8 Essential Bartending Techniques
If you're ready to dive headfirst into bartending, here are essential techniques you'll want to have under your belt:
- Know your liquors. Each base liquor plays its own unique role in a cocktail glass. Great vodka should be flavorless; as such, it can blend with anything from vermouth (in a Martini) to orange juice (in a Screwdriver). Gin is made from juniper berries and should maintain its idiosyncratic character when mixed into a Martini or a Tom Collins. Whiskey and rye are known for their smoky character and linger on the roof of a drinker's mouth. They're great in hearty drinks like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. Rum can be either brown or clear and is sweeter than most other liquors; it's the key ingredient in a Dark ‘N’ Stormys and Daiquiris. Tequila and mezcal are made from succulents and go well with citrus flavors in drinks like Margaritas.
- Master the free pour. A jigger is the measuring tool that professional bartenders use to apportion exact amounts of spirits in a mixing glass. A free pour doesn't use formal measurement; you simply tilt the bottle and pour liquor into the glass. A great bartender should be comfortable with both pouring techniques.
- Learn to shake a cocktail. In many bars, shaking is the preferred mixing technique for non-carbonated drinks like Mojitos, Whiskey Sours, and the French 75. Investing in your own cocktail shaker is essential. Some shakers have lids; others, like the Boston shaker, look like two tin cups put together. You'll also need to learn the dry shake, which is used to produce a thick foam with ingredients like cream and egg whites.
- Learn to stir a cocktail. Some drinks—like a Manhattan, a Sidecar on the rocks, and yes, even a Martini—simply need to be stirred. You can stir a drink with any sort of spoon, but an extra-long bar spoon is designed for this purpose. A swizzle stick also works.
- Study the art of layering. In addition to shaking and stirring, a great bartender can layer certain drinks so that you can see layers of different liquids within the glassware. This requires a bar spoon and an understanding of how to layer your liqueurs, fruit juices, egg whites, foam, and other drink ingredients as needed.
- Practice muddling. A muddler is a long stick used to crush up ingredients such as mint, ginger, and citrus peel. Think of it as a pestle for cocktails. A lot of the most elegant mixed drinks don't limit themselves to liquid ingredients. To make them the right way, you'll need to know how to muddle.
- Strain drinks properly. You'll need to strain drinks when you want to prevent ice cubes, ice shards, or bits of fresh ingredients from getting into the cocktail glass. Most professional bartenders own multiple strainers. The double-strain technique involves using a Hawthorn strainer to remove coarser solids and then a fine strainer to remove tiny flecks of fruit or ice. Cosmopolitans are a common double-strained drink. Meanwhile, Mint Juleps have a strainer specifically named for them: the Julep strainer.
- Memorize cocktail recipes. You don't need to know everything, but part of bartending 101 is knowing some classic cocktails by heart. At a minimum, you should know how to make a Bloody Mary, a Martini (with dry vermouth), a Margarita (don't skimp on the lime juice), a Vodka Cranberry, a Gin & Tonic (try it with grapefruit juice), and a Negroni. Beyond that, you can start to learn the main cocktail categories, like highballs, fizzes, sours, punches, etc. Once you learn the attributes of each category, you can better understand how to make each cocktail within that category.
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