Cruise editor Tom Stieghorst is in Amsterdam for the christening of eight Viking Longships (four more were christened in Rostock, Germany).
Along with Heineken beer, cordials and liqueurs made by the House of Bols constitute one of Amsterdam's better-known exports. One fun excursion while in the city is to attend the distillery's bartending school in its tasting center opposite the Van Gogh Museum.
In the course of an hour, I learned to make three cocktails, all using the spirit jenever, a Dutch precursor to gin that Bols is trying to market more broadly beyond the Netherlands.
I had made a few simple cocktails before, but nothing like the three drinks that were on the menu for the evening. Each were made using a different bartending technique. And our group of amateurs received some instructions familiar to every bartender that make the professional's job harder than mixing a drink at home for friends.
For example, we were reminded to keep our eyes on the customer while making the drinks, to present customers with a napkin to acknowledge their presence before taking their order and to replace spirits bottles where we got them immediately, so our fellow bartenders could find them.
It was a lot to remember, in addition to the specific measures, ingredients and ice requirements of our drinks.
Our first test was a sweet drink dubbed a Bon-Bon. Along with jenever, the main ingredient was a butterscotch liqueur. I managed to pick the wrong bottle of jenever at the start, but after a shaky beginning I put together a serviceable drink in a few minutes.
That was a built drink, with liquid ingredients stacked in a glass of ice and stirred. Our next challenge was a shaken drink, called an Atomic Potion, served in a chilled martini glass. The base again was jenever, with squeezed lime juice, a blue Bols version of orange-flavored Curacao, and a touch of cotton candy at the end, topped with a blue foam from a spray bottle.
In addition to mastering the ingredients, the drink required a specific technique to separate the metal cup from the glass that forms the shaker. The tapping technique didn't seem hard but I looked anything but professional as I tapped two or three times and finally twisted the two apart.
Our final project was a jenever-flavored Mojito, which schooled us in mulling the mint that gives the drink part of its signature flavor. After tasting our first two creations, it was getting harder to remember all of the portions for the different ingredients.
Our instructor, David Lumulisanaij, a native of Indonesia, offered us reassurance and we finished our mojitos, which he then augmented by flaming an anise-flavored liqueur on the bar next to the glasses to add another flavor note to the mix.
Before I knew it, the hour-long class was over and we had made three not so simple drinks that looked and tasted pretty good. And we got a better appreciation of everything that goes into the anyone-can-do-it job of slinging drinks behind the bar.