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Pro Bartending Techniques

This photo from a high end cocktail lounge shows that women can achieve head bartender status just as easily as men can. (© dragonimages/123RF photo)

Memorize the “Order of Steps” to ensure perfect cocktails every time.

This guide features easy to master speed tips from the pros, with decades of experience, including heating and chilling glassware, speed spouts, speed rails, muddling, rimming glassware, double straining and more.

Chilling and Heating Glassware

Cold drinks will stay cold longer, if you chill the glassware before using it. Most commercial establishments have a blast chiller just for this purpose. It allows them to add salt and sugar rims before chilling so they harden onto the glass. It also gives the glass a nice frosted appearance.

If you don’t have the budget for a blast chiller, ice will do the trick for home entertaining. Fill the serving glass with ice and set it to one side, while you prepare the garnish, pour the ingredients and mix the cocktail. By that time the glass should be somewhat chilled. Toss the ice from the serving glass into the dump sink and fill it with the cocktail.

Hot drinks will stay hot longer if you preheat the mug. Take near boiling water from the teakettle and full the mug. Let the water heat the mug for 30 to 45 seconds. Now dump the water and proceed to build the cocktail in the mug.

Bar Speed Rails

If you need to make a lot of drinks fast, you can invest in a tacky looking carousel that holds the bottles inverted, or get a speed rail. It’s a long metal rack that attaches to the bartender side of the bar, to hold all the base spirits at arm’s reach.

If your bar didn’t come with a speed rail, it’s a simple project to buy one and install it. Some rails will need a couple of holes to be drilled, while other less stable ones are clipped on. A 22 inch speed rail will hold six standard size bottles. A 32 inch one will hold nine.

As you watch a professional bartender, they can reach down to the speed rail and grab the correct bottle of booze without looking. That’s because they’ve memorized the position of the bottle in the rail.

A common speed rail order, from right to left is rye, gin, scotch, white rum, dark rum, vodka and brandy. The alternating between light and dark spirit lets you know at a glance, if you accidentally grabbed the wrong bottle.

Muddling Cocktail Ingredients

The purpose of muddling is to bruise citrus rinds and herbs, so they release their oils and flavor compounds. Most recipes say muddle well, or muddle lightly, so you get an idea of how long and hard to muddle.

Herbs like mint take just a few seconds and not much pressure. The idea is to bruise it slightly to release the oils from the leaves. You don’t want to grind it into a pulp, because the mint flavor gets too strong and bitter compounds like chlorophyl get released by the leaf, ruining the drink.

Citrus fruit like lime can take moderate pressure, especially when sugar is added. The objective is to release the juice from the fruit, using the sugar as an abrasive, to form a syrupy paste. You want to release some oils from the rind, but not press so hard that you break it.

Before you start muddling, always inspect the mixing glass. Be sure there are no chips, cracks, or weak spots on the bottom. Put the mixing glass on a bar towel, bar mat, or some other non slip surface. Hold the mixing glass in one hand and put the muddler in the other. Now press down on the ingredients with the muddler while rotating your wrist. Repeat the process until the ingredients are muddled together.

If you have a wooden muddler with a rounded bottom, you’ll need to apply a fair amount of pressure to citrus rinds. If you have a stainless steel, plastic, or wooden muddler with teeth on the bottom, be gentle, otherwise you risk extracting too much bitter pith from citrus rind, which will ruin the drink.

Rimming the Cocktail Glass

Some recipes call for a salt or sugar rim to be added to the glass. The easiest way is to take a lime wedge, orange wedge, or garnish that will match the final drink, and use it to wet the outer rim. It only takes a few seconds, but it enhances the drink.

If you see a bartender use a sponge to wet the rim, run away screaming. You don’t know how old the sponge is, or when it was last sterilized. You certainly wouldn’t lick it, so don’t let them use it to contaminate your drinking glass.

Once the outer rim of the glass is wet with fresh juice, invert it to a 45 degree angle. Now slowly roll just the outer edge of the glass, into a saucer of sugar or salt, prior to pouring in the finished cocktail. Care must be taken not to get salt inside the glass, or knock the rim off while filling it. If the sugar or salt starts to clump, dump it and add a fresh batch to the saucer.

The best sugar to use is berry sugar, which is also known as caster, or super fine, depending on where you live. It’s the same sucrose as ordinary table sugar, but a much finer grind, so it sticks to the rim better. It dissolves almost instantly, making it the sugar of choice, for making simple syrup, hot drinks and for muddling.

The type of salt used is Koshering (aka Kosher) Salt. It does not contain iodine and is a much coarser grind than regular salt. What makes it special is that the crystal structure is flat, not cubed, so it doesn’t glom together like normal salt, making for a nice rim.

Rimming works better before chilling the glassware, because the sugar and salt will stick to a warm glass, better than it will to a cold one. In professional settings, they add the rim to a certain amount of glassware in advance, then place them in a blast chiller for later service.

In the home environment it is possible to rim in advance if holding a theme party and you know what everyone will be drinking. Otherwise it’s better to rim to order after chilling the glass with ice.

Double Straining Cocktails

Most drinks that require straining using a Hawthorne strainer can benefit from a second strain through a fine mesh tea strainer. So instead of straining from the mixing glass, or shaker cap, directly into the serving glass, a tea strainer is held between the two and the cocktail poured through it.

Tea mesh strainers are either single or double mesh. The single mesh will catch any citrus pulp, seeds and small chunks of ice that make it past the Hawthorne strainer. Double mesh strainers clog easily and are not generally recommended for cocktails. Do get one though, because they are great for filtering out tiny seeds like raspberry and blueberry, when making home made syrups and liqueurs.

Bartender’s Speed Tips

Always pour syrup, sweeteners, juice, cream and liqueurs before the base spirits. That way, if you make a mistake, only juice and syrup is wasted, not the expensive liquors. If confused as to juice and syrup portions, remember that juice is almost always greater.

If making more than one drink of the same type, put the lips of the serving glasses together to minimize spillage. Go back and forth pouring a little in each glass, to achieve the same fill level in each. Pull back the strainer top fairly far, so that the liquid comes out centered.

Four or more drinks of the same type are made in the shaker cap, not the mixing glass. If the recipe calls for stirring, stir twice as long as you normally would, to achieve the proper dilution and chilling.

For more than one drink of different types. Work uphill putting smallest glass on the left, tallest on the right. Don’t waste time in motions. Pick up each liquor bottle once only. Pour bar booze in order of weakest flavor first. For example: vodka, white rum, brandy, dark rum, rye, scotch, gin.

When confronted with a large, or number of orders, proceed to mix them in the following order; beer, hi ball, mixed, cream, hot. Have all the drinks on an order ready at the same time, before handing them off to a server.

How to Mix Drinks

The Order of the Steps

  1. Refer to the A-Z cocktail recipe list on this website.
  2. Choose the serving glass specified in the recipe.
  3. Add sugar or salt rim to lip of glass and chill in freezer.
  4. If no rim add ice to chill, or hot water to preheat, the serving glass.
  5. Prepare the garnish and set it aside for later.
  6. Mix the cocktail according to the recipe. (Build, Stir, Shake)
  7. Dump the chilling ice or heating water from the serving glass.
  8. Add any salt or sugar rim to the lip of the glass, if not done in step 3.
  9. Pour or strain the cocktail into the serving glass according to the recipe.
  10. Sprinkle or grate any powders or spices on top. (Chocolate, Nutmeg)
  11. Add the garnish prepared earlier to the finished cocktail.
  12. Serve the cocktail immediately to your guest.

Now smile and receive well deserved accolades, praise and attention from your guests.


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