How to be a better bartender? Preparation Techniques - Chef-tenders!
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 "Technique Series", the first article was on Physical Technique to read that click HERE.
Picking up where we left off with regards to becoming a better bartender. In this blog we're going to talk about "Drinks Preparation" & touch slightly upon inspiration as a concept.
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.
Drinks Preparation Technique & Inspiration:
There are as many different ways to prepare drinks as there are drinks themselves, there have been huge books written better authors than myself about the history, methodology & ideology of drinks making. In this blog post we'd like to cover all 3 of the above in as a quick summary to get everyone up to speed before diving into specifics at a later date.
It is important that inspiration for drinks preparation can come from anywhere - sound, smell & taste are interlinked & the root of inspiration is as much from the world around us as it in based in our own minds & ideas. The importance here is the process of critically thinking about the goal you want to achieve or just paying attention to your surroundings.
History: Almost all common techniques associated with the preparation of ingredients that eventually go into cocktails have come from chefs & the world of food.
We as bartenders have followed in the footsteps of chefs since the beginnings of our profession & continue to do so with current trends in consumption popularised firstly in the restaurant world then in the drinks industry.
If we're tracing back the history of preparation techniques for things like cordials, syrups, pickling & fermentation we would need be here forever so for the sake of keeping it simple we have to shorten everything & go back to the roots of bartending/cooking - the system of measurement.
Every modern cocktail book contains recipes, recipes usually defined by the metric system of measurement. This system was developed by the French in the 19th century but wasn't officially adopted globally until 1960 by the global community as the "International System of Units".
This is why in many old cocktail books you're often stuck with strange definitions such as "a wine glass of Gin" or "a pony of Port". If we base all of our knowledge of our profession with this fact in mind we will understand that the best we can do with old recipes is INTERPRET them the best way we can & we should treat them as guidelines rather than fact. One of the key aspects of working with any ingredients & to be able to correctly match different flavours together. There have been many books & websites dedicated to the subject throughout history but for the best of the best we recommend for all bartenders to obtain the following: The Vegetarian Flavour Bible
The chef's bible has long been recognised as the "Larousse Gastronomique" a book written in 1938. If you would like to delve into the root of all modern Western techniques & cooking techniques that is the place to look. Co-written by famous chef Auguste Escoffier he combined modern scientific measurements & "democratised" the French Haute-Cuisine to make modern cooking methods accessible to everyone.
For those with less time & more interested in practical cocktail related advice - "The Bar Book - Elements of cocktail technique" by Jeffrey Morgenthaler is THE best book for a new starting bartender or seasons veteran. It covers everything from making syrups to fermenting your own home-made ginger beer without delving into anything overly difficult or scientific. If there was ever a text written that EVERY bartender should read when starting in the profession it the book below:
There are many other books out there that delve into the science behind drinks making as well as more complicated techniques used by the best bars in the world.
Some of the leading minds behind the modern cocktail movement are Tony Conigliaro, Dave Arnold, Ryan Chetiyawardana, Don Lee & Tristan Stephenson. Not all of them have written books but for those looking to take their bartending prep technique knowledge to the highest level check out:
For those of you unwilling to part with your hard earned cash there are numerous online blogs & YouTube shows available to bartenders to learn from. We have even produced a series of videos in collaboration with our partner bar Lost+Found in Cyprus. Find a few helpful links below for online inspiration:
Syrups - How to make Grenadine:
Fermentation - How to make Tepache:
Fat-Washing - Carrot Butter:
What is an ideology when it comes to drinks preparation? There are many more questions than there are answers! Some prefer to use only store available ingredients, some make as many things themselves as possible. It is impossible to tell which is in the wrong based on their specific personal preferences.
There are many different ways to approach drinks preparation & although this is the shortest section in this particular article it is important to note. Your ideology about how you make cocktails is NOT the one true & only way of making mixed drinks. As Mahatma Gandhi once said:
"One man's Manhattan is another man's Sex on the Beach"
The important here is to understand what you're trying to create in the first place & where you're trying to go. Based on a theory by Wayne Collins some say there are only 7 main families of drinks:
1) The Punch (circa 1630)
Contains spirit, citrus, sweetening agent, water (or tea) and spices Example: Sangria, Russian Spring Punch, Mai Tai, Zombie.
2) The Milk Punch (circa 1700)
Contains spirit, sweetening agent, spice and dairy
Example: Brandy Alexander, Eggnog.
3) The Sling (circa 1759)
Contains spirit, sweetening agent, water.
Example: Gin Sling, Rum Sling.
4) The Cocktail (circa 1800)
Contains spirit, sweetening agent, water and bitters
Example: The Manhattan, Martini, Sazerac, Old-Fashioned.
5) The Sour (circa 1850)
Contains spirit, sweetening agent and citrus. Bitters and egg white optional.
Examples: Daiquiri, Margarita, Sidecar, Cosmopolitan, Kamikaze.
6) The Collins (circa 1870)
Contains spirit, sweetening agent, citrus and soda
Example: The Original Collins, Kentucky Lemonade.
7) The Highball (circa 1870)
Contains spirit and a mixer (soda or fruit juice)
Example: Gin and Tonic, Harvey Wallbanger, Moscow Mule, Woo Woo, Tequila Sunrise.
A bartender understands his past history, has mastered the existing methodology & has developed his own ideology of how to make cocktails. A TRUE bartender understands all of the above & respects other colleagues
with their own methods.
In the end all of those things are just guidelines & the guest in front of you probably doesn't even care...