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Bartending 101: Tips for the Home Bartender

For nearly 40 years and counting, the National Bartending School has been teaching and refining the art of bartending. Masters at their craft, they’ve staffed over 10,000 public and private events nationwide, garnering a reputation for their top-tier training courses and producing the highest quality of bartenders along the way. While bars and restaurants have the most obvious applications for NBS’ teachings, these versatile skill sets can be transferred to virtually anywhere you want to serve a party of guests, including the home bar. Curious about the tricks of the trade and particularly how they can be used to elevate parties in our own living rooms, we reached out to NBS for their top tips for bartending at home. Here’s what the pros had to say (sprinkled in with some tips of our own)!
Beginners’ Bartending Tip #1: Know Your Tools
“Traditionally, bartenders bring their bar tools to private bartending events: shaker, jigger, pour spouts, beer/wine opener, cutting board and knife. And sometimes, a blender on request. Additional items available upon request include mobile bars, mixers, ice, garnishes, and even alcohol — all of which is known as ‘full bar service.’” - National Bartending School
Beginners’ Bartending Tip #2: Understand the Uses of Different Types of Alcohol
Before you start pouring and mixing, getting the basics of ingredients straight is a must. While there’s a lot on the menu for the professional bartender, the most popular drinks requests from guests can be broken down into two categories of basic ingredients: spirits and wine.
Spirits: Whiskey, gin, tequila, vodka, rum, absinthe and brandy, a few common spirits, are distilled (which is a process of boiling the water out of the alcohol) rather than fermented. This places them in their own category of drinks. A particular spirit used in a cocktail will often be paired with a fruit juice that brings out the flavor of the spirit; each spirit contains a specific flavor based on what ingredient or fruit was used to distill it with.

Wine: Wine is the fermentation of grapes, wine and water. (Fermentation is the process in which sugars are broken down and consumed by yeasts, before being transformed into alcohol.) The wine used in most cocktails is fortified wine, which is essentially aged wine with a higher alcoholic concentration. Fortified wines include sherry and vermouth.

Liqueurs: Liqueurs are spirits, sweetened. Amaretto, coffee and creme are just a few flavors of liqueurs. Any mixed drink, craft cocktail and/or classic cocktail can use a liqueur: add one on to a mojito, dry martini, Manhattan or Bloody Mary.
Beginners’ Bartending Tip #3: Learn the Basics of Cocktail-Making
“Every cocktail has three components. Sweetness, bitter/sourness, and alcohol. And that's it! The most common cocktail mixer is sweet and sour because it has both sweetness with sugar and sourness from concentrated lemon/lime juice so the only thing missing is alcohol. Example, a margarita at its root is a tequila sweet and sour. A whiskey sour is a whiskey with sweet and sour (some places add egg white). A daiquiri is really just a rum sweet and sour…” - National Bartending School
Beginners’ Bartending Tip #4: Prepare the Measurements Before Serving
So, what does “1 part vodka and 2 parts soda” mean, anyway? It might sound like the kind of vague and ancient riddle you’d hear from a bridge troll, but it’s actually a simple equation that’s all about proportions. Measuring by “parts” is an easy way to prepare cocktail recipes, especially when you want to vary drink recipe size based on your guests’ preferences. When a recipe calls for parts, the key is to start with the base, in any amount you want, then multiply it by two (or the number called for the mixer). Ex: 1 part vodka and 2 parts soda = 1 oz vodka, 2 oz soda.
Beginners’ Bartending Tip #5: Master the Most Popular Recipes
“Hours can be spent going over how to make a simple drink. From the way we pour, to how we measure, to whether we shake or stir (and the varying techiniques for both) to different types of ice, to the presentation itself. The National Bartending School teaches each of these things in depth. That said, the standard cocktail for any bartender or mixologist is a very simple drink called an Old Fashioned. It has evolved over the years, but today the standard recipe is very similar to the original recipe from over 100 years ago: whiskey (more commonly a rye whiskey, but bourbon works too) sugar or simple syrup or brown sugar (just a splash) and a few dashes of bitters (usually angostura or orange bitters). Garnish is an orange wedge, or cherry, or both. In the 80s and 90s, the Old Fashioned typically was muddled and soda water was added, but in the last wave of mixology trends over the last two decades, the traditional Old Fashioned has prevailed (thank goodness!).” - National Bartending School
Beginners’ Bartending Tip #6: Garnish, Garnish, Garnish
Adding a garnish can make the drink stand out — and leave an impression. For fruity drinks: Try an orange or lemon slice wedged onto the rim of the glass. For sweet drinks: Try a couple cinnamon sticks as stirrers. For margaritas: the fanciest-appearing of all garnishes also happens to be a cinch. Simply dampen the rim of an empty glass and dip in a plate of salt and sugar!
Beginners’ Bartending Tip #7: Practice Efficiency
“What every bar manager is looking for when he hires a bartender are the basics: A. Bartenders who do not overpour, do not overserve, and do not drink behind the bar. Alcohol is a drug, and bartenders need to be cautious and aware at all times. B. Every bartender needs to practice cleanliness.” - National Bartending School
Beginners’ Bartending Tip #8: When Creating a Signature Drink, Remember the Three Components
“Because there are so many spirits, liquours / cordials and mixers, there is an unlimited amount of combinations one can use to create their own signature cocktail. In creating a signature cocktail, first we remember the three components of a cocktail: sweetness, bitterness/sourness, and alcohol. Secondly, factor in preferences. Is the bride or groom a whiskey or vodka person or is this a party or event where people do not drink at all? You can absolutely design non-alcoholic drinks for people who don't drink, which can be delicious. Other factors to consider are strength of alcohol, sweetness preferences, and style. Is a fruity, fun, umbrella -garnished drink appropriate, or is a simple spirit heavy drink more appropriate? And of course, the name matters! Whether it's simply "Jen's Drink" or "John's Drink" or thematic, it's always appreciated if the name is relevant.” - National Bartending School

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