Shake It Up at Forequarter’s Cocktail Classes

Local Libations

Shake It Up at Forequarter’s Cocktail Classes

By Erica Krug | Photos By Erica Krug 0

On a Saturday afternoon a few hours before service begins for the night, the Forequarter bar staff sits together eating bagels from Underground Butcher, drinking coffee and tasting whiskies. It's the bar team's monthly meeting, and topics include everything from the latest black IPA on tap to crushed ice.

Before adjourning, beverage director Mark Bystrom says he wants to make two different versions of a negroni, a drink made with Campari liqueur, gin and vermouth, because someone on staff suggested adding orange. Bystrom makes two negroni—one with a squeeze of orange and one without—for all of the bartenders to taste. The consensus among the staff, including Jenna Schmidt, Laura Romanski, Megan Tuohy, Teal Staniforth and Keezeing Vang, is that the orange softens the brace of the bitter Campari and highlights the citrus notes. "All right," Bystrom says. "Let's do that!" While consistency is the goal, it's important to Bystrom that decisions are made as a group, whether it's a classic cocktail or a collaborative recipe for a new drink, like their Netflix and Chai, made with chai vodka, rum, honey and grapefruit, currently featured on the seasonal bar menu.

Forequarter, 708 East Johnson St. in Madison, is part of the Underground Food Collective, which includes Underground Meats (their meat-product-producing kitchen), the Underground Butcher retail outlet, a catering business and a new restaurant on Madison's near-west side. Known for an innovative food and drink menu and sophisticated late-night options, Forequarter will celebrate its fifth anniversary in June. The food menu at Forequarter is driven by seasonal ingredients and the bar menu is no exception.

The Forequarter Manhattan

Sometimes drinks are created when the kitchen has an excess of ingredients, like when chef Jonny Hunter bought "a lot" of Krimzon Lee peppers, a hot chili, says bartender Teal Staniforth. So the bar staff juiced the peppers and made a syrup and came up with a drink made with mezcal. When melons were at their peak this past summer, they created the John Muir cocktail, featuring melon syrup, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. national parks system.

The bar staff also has a running list of ingredients that they are interested in using in new drinks, and everyone gets to take a turn playing around to dream up a recipe. The Netflix and Chai was created after Staniforth said she wanted to make a drink with chai. Another current ingredient on the list is yogurt.

Forequarter bartender and beverage director Mark Bystrom

Forequarter bartender Teal Staniforth

In addition to mixing up drinks seven days a week, Forequarter now also offers cocktail classes for guests who’d like to learn how to make classic drinks like the old fashioned, martini, and daiquiri at home. The class, led by Bystrom and Staniforth, starts with a spread of snacks and a glass of bubbly as guests mingle, and then the class members have a seat at the bar. Before launching into the recipe for the first drink, a traditional old fashioned, Bystrom wants the guests to know that once you know the basics of making a drink, you don't need a bunch of fancy tools. "Anything with a lid can be your shaker," Bystrom says. "A knife can be your stirrer." Bystrom's message is clear: "Don't be intimidated," he says with a smile.

Participants learning how to shake a drink.

The two-and-a-half hour class includes a lunch of ground lamb tacos. By the time 2:00 p.m. rolls around, the guests have shaken and stirred five drinks: an old fashioned, tom collins, daiquiri, martini, and manhattan. Important tips have been shared by Bystrom and Staniforth, including to think of making cocktails in terms of "ratios" and not "volumes," and that a classic daiquiri can—and should—be made without a blender. There has been some laughing, too, especially at the end of the class when one of the guests asks Bystrom what his favorite drink is to make. Without skipping a beat Bystrom replies, "A shot and a beer."

The Forequarter cocktail classes are a fun, laid-back way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and you’ll learn something new, too. Upcoming classes will be held on February 11, March 11, April 8 and May 13. A "200 level" class, for people who have taken the first class, will be held on February 25. More information is available at

A big thank you to the Forequarter for sharing their simple, classic Daiquiri recipe with us. 

Erica Krug lives in Madison where she works as a freelance writer and photographer. Inspired by one of her favorite food writers, Molly Wizenberg, Erica created a blog in 2010 called Wisconsin Fun Next Exit, where she writes about vegetarian food and life in the Midwest.

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