Mulling a partnership: Local businesses blend their strengths

By partnering with shops like the Tea and Spice store, professional mixologist Jesse Dean is able to host the classes for free and sell both his experience and his partner's products.

Megan Cloherty,

WASHINGTON – On a chilly December night in Georgetown, more than a dozen people huddle around a slow cooker in the window of the Spice and Tea Exchange. Walking in the door, the warm aromas of nutmeg and cider, vanilla and anise wrap you in the smells of the season.

“I know that before I came here I would never think about putting vanilla in or making a porter mulled drink,” says Cale Harfoush, one of the participants of a holiday drink-making class, brought on by an non-traditional partnership.

The class is the brainchild of Jesse Dean, a professional mixologist, who flutters around the room checking on his different teams who are mulling ciders, and cautiously adding cocoa to a steaming port.

“I have a lot of people that would come into (my) bar and ask me things. ‘How do I do this at my house? How can I create this?’ (So I said,) ‘You know what? Let me do some entertainment classes for people that just like to have a good drink and don’t want to be professional at it,” Dean says.

Dean’s dream is to open his business, Libations Bar School, as a permanent locale, offering students the opportunity to work with real liquors. But that dream is further off than he had hoped. Once he learned of the District’s regulations, which include liquor licensing coupled with educational certification, Dean says it will be a while before he can get it off the ground.

“I was doing professional classes at a bar school down in Alexandria and I wanted to open up here in D.C., but the fees here are so phenomenally expensive that I’m not able to offer my professional courses anymore,” Dean says.

In the meantime, he’s taken on a business plan that helps his and other small businesses grow. By partnering with shops like the Spice and Tea Exchange, Dean is able to host the classes for free and sell both his experience and his partner’s products.

“He’ll just go around really quick, this this this, put it together and bam, this is so good. I mean he is a master. Jesse is as good as they come. There’s no doubt about that,” says Keith Campbell-Rosen, owner of the store.

Campbell-Rosen’s Georgetown shop is full of spices, peppers, olive oils, teas and aromatic rubs that make for the perfect ingredients for any drink Dean can dream up. Dean describes the moment he got the idea after walking into the shop searching for an ingredient for bar bitters.

“It was like a candy store of flavors that I could apply to my craft … That’s when I thought ‘Hmm, maybe I can just do a class from here.’ Because then, I don’t have to buy all of these thousands of spices. I don’t have to study them for 20 years. I have Keith as a resource to be able to answer all those questions for me and for myself, I can tell you how to use them,” Dean says.

He pitched the idea of hosting an event and advertising it through Groupon. Campbell-Rosen was all for trying a partnership.

It worked. Participants left the event with their hands full of fresh spices and ingredients to add to their new drink recipes.

“I think it’s particularly cool because you get to experience the business you’re in,” says participant Kim Bryden.

Jesse Dean’s mulled wine recipe

  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 star anise
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 6 Allspice berries
  • 1 whole nutmeg
  • a few slices of crystallized ginger

Heat on low in a slow cooker for taste.

“You can take things from the jars, actually smell when you’re putting into the wines, taste different spices and then it helps the business owner because you actually want the things after you’ve left the class. So, it’s definitely an awesome partnership between the two,” she says.

One may not think to use cardamom or crystallized ginger when mulling a wine, but that’s just what Dean’s recipe calls for. It’s the only one he gave out. Participants were encouraged to experiment.

“He has been sort of going around and sort of saying, ‘Maybe this maybe that.’ Don’t go too crazy, but go out of the box, just a little bit. You might find something that works really well,” Campbell-Rosen says as Harfoush adds a few more pink peppercorns to the group’s brewing cider.

Dean plans to continue partnerships like this one as he raises money for his business’ long-term goals.

“I’ve done everything from brandied cherries with the farmers market, you know fresh fruit and how to do that, to how to make your own bitters,” Dean says.

He plans to find a local chocolatier to help him host a hot chocolates class in the next few months.

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