy, combining his expertise of group dynamics with knowledge of bartending methodology, bar etiquette and alcohol which he gained along the way. Attitudes to alcohol and how we as a society drink it are changing rapidly, and Shawn and his team at SF Mixology (SFM) are dedicated to growing people’s understanding of this cultural shift via a series of fun, hands-on and immersive programs.
While SF Mixology’s HQ is located amongst the leafy plazas of San Francisco’s South Financial District – just a stone’s throw from the Oakland Bay Bridge and the Embarcadero on the waterfront – classes are run out of two lively, popular venues: the celebrity haunt of Infusion Lounge in the city’s downtown, and Taste Restaurant and Nightclub in nearby Santa Clara; both offer students a chance to experience a busy, working bar atmosphere as they learn.
SFM’s flagship course is the ‘Essential Mixology’ program running out of Infusion Lounge: a six hour, one day intensive package of modules for pro bar keeps or serious drinks enthusiasts, and which costs $300. Crammed into the training are topics such as flavour structure and enhancement, latest bartending trends, using homemade syrups and bitters, and stirring versus shaking. On top of this, students are taught about special garnishes, when to use different liqueurs, and producing your own cocktails, with the opportunity to compete against other teams on the course for the best drinks. The aim here is to push experienced bartenders to the next level of excellence.
The ‘Intro to Mixology’ course ($199) operates out of both San Francisco and Santa Clara. It is designed to teach beginners the historical and practical sides of drinks creation, while giving a crash course in bartending skills, and allows students to participate in hands-on segments where cocktails are prepared, bar equipment is used, and the results of your almost-scientific concoctions are tasted and shared with other pupils.
Also at Infusion Lounge, and costing $199, SF Mixology run a two hour ‘Spirits Evolution’ class which combines lectures and tastings to teach you the history of alcohol. You will discover fascinating facts drawn from two centuries of alcohol development and growth across the world, and learn the backgrounds of a variety of drinks, including rum, tequila and cognac.
In keeping with the company’s desire to spread the good word about cocktails as far and wide as possible, it organises a number of other fun activities via its website. Team Building exercises are available, which can be tailored to your group or party whatever their needs, and can include sit-down lunches or dinners as well as theatrical presentations. Cocktail Competition Programs can also form a part of the day, while Shawn and his colleagues will guide your staff through the fundamentals of bartending, give you the skills to make drinks, and get everybody working as a team.
Meanwhile, SFM offers several a ‘Private Events’ service which can cater for a small, intimate gathering or large corporate party, and includes cocktail ‘drinks packages’, bar service, staff supply – from a single bar keep to a full team to keep the alcohol flowing and guests happy – and even interactive sections where partygoers can make cocktails at their own drinks station, or take the aforementioned ‘Intro to Mixology’ course during the event. Costs vary and depend upon the package required, and have to be discussed with SF Mixology via the website.
Finally, the company runs consulting and training sessions for businesses and individuals, and people working in the hospitality industry. Numerous venues in San Francisco have taken advantage of SFM’s services in this respect, with Shawn and his team offering education on mixology and bartending, help to create drinks menus, staff training and hiring, and researching stock, equipment and suppliers.
Such is SF Mixology’s reputation now that their list of previous clients reads like a Who’s Who of the tech and social media world, including Google, LinkedIn and Twitter. Shawn himself has personally coached more than two thousand students who have gone on to enter the bartending world, and proudly boasts that he has trained bartenders currently working in almost every bar in San Francisco.