Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tools

Bar spoons, mixing glasses, and shakers.These three instruments are going to be your new best friends come time for making delicious cocktails. Let's start with shakers. They look like this, or this, or this. Those are the three major ones you'll find any bar. The two first shakers will consist of a large tin cup, and either a smaller tin cup or a 16oz mixing glass. The large and small tin combo is known as a two-piece shaker. The large tin and glass combo is known as a Boston Shaker (even though it's not really affiliated with Boston in any historical manner). They both act the same essentially: you build the ingredients in either the small tin or mixing glass, then add ice, then cover with the larger tin. The third shaker is known as a Cobbler Shaker and works the same way but is a three-piece shaker with a built in strainer. Some notes about shaking: I recommend always shaking with two hands so you can shake harder and faster without losing control of the shaker. Always shake away from the people at the bar and shake with the smaller end facing you, just in case something goes wrong the mess will be on you and not them. And never shake carbonated liquids like soda or sparkling wine. Check this video out: [video].

Now for mixing glasses and bar spoons. These will be used to stir cocktails. Some cocktails, like Martinis, Manhattans, Negronis and the Martinez are stirred instead of shaken. The general rule of thumb is, if the cocktail is comprised of all alcoholic spirits (i.e. Gin plus Dry Vermouth to make a martini), then you stir. If it's got juices and other non-alcoholic mixers and syrups or cordials, then you shake in order to better mix the denser ingredients together. Of course a guest can always request a martini shaken instead of stirred or a manhattan can be "bruised" (another term for shaken) upon request, but if it isn't requested, you stir it. Stirring will take practice just like shaking will. You'll find your technique eventually but the idea is to use very fluid wrist movement and your stirring arm should remain immobile. Most barspoons [image] have a spiral neck to help spin in between your fingers so you don't have to crank your hand in large rotations like you would if you were using a large mixing spoon. The idea is to keep the convex part of the spoon (the back of the spoon) against the inner wall of the mixing glass as it makes several revolutions within the glass. Like this: [video]. When stirring drinks, it's important to stir for at least 30 seconds. This is required for the proper amount of dilution. Stirring isn't as rough as thrashing around liquids and ice cubes in a shaker so to get the proper amount of water into the cocktail, you need to stir for a longer time.

Strainers.
There are a few strainers you should familiarize yourself with before you head behind the bar. The Hawthorne strainer [image], the Julep strainer [image] and the Tea Strainer (sometimes referred to as a mesh strainer or fine strainer) [image].  They each, of course, perform the same function: The allow the liquid to pass while preventing ice and other debris from passing. They just have differing applications. The Hawthorne strainer is perfect for straining out of your shaker. It sits nicely over the large tin, and the spring rolls into the inside of the tin or glass to filter the ice as the liquid is being poured. The prongs on the sides will stabilize it against the lip of the shaker or glass. If you are shaking a drink that is being served "straight up", or without any ice, you will need to use the fine strainer in conjunction with the Hawthorne strainer to keep all the ice shards out of the cocktail as the hawthorne doesn't keep out the finer, smaller chips of ice. The Julep strainer is a bowl shaped, one piece strainer that is used mostly when straining from the mixing glass. The convex part of the strainer will face upward, and the tail will over hang off the back of mixing glass. Bonus tip: If you want to remain true to the classic method, keep the bar spoon in the mixing glass while you strain.

Muddlers, Jiggers and Pour Spouts.
The next set of tools are somewhat self explanatory. Muddlers are used to press fresh ingredients like lime wedges, mint leaves and kumquats into your shaker/glass. Cocktails like the Mojito and the Caipirinha call for muddling their ingredients. The point of muddling is to extract and combine the juices and aromas of the ingredients to better mix them with the alcohol and other ingredients. It's important to know the difference between muddling and crushing though. A mint leave will produce a wonderful aroma and flavor when pressed but if you crush and break apart a mint leave it turns bitter and ruins a drink. Just remember your aren't grinding or pulverizing the ingredients, just pressing. Jiggers look like this [image]. They are tools for measuring your pours. I like my jiggers to be 1:2 ratio (i.e. .5 ounce/1 ounce, .75 ounce/1.5 ounce, 1 ounce/2 ounce). A lot of people have the misconception that when a bartender uses a jigger, it means he or she is too inexperienced to free pour. That's nonsense. Jiggers ensure consistency and accuracy. Professional bartenders all around the world use jiggers to make sure the cocktail is made perfectly. You wouldn't expect a chef to measure in cups and tablespoons and teaspoons with out measuring tools would you? Pour spouts are little spouts you put on your bottles to help the pouring process. It creates an even, steady flow of liquid so you can easily measure and stop the pour without making a mess. Ever try pouring alcohol without a pour spout into a little jigger? If you aren't very careful it all comes rushing out at once and you spill. Pour spouts prevent that. But even pouring take practice. When pouring, make sure you end the pour without "rooster tailing" all over the bar or spill mat.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Get your mind right.

Bartending is awesome. It's a great job to have and can be very lucrative if you're good at it. There are a lot of misconceptions that the public have about bartending however. If you are hoping to break into the industry, let's get the facts straight.

One of the first books I picked up about bartending was Mr. Boston's Official Bartender's Guide [link]. In the introduction, I read master mixologist, Dale DeGroff's, "Five Commandments for Bartenders". Let's start there. These points could also be broadly applied to anyone in the food and beverage industry.

Set the Tone
“The rapport between a bartender and guest is set by the bartender.”
It’s really up to the bartender if the guest is to have an enjoyable time at the bar or not. Under no circumstances should the bartender ever be rude to the guest, even if the guest is rude. Bartenders work in the industry of providing service to all of their guests, even the difficult ones. If a guest comes into the bar and is rude, it is up to the bartender to turn that rude guest around into a happy one. It is also the bartender’s job to make great, tasty drinks and (if needed) show their guests how to have a good time at the bar.

Be Observant
“Good bartenders need to sharpen their powers of observation and develop their ability to listen.”
Sometimes when a guest comes into the bar, they are looking for social interaction with the bartender. Sometimes when a guest comes into the bar, they just want to be left alone to enjoy their cocktail. There are no etiquette bar rules that say a bartender must chat with all of their guests because not all guests may want to chat with the bartender. It’s the responsibility of the bartender to “feel out” their guests. When deciding on how to interact with a guest, it’s always a good idea for the bartender to observe and listen rather than just speak aimlessly. When the bartender does less talking and more listening, they will be able to determine exactly what kind of mood their guest is in and whether they want to talk or be left alone.

Know Your Recipes
“You’re the chef of the bar and have the same responsibility to guests as the chef de cuisine has to diners.”
A bartender doesn’t necessarily have to know the recipe for every single cocktail ever created, but they should have a strong repertoire of drink recipes that consist of several classic and popular drinks. For example, knowing how much dry vermouth to add to a Martini or whether to stir or shake a Manhattan: these are fundamental basics every bartender should have before working behind any bar. Granted, bartenders have to start out somewhere when beginning their careers behind the bar. This is why it is perfectly okay for the newcomers to the craft to look up recipes using a reputable cocktail recipe guidebook or even ask the guest how they would like their drink prepared. When in doubt, a bartender should always ask the guest rather than pretend to know how they want their drinks. The one time a bartender assumes how a drink should be made without consulting the guest first will be the time where they will have to remake the drink and will disappoint the guest in the process.
As a side note, I strongly believe that ten percent of bartending is the drinks. The other ninety percent is the bartender’s personality. Anyone can memorize and learn to make drinks, but it take a special someone to keep the customers coming back for more, night after night. So just keep that in mind.

Perfect Your Craft
“A bartender is most definitely on stage, so expect to be scrutinized down to your fingernails.”
When a person is working behind the bar, they are on stage and the guests are their audience. Some people feel like in order to be a good bartender, they have to have flair. Flair is associated with the ability to flip bottles and light things on fire while preparing a guest’s drink. Not necessarily so. Bartending should never be reduced to a circus act. What it ultimately comes down to is the guest’s overall enjoyment of their experience at that bar. Guests want to enjoy a tasty beverage and enjoy the conversation with their bartender. They want to see that their bartender is confident in knowing how to use the tools appropriately behind the bar to make their drinks in a reasonable amount of time. If a guest asks the bartender specific questions about the spirits stocked behind the bar, the guest will rightfully expect the bartender to have some sort of knowledge about the spirit. The more knowledge and confidence a bartender has about the bar tools, drink preparation and the spirits stocked behind the bar, the happier their guests will be overall.

Exude Gravitas
“A bartender’s skill and cleverness in being many things to many people is one of the most compelling and challenging aspects of the job.”
Bartenders don’t just make drinks for their guests. There are many different “hats” a bartender must wear while working behind the bar. Bartenders have to be a wealth of knowledge for their guests when asked about current events, sporting events, where to eat and go out. Bartenders also have to play the recess monitor when trying to keep the peace at the bar between other rowdy guests. Bartenders are the therapists that must listen to their guests when they want to talk. Bartenders must make sure to deal with even the most difficult situations in a professional manner such as when having to cut a guest off from alcohol.
[source]


That pretty much sums it up.

Bartending is as demanding a profession as any. Your services and drinks will be scrutinized, critiqued and, unfortunately, be substandard quality to somebody at some point. It's inevitable. That's the bad news. The good news is that as a professional bartender, you may have a few bad guests, but you should never have a bad day or night. The bartender is the proverbial optimist. He/she cannot be taken down a peg. It takes confidence--A LOT of confidence actually. And confidence requires knowledge. So where do we start? Why, at the bar of course! Stay tuned...

My vision for this blog.

I know the one thing this world can do without is another bartender's web blog. I'm hoping this one will suit for a specific purpose and that is to equip new and aspiring bartenders with the knowledge they need to succeed. I'd love to make this blog a collaborative effort. The members of /r/Bartending are always welcome to submit and modify content as needed in order to build a more complete library of bar skills and information. Let's make a one-stop place to get people smart on what it takes to market your skills, get employed, and improve your craft. We can be as broad or as specific as necessary in any subject field. I want to focus on direction foremost. Let's start by making a Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 approach for beginners and move from there. As I'm writing this introductory post, I'm anxious and excited to get started writing the actual content. I'll certainly give credit where credit is due and never shy away from criticism. Now let's get started.
Cheers!
- A.J.