Making mixed drinks and cocktails at home is a great skill to have. It’s a fun hobby, and making someone their favorite drink or something new is a sure way to impress them. If you’re looking to improve your bartending skills, try these eight tips.
1. Do Your Research
One of the best ways to boost your skills behind the bar is to do your research. Read books like “The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique” by Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Watch bartending videos on YouTube. Go to the local watering hole and watch your favorite bartenders in action. If it’s a slow night, you could even ask them for some tips. In addition to learning drink recipes, take the time to learn about each ingredient and the role it plays in a drink.
2. Work On Your Free Pour
Some bartenders use devices called jiggers to measure what they’re putting in their drinks. Others “free pour” or pour the ingredients directly into the glass. Boosting your free pouring skills is a great way to become a better bartender. Pouring perfect cocktails without measuring looks impressive and it helps ensure you can make a drink even if you don’t have a jigger available. To practice free pouring, just pour a liquid into a glass, then pour it into a measuring cup to see how close you got to your target. Keep practicing until you get it close to perfect nearly every time.
3. Start With the Less Expensive Ingredients
To become a great mixologist, you’re going to need a lot of practice. Liquor can be pricey though, so all that practice can get expensive. Start with the least expensive ingredients when you’re practicing making a cocktail. That way, if you make a mistake, you don’t end up wasting expensive liquor. Also, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to use top-shelf liquor to make a great tasting cocktail.
4. Use Garnishes
When you’re just starting, garnishes may seem unnecessary. They are, though, an important part of many cocktails. They make your drinks look more impressive and appetizing, and trying out different garnishes allows you to put unique twists on your recipes. Many famous drinks can benefit from various types of garnishes. For example, some garnish options for Bloody Marys include celery, olives, cheese, meat straws, bacon, jalapenos and shrimp.
5. Improve Your Memory
One of the hardest parts of bartending is remembering the many drink recipes. Practicing making drinks, using flashcards and creating word associations can help. For instance, to remember how to make a Kamikaze, think “very tragic landing,” which starts with the same letters as the drink’s three ingredients — vodka, triple sec and lime. Remembering associations between drinks can help too. For example, if you know how to make a Manhattan, it’s easy to learn how to make a Metropolitan. Use the same recipe but substitute brandy for the Canadian or rye whiskey.
While you should definitely learn the classic cocktails, experimenting can also help you to improve your bartending skills. Experimenting with new recipes and variations on existing recipes is fun, and you’ll learn more about how each ingredient changes a drink. Who knows — maybe you’ll end up inventing a new classic!
7. Practice, Practice, Practice
Practicing making drinks, of course, is the best way to boost your bartending skills. Practice well and practice often. It doesn’t hurt to have some friends around who are willing to try your creations. They’ll give you feedback and save you from wasting liquor or getting overly tipsy during your practice sessions.
8. Enjoy the Process
Another essential tip is to enjoy the process. That includes learning recipes and skills, making the drinks and, finally, drinking them. It’s tempting to just focus on that last step, but giving each phase the attention it deserves will make the whole process more enjoyable and will help you to become a better overall bartender.
Photo provided by the author.