How to be a better bartender? The King of Technique
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. This is a second of an introductory 3 part series, the first article was on Knowledge to read that click HERE.
Picking up where we left off with regards to becoming a better bartender. In the last blog we touched on “Knowledge” & this time we’re going to go down the route of “Technique”.
Before we go on I ask all bartenders to remember the following:
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.
Technique can be interpreted in many different ways by different people but it generally falls into 2 major schools of thought - physical technique & drinks preparation technique.
When I talk about physical technique I don’t necessarily talk about “Flair Bartending” as I believe that topic deserves a whole article in itself but rather the bartenders physical ability behind the bar. From the way they move around, hold their equipment, build rounds, find themselves comfortable in their physical space & “working flair”.
With regards to “Working Flair”. The line between “Flair Bartending” & “Working Flair” might seem quite blurred but in reality it is very clear. Working flair is thought to be elements of flair bartending utilised by cocktail bartenders that allows them to show off while sacrificing as little speed as possible.
Most of physical technique come with time & experience. The best bartenders first & foremost know exactly their own personal physical ability & are able to adapt to any environment within a short space of time.
Some of the best current videos out there teaching “Working Flair” were created by Vitaly Kolpin from Russia. He goes in-depth into different techniques including practice exercises & methodology. You can check them one of them out on the Cocktails For You Facebook HERE.
Any veteran bartenders worth his salt will tell you that during a busy Friday or Saturday shift there comes a time when you get into the “ZONE”.
This is this magical moment where time almost stops & it is almost as if you’re dancing. The drinks come out fast, tasty & everyone is smiling. Usually you then break a glass or drop your shaker & you’re pulled back into reality.
To be able to get into the “ZONE” has quite a few requirements & one of the main is your physical technique of being comfortable in your environment.
There is no specific shortcut into getting comfortable, here the importance is understanding yourself as a physical being - the length of your arms, your speed, your height & location of everything around you. Good bartenders will setup a station to allow them to work as comfortably as possible but here it is important the following 2 points:
1 - COMFORTABLE doesn’t always mean EFFICIENT.
2 - A bartender should always aim to get the order of drinks to the guest at the quickest time possible IN the best possible condition, therefore, SPEED doesn’t always mean QUALITY.
Remember that balance is KEY! Balance not only in the cocktail but in everything in the bartending profession.
Jigger Work | Shakers & Shaking
There are as many different ways to work with your equipment as there are cocktails out there. The debate will continue forever - Jigger VS Free Pour or “The right way to place your shakers”. Not here to settle a debate but here an some concrete rules EVERY bartender should follow:
1 - The drink has to be CONSISTENT. I don’t care how you pour the ingredients but if 2 bartenders in the same bar make it differently then you’re using the wrong technique OR you need to train more.
2 - Work CLEAN. If your technique makes you pour ingredients ANYWHERE except the shaker it is a BAD technique or you need more PRACTICE.
3 - Move EFFICIENTLY.
Always aim to have as few steps involved as possible in creating a cocktail. If a technique is causing you to spend an extra 10 seconds making a drink it is a BAD technique.
A “round” is an order of multiple drinks that require multiple techniques & steps to complete, the time between the 1st drink made & the last should be as little as possible. One of the best videos to showcase this features a young Rich Hunt, owner of the Mint Gun Club in London, from a video series called Bacardi True Originals:
A few years ago I also managed to get my hands on the supposed manual of Milk & Honey in London. I don’t know if its the real thing but they have a section for round building:
BUILDING DRINKS BY THE ROUND (Possibly Milk & Honey Manual)
Beer, wine, water.- The most durable items. White wine is usually slightly to cold in the refrigerator, so giving a little time is a good thing, but not too long too. If possible, the floor person can do this step while the bartender is on step two.
Lay out the appropriate piece of equipment for each drink on the work area. For built in the glass drinks, the appropriate glass. For shaken or stirred, the appropriate mixing glass or shaker.
Muddle. Note that most drinks do not need to be muddle for more than 5-7 seconds, depend of drink you are making.
Base alcohol. Measures must be used as much as possible. Spirits served on their own must be jiggered using a clean measure, but for a mixed drink involving citrus, there is no need to rinse the jigger between spirits.
Clean jiggers, toss, shakers, boston.. with water as quick as possible (ONE IN ONE OUT).
Prepare any garnish that is cut to order, check that the floor person is ready for the round, and if possible, look at the table the round is going to, to see that it is clean, with napkins...Be responsible for your round.
If any hand-cracked ice is necessary, crack it. Before cracking ice, rinse off hands in HOT water, no soap.
Now that ’everything’ that can be done before icing is done, ice is the most durable cocktails first, the most fragile, last. So:
Two ingredients highballs and spirits on the rocks.- If waiter has time, he can pour in the mixers.
Start your stirred in the glass cocktails (Rusty nail, Negroni, Old Fashioned.) If using machine ice as opposed to a single carved cube, factor in how long these will sit into your stir. For instance if they are two Martinis, a Manhattan, and two daiquiris still to be stirred and shaken, stir the Negroni minimally, and allow some of the meltage to come from time. With ice machine ice it is easy to let these get to watery.
Start your stirred straight up cocktails. Always use a chilled mixing glass. Start stirring, keeping an eye on the water content. If possible, immerse the mixing glass in crushed ice.
Shaken down drinks. (Tom Collins, Gold Rush) Remove rocks and highball glasses from glass froster. Place on the work area, or, if possible, directly on the clean, candle-lit tray. Glasses on the tray are always placed in a circle around the candle, equidistant from each other.
Shaken straight up cocktails. Remove straight up serving glassware from the froster, place on the work area, or, if possible, directly on the clean, candle-lit tray. Glasses on the tray are always placed in circle around the candle, equidistant from each other. Always close the gate of the Hawthorne strainer completely, to minimise the size of the ice crystals possible. If large silvers or chunks of ice are on the top of the cocktail, the first taste will be of water. If there is no head, the cocktail will be warm much sooner.
The legendary Harry Craddock of the Savoy, when asked how quickly one should drink a cocktail, replied “Quickly, while it is still laughing at you.” He was referring to the movement on the surface of a well shaken straight up cocktail. If you shake hard enough, with cold enough ice, you will see bubbles forming and popping, and ice crystals swirling and shifting.
Strain off your stirred up cocktails. Remove glassware from froster, strain. Use the julep strainer like a spoon to remove any ice shards floating on top of the drink.
Crushed ice drinks. Ice your Mojito or Julep, then toss and strain your Gin Fix or Mai-Tai. When you “toss” a drink you are shaking it well enough to mix the ingredients, but not enough to chill it. When you strain into a glass full of crushed ice you will create all the meltage you need. There should be a nice, ample wash line on any crushed ice drink when it arrives at the table. If the glass is full to the brim you either overpoured, overshook, or the drink sat too long.
Float whipped cream for Sombrero, Irish coffee, etc.
Champagne by the glass. Top off Airmail, French 75, etc.
9. Finish topping off soda in highballs. Foam should be over the rim of the glasswhen it arrives at the table.
10. Garnish and straws, if not already done. If the waiter is nowhere to be found, take the tray and go. Cocktails cannot sit. EVER. Make sure that the tray is clean, and that the cocktails are in spaced evenly in a circle around the candle. Be sure that you know who is getting what, so you don’t roll up to the table and have to say “ Who is getting the Mojito?”
11. Clean the work area. Clean all equipment. Change water in plunge sink if necessary. Clean the bar and check if any customer needs attention. Start next round.
This ends the section of Physical Technique, join us next week when we discuss Drinks Preparation Techniques.