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How to Become
a Better Bartender

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Every great cocktail bar has a great bartender. One who knows countless recipes by heart and can skilfully craft an incredible drink without batting an eyelid. This can take years of practice but there are some simple tricks that will immediately help you on your way to becoming a great bartender.

We’ve collated some bartending tips and tricks from the very best, so you too can become a top-quality mixologist. After all, a range of great-tasting and aesthetically pleasing drinks can transform a good party into an awesome party.

Assemble your tools

When it comes to bartending tips for beginners, the first step is to get the bartending basics under your belt. The best way to do this is to get a selection of must-have bar tools. A standard bartending kit containing a measuring jigger, a shaker, a strainer, a muddler, and a stirring spoon is the perfect place to start.

Cocktail shaker

You can go for either a Boston shaker, which many professional cocktail-makers use, or a cobbler shaker to start. A Boston shaker looks like two large cups and can take a bit of skill to slam together before shaking, whereas a cobbler shaker has a built-in strainer and is easier to secure, making it a great addition to any beginner’s bartending tools.

Stirring Spoon

Once you have a shaker, you’ll need a stirring spoon. This is longer than your typical utensil and shaped like a coil in the middle, which gives it an easier grip when spinning ice around in your bartending glasses.

Measuring Jigger

Nobody wants a cocktail that is so weak it makes them think they’re drinking juice or one that is so strong they wince with every sip. To get the proportions of alcohol correct and the balance of flavours spot-on, you’ll want a measuring jigger. This bartending essential is hour-glassed shaped and normally made from stainless steel. Each end provides a different measurement and whilst you can get jiggers that vary in volume, one that measures 25ml and 50ml is ideal.

Strainer

Once you’ve mixed up a cocktail in your shaker, a strainer is needed to pour the liquid through as it goes into the chosen serving glass. The strainer catches ice, pulp, and other ingredients that you don’t want to fall into the finished cocktail.

There are three types of cocktail strainer: a Julep strainer, a Hawthorne strainer, and a fine mesh strainer. A Hawthorne strainer is the one you have most likely seen in use at your favourite bar. It has distinct metal coils around the edge that help catch even the smallest bits and pieces.

Muddler

Essentially a bartender’s pestle, a muddler is used to mash fruits, herbs, and spices in the bottom of a cocktail glass in order to release their flavours. It is a long, thin tool with a flat head and can be made from wood, steel or plastic.

Gather your glassware

There’s no point shaking up a delicious cocktail if you then have nowhere to put it, so you’ll want to make sure you have a range of different glasses to suit a variety of drinks. When it comes to whisky glasses alone, there’s the faithful rocks glass, the highball and the coupe, as well as others. Luckily, these glasses can be used for cocktails made with other alcohols too. Alongside these glasses, you might find martini glasses, shot glasses, champagne flutes, mason jars and hurricane glasses welcome additions to your bartender set-up.

stock your bar

Now you’ve got all the tools, you need the essential ingredients for creating delicious cocktails. A well-stocked bar will give you the freedom of creativity when it comes to making drinks, but we understand that purchasing everything all at once can be an expensive undertaking. The good news is that spirits will last indefinitely, so as long as you have the core components, you can continue to add to your bar gradually.

Spirits

There are so many spirits to choose from that it can be overwhelming to know where to start but if you opt for those that are found in the most popular cocktails, you won’t go far wrong. To begin with, whisky, vodka, gin, rum, and tequila are good options.

From there, you can then introduce different varieties to your bar stock. For example, you can make sure you have a blended scotch whisky as well as a bottle from Tennessee. You can pick up a bottle of pink gin to go alongside your dry gin and flavoured vodkas to help mix things up.

Liqueurs

Liqueurs are made with a base spirit that then has additional sweetness and flavour added to them. They are a must-have for any bar to inject fun and novel tastes into cocktails. Like with straight spirits, you can start with a few and add to your collection over time. Coffee, mint, cream, nut, and orange-flavoured liqueurs are worth considering.

Carbonated mixers

Mixers are just important as alcohol when it comes to creating cocktails. Carbonated mixers provide flavour and a delightful fizz to drinks. The types of mixers you’ll want will depend on the spirits you are using. For example, the best carbonated whisky mixers include lemonade, cola, and ginger beer, to name a few. Other carbonated mixers include soda water, tonic water, and flavoured soft drinks such as orange, cherry, and apple.

Juice

Juice is a common ingredient in many cocktails. Orange, cranberry, tomato, lemon, lime, and pineapple are all used in popular recipes. You can buy individual cans or bottles of these mixers, but you could even try making your own freshly squeezed juice if you’re feeling up to it!

Bitters

Bitters are small bottles of spirits that are infused with herbs, spices and other botanicals. They can be used to balance out flavours or add a spin to a classic, such as is the case with our Orange Twist cocktail. The three most popular types of bitters are Angostura bitters, Peychaud’s bitters, and orange bitters.

Simple syrup

Simple syrup is used in many cocktails to add sweetness evenly throughout the drink. As the name suggests, it’s easy to make yourself as it is just a mix of sugar and water. However, there are also premade varieties that you can find in most supermarkets.

How can I improve my bartending?

So, you’ve got the essential tools and a stock of ingredients that allow you to rustle up tasty drinks at any get-together. Your friends are impressed and you’ve even learnt some cocktail recipes by heart. But how do you level up your bartending skills to give your cocktails the real wow factor?

Once you’ve got to grips with the basics, use the following tips to take your bartending from novice to knockout.

Practice makes perfect

Just like any other skill, the best way to get better is with practice. Bartending for beginners means that you’ll need to understand what makes a good cocktail and become familiar with the equipment required to make it. Start by practising how to shake and stir and aim to get everything to the right temperature when you mix in your ingredients before trying to level up your skills.

Once you’re feeling confident, and you know your Hot Toddy from your Penicillin, try out some more advanced techniques with exotic ingredients like those used in eye-catching drinks such as a Guadalupe cocktail. It’s worth remembering that once you understand the basics of mixing and pouring, the next step is presentation.

Add flair

Almost every great cocktail has a garnish that elevates it from a simple drink into something more memorable. There are so many ways to add a special touch to a cocktail but the best way to do this is to use edible additions that match or complement the cocktail flavours. Popular cocktail garnishes include wheels or wedges of citrus fruits, olives, berries, pickled onions, cocktail cherries and fresh herbs.

Don’t overlook the ice

Ice is an important aspect of a cocktail, but it is often a bit of an afterthought. And whilst it has the practical purpose of keeping a drink chilled, the type of ice used can make a big difference to the overall impact of a cocktail. You can improve your bartending by perfecting your choice of ice. For instance, crushed ice is ideal for a whisky julep whereas an ice ball can add an extra touch of sophistication to an Old Fashioned.

Find your signature style

Keep practising and soon you’ll be coming up with your own original creations as you start to realise what ingredients work together and how to decorate a drink properly. You can even try literally mixing things up by replacing ingredients with others that you think will work. After all, every good bartender has a signature drink, why shouldn’t you?

Can you make a good living as a bartender?

Living the bartender life isn’t for everyone, but for those that choose to go down that route, it can be everything you’ve dreamed of and more. Nights behind the bar are never dull, thanks to new customers through the door every night, regulars who become friends and a huge and varied stock of ingredients that’ll never get boring.

The rapport between bartenders and customers can be something truly special too, formed over a favourite drink, a memorable night or an impressive performance. If you truly have a passion for the art of cocktail-making, there are awards and competitions held across the world. It’s possible to become recognised locally, nationally, or even globally, just by sharing your ideas and showing off your skills. And nobody would ever guess that you first started out making a simple drink at your home one evening.

Shake things up

Whether you’re doing this for guests, simply for fun or you hope to make bartending a career, it’s a good idea to master the basics in terms of equipment and classic cocktails such as the New York Sour and the Rob Roy first.

After that, you can broaden your horizons by experimenting with additional tools, like blenders and unique twists on much-loved cocktails such as a scotch collins or a Moscow Mile with whisky.

The great thing about bartending is that whilst there are time-honoured recipes and techniques, these can pave the way for new and exciting creations. All you need to do is add your own personality and style.

For inspiration, check out our whisky cocktail recipes including apple whisky drinks and whisky sour variations.

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