The Secret World Of Cocktails

By Amy Abdelsayed for What’s On on September 2, 2013

I had never had a good cocktail in my life and I didn’t even know it. This is one of my takeaways from MGM Resorts International’s “Mixologist Training & Tasting” M Life Moment at Hit Bar & Lounge inside Monte Carlo. What’s an M Life Moment? It’s just one of the exclusive perks M Life rewards program members have access to, depending on their Tier Level, which members can reach by gaming, shopping, eating and staying at participating MGM resorts.

A two-hour private session with passionate master mixologist and Director of Beverage Michael MacDonnell during this Moment was all I needed to change my ignorance about cocktails forever.

MacDonnell begins the training with a brief lecture about the importance of high standards and fresh products when making a cocktail. He points out “The Dark Ages” in mixology, a time in recent history when cocktail creators focused less on an intricate balance of flavors and sloppily threw together subpar concoctions. He assures me that this will not be happening during our M Life Moment.

Second takeaway of the day: every cocktail has a story. We begin by making the Aviation Cocktail, invented in 1916. Inspired by flight and aviation, the sophisticated gin-based cocktail is a pale-blue color in tribute to soaring through the skies. I watch closely as MacDonnell carefully measures the correct amount of Plymouth Gin, Luxando, freshly squeezed lemon and Crème de Violette in a glass of ice, blends the ingredients in a shaker and strains them into a chilled cocktail glass before garnishing the beautiful, smoky blue drink with a brandy cherry.

Then, we move on to the Side Car, Blood & Sand, Moscow Mule and Mai Tai. Third takeaway of the day: the secret to a good cocktail is in the details.

“Never use the same ice twice,” McDonnell says. “I shook with this ice and now I dump it and use fresh ice.”

The Moscow Mule is, by far, my favorite drink. It looks like a snow cone more than a cocktail and is made with Russian vodka, fresh lime juice, a spoonful of superfine sugar, ginger beer and garnished with fresh mint. The cocktail is served in a copper cup (McDonnell uses imitation copper for safety reasons) and poured over a ball of crushed, packed ice. My favorite part of the drink is the use of garnish. MacDonnell first slaps the mint to “wake it up” and strategically places the straw so that I smell the aroma of the fresh mint as I drink.

Before the training is over, it’s my turn to choose my own drink to make behind the bar, under MacDonnell’s guidance. I decide to go with the familiar Manhattan. I carefully measure my whisky while my mentor watches, instructing me to add several dashes of Angostura Bitter to the drink and then stir. When it’s time to strain and pour, I get my final takeaway of the day:

“Pour with style,” McDonnell tells me.

I hold the stirred drink and the strainer in one hand and raise the glass slyly as I let the liquid fill the chilled cocktail glass. “Hey, not bad!” he says. “Nice pour!”

If you want a chance to experience your own, unique M Life Moment, sign up for M Life at any M Life desk at participating resorts like Bellagio, Luxor, New York-New York, MGM Grand, The Mirage and Mandalay Bay. Mention “What’s On” and you’ll even get an extra 1,000 Tier Credits.

M Life | 866-761-7111 |

Author: Amy Abdelsayed

Amy Abdelsayed is a journalist in Las Vegas, NV. She currently works as a digital content producer for KTNV 13 Action News (ABC affiliate). Previous work experience includes What's On Magazine, Boulder City Review, KSNV News 3 (NBC affiliate), Tesla and Apple.

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