It’s not every time that a night out for drinks leads to lessons on the beginning of fermentation, the cause and effect of Prohibition and the current state of cocktails in America. However, for the Museum of the American Cocktail, an evening revolving around how and why we imbibe, while actually partaking, is its reason for existing.
“It was always agriculture that was accredited with giving us civilization, but I think it’s fermentation that gave us agriculture,” says Liz Williams, president of the SoFAB Institute (which, despite its name's formatting, isn't short for anything), at Museum of the American Cocktail’s recent event in celebration of Repeal Day. As she talks, bartenders in the background shake their spirits and ice for a crowd of 50 sitting on the rooftop of the Ace Hotel, each bracing for the five rounds of cocktails to come.
This is how the museum (aka MOTAC), run by the SoFAB Institute, puts on one of its monthly cocktail seminars. This is also how the SoFAB Institute strives to become “the Smithsonian of food and drinking,” according to its vice president, Philip Dobard.
Housing MOTAC under its umbrella of food histories and education, the SoFAB Institute is a nonprofit organization that strives to inform the masses about everything from libations to legumes, with a little culture in between. The SoFAB Institute, based out of New Orleans, started its movement to educate people on food and drink back in 2008.
If SoFAB is like your grandma’s recipes and charming stories, then MOTAC is like your witty, refined and often tipsy uncle who’ll talk your ear off but somehow always relate it back to why drinking is good and necessary. And for SoFAB's new ventures in L.A., that means plenty of Pacific Rim cuisine and stories of the area’s rich cocktail background.
“Los Angeles is home to a very deep cocktail culture,” Dobard says. “If there’s a hallmark, it’s innovation and balance.”
L.A.'s history with alcohol runs deep. Places such as Dominick's, L.A. home of the Rat Pack, and Cole's, the city's first restaurant, have been serving Pimm's Cups and Moscow Mules before Jager bombs and Fireball whiskey came to town. Even during that dastardly Prohibition, L.A.'s San Antonio Winery survived by making sacramental wine for churches and synagogues.
“Los Angeles is one of the handful of global cities where you can experience virtually any ethnic cuisine both unadulterated and hybridized,” Dobard says.
Though it has no brick-and-mortar establishments in L.A. just yet, SoFAB has spent the last nine months hosting these informative, ticketed cocktail events around the county through MOTAC. Each event stands alone, and each caters to the city and sometimes even the building hosting it. For example, a recent event held at the Ace Hotel — originally the United Artists Building — produced a Mary Pickford, a cocktail named for the actress who was one of the founders of movie studio United Artists.
Remember, it's not all just about drinking for MOTAC. Sure, mixed drinks grace each event, but culture is never far away. In addition to carting around pop-up cocktail lectures around L.A., MOTAC is hosting Crafting the Cocktail, an exhibit displaying handcrafted ceramic and glass cocktail ware by artists from around the country. Funky wine glasses, artisanal pitchers, iron bottle openers and more are on display at the Craft in America Center in Beverly Grove until Feb. 21.
The monthly classes always come with delicious cuisine to pair, and with tickets floating around $40, it's better than your average bartending class. These seminars are equivalent to having your favorite professor bring drinks to class, but better, because exploring L.A. comes with the package.
“We try to situate our programs within a given place,” Dobard says. “We’re not only touring spirit categories [and] touring types of mixed drinks, we’re touring LA.”