Michael Cecconi wants to turn your home into a craft cocktail bar. The Oakland mixologist knows what it takes, and it’s not professional barware or luxury accessories. Cecconi, who hosts virtual happy hours, cocktail classes and events via Zoom, is not interested in teaching people how to use fancy tools of the trade. Instead, he prefers showing people how to use everyday household items — Tupperware, mason jars, even pasta strainers — to create the perfect at-home craft cocktail bar. He wants home mixologists to come away from his events thinking, “I’m hungry for pasta, and I can make a great cocktail with that thing.”
Cecconi is a thinker’s mixologist. During his virtual mixology classes, he concocts “everything from gin to mezcal to tiki to avant-garde.” His repertoire includes contemporary takes on classic cocktails like the Aviation, made with gin and homemade cherries soaked in whiskey, and a French 75 (Find his recipe at the end of this story), a cocktail made from gin and Champagne, the effect of which is said to feel like being hit by a 75mm Howitzer field gun.
For anyone looking for something to do for Valentine’s Day, on Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m., Cecconi is teaching a couples cocktails virtual mixology class through Berkeley’s Kitchen On Fire cooking school. The event, Cecconi said, is intended for people who want to learn how to shake up cocktails with or for their partner.
During the class, Cecconi promises to demonstrate the art of mixology step-by-step and provide barmaster tips and techniques such as how to open a Champagne bottle without explosion and how to whip up four cocktails. As with all of Kitchen on Fire’s virtual classes, participants will receive a shopping and equipment list, prep instructions and a link to the virtual classroom a week before the online event.
Cecconi’s current slate of virtual events are the silver linings he found in a pandemic world where bartending all but came to a full stop. In 2016, he collaborated with Mikha Diaz, current co-owner at Alembic in San Francisco, and former owner of Les Arceaux in Berkeley and Two Sisters Bar & Books in San Francisco, to create M Squared Spirits. Under the M Squared label, Cecconi and Diaz make three ready-to-drink craft cocktails in bottles. Two are whiskey-based — a Maple Whiskey Sour with lime and a Chamomile Old Fashioned with honey — and another is a gin-based Hibiscus Gimlet. All three flavors are packaged in appealing 200ml retro apothecary bottles that retail for $15.
Although Cecconi is thrilled with his current gig “reaching into people’s houses” with his bottled cocktails and Zoom events, this moment has been a long time coming. His journey began in 2000, during the apex of the craft cocktail scene in New York City when he experienced a kind of perfect storm. After graduating from NYU with a degree in dance choreography and performance, he found himself a stereotypical starving artist who began bartending to pay the bills. Although he had “had no point of view about what I was doing,” he chose to harness his frustrated artistic creativity and apply it to bartending.
“First and foremost, [making cocktails] is a calling, it’s a creative process,” Cecconi said. “I look for inspiration everywhere in the world and think, how can I put this in a cocktail? How can I delight people and engage them in cocktailing? In drinking? And so that’s what that’s we’ve got in a bottle, my artistry.”
“I look for inspiration everywhere in the world and think, how can I put this in a cocktail? How can I delight people and engage them in cocktailing? In drinking? And so that’s what that’s we’ve got in a bottle, my artistry.” — Michael Cecconi
Although I found all three M Squared cocktails at Buckingham Wine & Spirits on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland, Cecconi acknowledged that his distribution is hit or miss. This may have to do with M Squared’s premium pricing, but it is more likely the result of increased competition. The ready-to-drink cocktail market is snowballing with major players, like global alcohol conglomerate Beam Suntory’s On the Rocks brand, taking up scarce shelf space. Always the optimist, Cecconi welcomes the competition, saying that he hopes exposure to the ready-to-drink cocktail concept will help people recognize that “craft cocktails in a bottle make perfect sense as opposed to ‘why would anyone do that?'”
It remains to be seen if Cecconi can effectively compete within the larger marketplace. Rapid growth, the arrival of major brands, and the question of whether artistry can be bottled will undoubtedly test his theory. As for his super cool, indie appeal, while he has a respectable following on Instagram (@themobilemixologist), he has lots of social media competition from other “drinkstagrammers.” All this points to an uncertain future for Cecconi, but one in which he will surely leverage what other craft cocktail makers cannot — his energy and artistry.
Michael is clear in his intentions: “What differentiates my line of cocktails, from the cocktails you’re going to find at Costco or the ones you’ll find next time you fly in an airplane, is what they lack: the heart of a bartender.”
Recipe adapted by Michael Cecconi
French 75 is a cocktail made from gin and Champagne, the effect of which is said to feel like being hit by a 75mm Howitzer field gun.
1 flute or wine glass
1 oz gin
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz simple syrup (equal parts sugar and hot water, stir to combine)
Champagne, Cava or Prosecco
1 lemon twist
Carefully open bottle of bubbly, prepare garnish, and have glass on hand.
Measure and pour gin, citrus, and simple syrup into shaker.
Add ice to shaker, shake and strain into glass.
Aggressively fill glass with bubbly, mixing the ingredients.
Garnish with a lemon twist: rind side facing cocktail, twist it pretty and drop it in.