If you’re serious about making cocktails for a living, there’s a lot you need to know these days that goes beyond memorizing how to make trendy drinks. That’s why spirits company Pernod Ricard offers BarSmarts, an educational and certification program. The “live” part of intensive program is led by the partners of Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR), a training consultancy that teaches cocktails from the spirits up. Here are five tips from BAR partner Dale DeGroff (a.k.a. King Cocktail) from a Nov. 8 BarSmarts session held in Kansas City
1) Be prepared when you get behind the bar. A good bartender is packing the essential tools—Boston shaker, jiggers, strainers, a muddler, barspoon, etc. When DeGroff was hiring 30 bartenders for the reopening of the Rainbow Room in New York in 1987, “not a single one came with even a pairing knife,” he said. Times have changed, and cocktails are more complex, so make sure you have your own tools.
2) Invest in quality bar gear. Bar tools used to be small works of art, but most of the good stuff was melted down during Prohibition, DeGroff said, and the bar gear made after that wasn’t very good. But the current cocktail culture/revival has brought higher quality tools to the market, he said. Japan in particular is producing some beautiful, well-made bar tools “that are a joy to work with,” DeGroff said. Not that you need to spend a fortune, however: “You can find some stuff at the hardware store,” he noted.
3) Remember that speed still counts. With all the focus on quality spirits and tools and fresh ingredients, don’t forget that the reason people are at the bar is that “they want a drink right now!” DeGroff said. “So you don’t have to show off--just make the drinks fast.” (How to speed up your drink making? See #4.)
4) Master the art of the free pour. Being a free-pour bartender should be part of your craft “so you can get those drinks out fast when you need to,” DeGroff said. And if you are a free-pour bartender, avoid using metal on metal cocktail shakers, because you need to see what you’re mixing, he added.
5) Think like a chef. This applies not only to drink ingredients and bar menu, but also to tools and the set up of the bar. In addition to standard bar gear, you may need better knives for slicing hard fruit and produce, kitchen shears, tongs and so on. “Bartenders have to see themselves more like chefs—having and bringing the right tools if they need them,” DeGroff said.