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Bartending with Style

Aug 17, 2007
As opposed to the other food service careers, bartending is one job where personal style counts the most. The best bartenders I've known always have a personality to them, and some even have a little edge of attitude. Always remember that the whole point of your job is recreation.

The best bartenders are good conversationalists. Have a joke or two ready. Read up on the news daily before your shift, so you'll be able to keep up chat on sports, politics, and business.

Working in America, don't stress so much over knowing really complex drinks. About half of your orders will be for domestic beer, anyway. The non-beer orders will be something simple like a shot or a simple mixed drink like a vodka-and-coke. If somebody orders something really complicated, do your best to get it as close as you can and serve it. Bar etiquette nearly demands that the customer accepts whatever you pour as your version of what they ordered, and anybody who is enough of a troublemaker to ask for a Long-Island Iced Tea when you're slammed busy with a full bar generally deserves whatever you put in their glass, and probably wouldn't know the difference anyway.

Some environments to avoid:
A bartender can get work nearly anywhere in the world that allows alcohol, so you might as well be picky about where to work. You can work where you want, it's your career and a matter of personal taste, but if I were you I'd avoid working in these places if I could help it:

Night clubs, rave clubs, or anyplace that requires a bouncer and caters to a young crowd. Loud music, rowdy customers, frequent fights, dumb kids trying to fake their ID on you. Additionally, young adults aren't civilized enough yet to know how to behave in a bar, can't hold their liquor, and don't tip worth anything.

Big commercial chain "McBars". I don't want to name names, but any place that advertises on TV is about as far from a real bar as you can get and still serve liquor. Especially if it's solid ferns and oak inside and caters to the yuppie crowd. These places tend to draw featherweight drinkers and have no personality to them, plus you'll have an uptight management hierarchy over your head every minute.

Gambling bars or sports bars. Generally, any place with slot machines built into the table or giant screen TVs that are always on and turned all the way up just aren't worth much. There's too much distraction from the serious business of drinking and developing a warm relationship with the bartender which will result in a thoughtful tip. Anyplace where the focus is to encourage the customer to never make eye contact with you is deadening to work at, since you might as well be a robot for all anybody cares. The exception is if the bar is actually in a casino or hotel or has an actual live band. At least there people are likely to stay a while.

How to do all the tricks:
Get yourself a mixology pocket guide and keep it on you to avoid having to memorize every bizarre drink. But never let the customer see you checking it - keep it in a drawer or cupboard, or act like you had to go in the back room for a second.

Many drinks are specific to the kind of glass; at the very least get the glass right. Keep one towel for drying and another for polishing. A stemmed glass should be used for cocktails with no ice, so that the drink will not be warmed by the hand holding the glass.

How to chill a glass:
Either put the glass in a refrigerator or fill it with cracked, shaved or crushed ice before mixing. When the drink is ready, empty the ice out of the glass.

How to frost a glass:
For frosted drinks a glass should be stored in the freezer or buried in shaved ice. To 'sugar frost' a glass, wet the rim of a previously chilled glass with a slice of lemon or lime and then dip the rim into powdered sugar.

You'll use lots of ice; cubed, cracked, crushed or shaved. Always put the ice in the mixer before pouring the drink; this way the liquids are chilled as they flow over the ice and there is no splashing. For stirring or shaking use cracked or cubed ice, and for specialty drinks crushed or shaved ice.

As with ice, put the sugar in the mixing glass before the liquor. Usually powdered sugar is used because it dissolves quickly in alcohol at low temperatures.

How to stir:
Drinks containing liquor and ingredients require stirring with ice for proper mixing. When using carbonated drinks make sure to stir gently to preserve their fizz. Too little stirring fails to mix the drink, while too much melts the ice and ruins the drink. Also, to stir a drink containing ice cubes, poke the ice a few times; this will evenly mix any and all liquors.

How to shake:
Often drinks containing fruit juices, sugar, cream or other ingredients are difficult to mix -- these should be given a quick shake. When a drink requires frothiness use a blender.

Using a strainer:
Always use a metal strainer - the kind which clips to the edges of the mixing glass.

When mixing the same cocktail for a group of people, make all the drinks in one batch in a pitcher. So that no one drink is stronger or weaker than the rest set up the glasses in a row and fill each glass only halfway, then go back and finish each one off.

How to float liquor:
To make one liquor float on top of another in the same glass pour each ingredient slowly over a teaspoon held bottom side up in the glass. The teaspoon will spread the liquor evenly over the one below without mixing the two. Be sure to pour the ingredients in the right order, always adding liquids in order of descending density.

Flaming Liquor:
The trick to flaming liquor - rum, gin, brandy, or whiskey - is to make sure that the glass and the liquor have both been warmed. Fill a teaspoon or tablespoon with liquor of choice, heat over a flame and then set it afire. Pour the flaming liquid into the remaining liquor to light the drink.

There's more to it, but you're on your way!
About the Author
Freelance writer for over eleven years.

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