(c) Time Out Amsterdam, June 2011. Photos by Marie-Charlotte Peze.
After climbing onto her barstool, Emma Jelinkova, 10, waved her hand slowly in front of her 8-year old sister’s face. ‘Josefina? Can you see me?’ As their eyes adjusted to the dearth of natural light, my six companions, aged 8 to 13, took in the swanky, art deco style of Door 74, where I’d brought them for a cocktail-mixing workshop.
The children rested their elbows on the bar like mini-regulars. The sight was like, say, a dog in a turtleneck. It didn’t seem right, but it was irresistibly cute. ‘What is this place?’ asked 8-year-old Olivia Carey, large green eyes gazing at the array of bottles and fruits and other mixing agents before her.
Behind the bar, award-winning cocktail maker Timo Janse, offered a diplomatic answer: ‘This is somewhere people come when they want to meet their friends, to relax. While they do, I make them some drinks.’ Put that way, a cocktail bar seemed a perfectly appropriate place to bring children.
Janse, author of ‘Shake-It’, a cocktail recipe book for kids, explained to my shakers-in-the-making that they would each be creating their own drinks. Although he started by saying ‘there are no rules’ to bartending, he offered a pointer: ‘You have to have a little bit of sour taste and a little bit of sweet, and you find the right balance for yourself.’ He encouraged the group to be imaginative. ‘If you really like a sweet drink, you can make it with bubble gum or chocolate sprinkles.’ Then he blew their minds by adding that they could even make drinks with pure gold.
'I would just put all the fruits in the whole world in a bowl and squish them all up together with ice cream and yogurt!’ cried Olivia, her high-pitch English accent soaring over the other voices. The other kids loved this idea but Janse counseled, ‘If it tastes like everything, it tastes like nothing.’
Janse invited Freya Lowe, 9, to join him behind the bar (‘a magic place,’ he said). Wearing a green hoodie and sporting a ponytail, Freya was a sharp visual contrast to the tall, dark, impeccably dressed bartender. He taught her how to measure with a jigger and to use a muddle to create her strawberry, lime and mineral water cocktail. ‘I dare you to drink it!’ the others called out as Freya carefully carried her overflowing creation back to her barstool.
Next up was 9-year old Lola-Sophia Goldman-Webb, who stepped up to the bar wearing a white shawl. Janse suggested she remove it before vigorously shaking Ernest, the penguin-shaped shaker, to create her mixture of blueberries, red currants, strawberries, lemons and cranberry juice.
Emma confessed that she prefers sour flavours to sweet, so she juiced a lemon with a Mexican elbow to create her lemon, lime, orange and ginger beer cocktail while her sister Josefina learned to use a pestle and mortar to grind lime and sugar for her watermelon-based concoction.
Saul-Patrick Goldman-Webb, 13, was feeling bold and spicy, combining hot chilies with vanilla, lemon and cranberry juice. Fruit fanatic Olivia used a strainer to pour her mixture of blueberries, strawberries, oranges, mint and pineapple. The end result was the same bright ginger colour as her hair, and her appreciation for its taste could not be contained. ‘So good!’ she called out, before quickly returning her straw to her mouth.
A variety of glassware was used – some of it more than 50 years old – from delicate champagne flutes to silver-plated lowball glasses to a chunky goblet with a face. Janse stressed the importance garnishing – ‘Pretty drinks taste better’ – offering the likes of ginger, chili peppers and edible flowers as options.
When everyone had downed their potions, Janse gave each participant his business card, ‘in case you want to email me a good recipe.’ High on natural sugar and with berry-stained grins, my budding mixologists reluctantly dismounted their barstools. As they prepared to face the bright, busy street outside, part of me wondered if this early introduction to cocktail culture would encourage them to become drinkers, the way chocolate cigarettes make kids think smoking might be cool. Could kiddie cocktails be a gateway drug?
‘People think a cocktail is about alcohol,’ Janse answered, ‘but it’s really about the balance of tastes.’ He encourages kids to experiment with different flavours, from passion fruit to peanut butter, from basil to chocolate and to explore with all their senses. I’ll definitely drink to that.
To organise a workshop for kids, contact Timo Janse at email@example.com. His book, in Dutch only, is available on bol.com.