How to be a better bartender - Smarter, faster & stronger!
Updated: Mar 29
An original series from Cocktails For You where the prime focus is how to improve your game in Bartending industry. From inspirational ideas, modern techniques, helpful hints & useful tips to help you develop further in you career.
Bartending is a unique profession historically - in most countries you can’t start work as a bartender until you’re 18 years old, typically it is part time work while you study for a “real job”. Of course this isn’t always the case & it varies from country to country as well as situation to situation. The biggest issue with our profession is that there isn’t a bartending university where you can get a certified degree & any bartending schools out there generally have courses that don’t last longer than 1 month & are questionable at best!
Bartending is a hands-on profession, you can only get better with time & experience from working in different places. Also it is important to set yourself goals & targets of where you want to be in the future, there will be an article later in time regarding bartending career opportunities & possibilities
There are many directions for a bartender to develop - Flair, Cocktail, Wine & Beer. Based on our personal experience we’re going to give advice based on how to become a better COCKTAIL bartender.
The Basics - Knowledge, Technique & Social Skills.
These are the 3 key elements of any quality bartender. We are all different & some of us are better at one thing than the other BUT all 3 need to work together to become GREAT!
How many of you know at least 3 key points about every product you carry on the backbar of your venue?
Knowledge can be broken down in a few key aspects - Knowledge of product, knowledge of bartending history & knowledge of modern bartending culture.
Knowledge of Product:
Every bar around the world is likely to carry at least the following spirits - Vodka, Gin, Rum, Whiskey/Whisky & Tequila. Every bartender should know where those spirits are historically from, how they are basically made & at least 1 classic mainstream cocktail recipe based on that spirit. Here’s an example for below:
Historically - Poland/Russia (They will argue forever)
Made from - Wheat grain
Cocktail Recipe - Cosmopolitan
Ingredients: 40ml Vodka 20ml Cointreau
30ml Cranberry Juice 20ml Lime Juice
Method: Shake. Double Strain
Garnish: Flamed Orange Zest
From this point on you can go as far as you’d like in your knowledge of product history/production methods & legal definition. You can delve deeper into specific brands that you particularly like as well as what separates them from others in the same spirit genre. For further reading on product knowledge we recommend the Curious Bartender series by Tristan Stephenson:
Knowledge of Bartending History: The bartending profession is realistically as old as time itself but we can trace back to a period of over 130/140 years ago that led into the turn of the 20th Century that was dubbed “The Golden Age of Bartending”.
It was at this time during the industrial revolution where advances in science, communication production led to a new breed of bartender. Suddenly ice was available commercially, refrigeration techniques helped us keep ingredients fresher for longer, new spirit production techniques helped create better booze for mixing & transportation was cheaper than ever so instead of being limited to your local products people started drinking hooch from all over the world!
In terms of pure history covering the job of the bartender himself it is good to read up on the books of David Wondrich - Imbibe & Punch - specifically. He covers everything from the earliest recipes to the first “celebrity” bartenders as well as the spread of cocktail culture around the world.
For those who would like to delve a little deeper it is important to note that there are many books covering deeper insights into the production methods of specific alcohols as well as the legal history of certain spirits or important historic event such as the invention of the Coffey Still, the US prohibition & the Gin Acts of Great Britain.
Knowledge of Modern Bartending Culture: Up until this point all you’ve been doing is playing catch-up with the modern cocktail bartender. To take it to the next level you need to be aware of whats happening right now in the 21st century of cocktail culture.
Generally the leading cities in cocktail bartending are the capitol cities of their respective countries/regions. Each place has its own “godfathers” & “pioneers” but it is important to understand they’re not always one & the same.
The epicentres of modern cocktail culture are undeniably the US & the UK with other specific locations that historically kept the fire burning after WW2 brought everything into disarray. It is widely believed that we’re currently living in a “Second Golden Age of Bartending” thanks to the invention of the internet, development of cheap travel & awakened public interest into food & drink.
Modern bartending culture traces its roots back to Dale Degroff in the US, Charles Schumann in Germany & Dick Bradsell in the UK. Of course those three has their own mentors & many of their students can be considered “pioneers’ now in their own right but in terms of global influence we’ll focus on them. As cocktail culture spreads from beyond these central hubs into other regions & countries new “pioneers” are formed, we’ll be covering those in later articles, to stay informed on who they are you need to stay up to date.
Where are the best cocktail bars?
Who are the best bartenders?
Of course opinions are like arseholes - “Everybody has one & most are full of shit!”
Still, get enough arseholes together & listen to all of their opinions then you might be able to put together a general picture of whats happening around the world. Please remember - you have to listen, see for yourself & keep your mind open. There is no right opinion & generally it is the public who decide what is good & what is bad.
If the bar is open & makes money - it is a good bar. If you don’t agree, make a better one.
For further reading: