Tag Archives: mixology

You Know You’re a Bartender When…

1. You have nightmares about breaking glass in the ice bin.

2. Phrases like “nice stir” or “mean double shake” are the greatest praises you can receive.

3. You frequently pontificate on the history of the margarita.

4. You use phrases like “mash bill” in everyday conversation.

5. You get giddy over a shipment of new glassware.

6. You find yourself at your bar even on your night off.

7. You double all numbers and refer to them in “proof”.

8. Your heroes are other pasty skinned persons who hardly see the light of day and are largely unknown to the general populace.

9. You shudder at words like “Malibu”, “Goose”, and “Bacardi”.

10. You inwardly delight when informing guests that you can’t make that drink with vodka instead of gin.

11. You’ve seen the sun rise each morning for as long as you can remember.

12. You crack esoteric jokes using bar jargon and expect laypersons to understand them. E.g. Q: “Why can’t bartenders stay faithful?” A: “Because they’re surrounded by cheaters.”

13. You sleep with a copy of Imbibe under your pillow.

14. A 50%+ tip is customary to you.

15. Getting charged for drinks has become largely foreign to you.

16. You refer to your bar’s owner as “my owner”.

17. You say things under your breath like, “That was maybe a six count, at best..” when watching other bartenders free-pour, then go on to espouse the virtues of the jigger to anyone who’ll pretend to listen, despite what Dushan Zaric may have to say on the matter.

18. Phrases like “dry shake”, “big jigger”, “two-to-one”, and “tipples” don’t sound even vaguely sexual to you.

19. You’re barely buzzed after eight shots.

20. You have a prepackaged response for when Mom asks you why you haven’t gone to law school yet.


Things I’ve Learned Behind the Bar [Part I: The Basics]

1. When pouring draft beer, tilt the glass anywhere but toward the customer/s. Better to give yourself a beer facial when the keg kicks than your paying customers.

2. When shaking with glass, keep the (metal) shaking tin facing customers.  Same logic applies as in rule #1 with regards to glass facials.

3. Chill glassware whenever possible. If your bar lacks a glass chiller, fill serving glass with ice water and allow to chill. Disregard this rule entirely when in the weeds.

4. “In the weeds” means deliriously busy in service-industry-speak. Service industry professionals invariably employ this vernacular to elicit empathy from fellow pros with regards to a busy service. Use interchangeably with “slammed”, i.e. “We were slammed Friday night.”

5. Build glassware first. Whether at home or behind the bar with a line of tickets in front of you, building your glasses keeps you aware and prepared. Rim your glasses, fill with ice cubes, chill, etc. Do this first, then fill your shaking tin with ice, then build your drinks. Once you’ve shaken/stirred, you’re ready to go.

6. Build cocktails at room temperature. Soccer moms may keep their vodka in the freezer, but bartenders do not. Spirits are stored at room temperature and you must build your drink as such in order not to dilute the final product. Add ice immediately before shaking/stirring. The exception to this rule are highballs (i.e. booze + mixer), which can be built over ice in final glassware due to their simplicity and quick pickup time.

7. “Pickup time” or simply “pickup” refers to the time it takes, in realtime circumstances, to produce a product. This terminology stems from the kitchen and can invariably be heard barked by expediting sous chefs at mere line cooks.

8. Ring drinks in before you make them. Disregard this when in the weeds. Accordingly, you must check that all beverages have been rung in before printing tables’ checks.

9. Strain fruit juices and syrups. You may like your orange juice with pulp but your customers don’t want it in their cocktails. Why? It looks ugly sticking to the inner walls of their emptied glasses. Strain syrups because steeping matter will invariably get stuck in your cheater if you don’t.

10. Receptacles used for storing juices, syrups, infused spirits, etc., ideally equipped with speed pouring nozzles, are called “cheaters”. These must be labeled and dated. Said nozzles are referred to as “speed pours” (truncated form of “speed pourers”?).

11. Simple syrup is a mixture of sugar and water at a 1:1 ratio. All syrups are, in essence, a simple syrup with some sh*t added to them, usually boiled, cooled, then strained out or allowed to steep in quart containers and strained out before being poured into cheaters. Agave, honey, maple, demerara and any other viscous sweeteners should be “cut” by hot water at a 2:1 ratio and allowed to cool. Ratios can be adjusted according to sweetness, but you want all syrups at the viscosity of your simple syrup. This is so you can measure all syrups equally.

12. Use a jigger. Always. Night club bartenders may look cool raising bottles high in the air and doing hazardous sh*t like holding multiple bottles at once while pouring Long Island Iced Teas, but that style of drink preparation is inaccurate. Counting is effective but can’t ultimately be relied upon because speed pours invariably differ in their rate of liquid dispensing, i.e. they get f*cked up and start pouring out a wimpy stream, etc.

13. Metal speed pours are preferable to plastic speed pours for aesthetic purposes. Plastic speed pours are preferable to metal speed pours for utilitarian purposes because they don’t get f*cked up as easily.

14. ALWAYS pour with your index finger covering the cap of the speed pour, at the base of the nozzle. This is to prevent a faulty speed pour from detaching from your bottle of spirit, depositing said spirit all over your bar mat/counter top.

15. Never order Long Island Iced Teas unless you’re at a night club. Never order anything more complicated than a highball when at a night club, except for Long Island Iced Teas.

16. Never visit night clubs.

17. Mix with syrup and citrus at equal ratios. There are exceptions, but in general this is an excellent rule to follow. In general, build drinks with two ounces of base spirit. Keep recipes simple whenever possible. I.e. Moscow Mule- 2 oz. vodka, 3/4 oz ginger syrup, 3/4 oz. lime juice. Dark & Stormy- 2 oz. dark rum, 3/4 ginger syrup, 3/4 oz. lime juice. Margarita- 2 oz. tequila, 1/2 oz. orange liqueur, 1/2 oz. agave syrup, 1/2 oz. lime syrup. Large volume? Adjust ratios accordingly, i.e. 1 oz. citrus, 1 oz. syrup. Try not to exceed 2 oz. booze or 1 oz. citrus/syrup in any drink, except for vermouth-based cocktails, i.e. martinis, Manhattans, etc.

18. Mix martinis, Sazeracs, Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, etc. with 3 oz. total booze. For the classics, ask customers about spirit, vermouth, rocks/up and garnish preferences.

19. If a middle-aged or older lady asks you to make a Cosmopolitan, refuse the urge to make jokes about late 90’s HBO dramas and kindly comply. Substitute Pom Juice, grenadine or anything else that’s red or purple for cranberry if you don’t have it. Ideally make house grenadine by adding sugar to pomegranate juice and cutting it with hot water.

20. Be kind to your barbacks. They are the lifestream of the bar. You can’t do sh*t without ice, fresh juice and syrups, bartender.

More later. Happy tending!

Building Your Humble Home Bar [Part I: Tools]

So you’re ready to take the plunge. You’re going to mix drinks at home. You already make a mean Jack & Coke, but you’re ready to take things up a notch. You’re going to mix cocktails. At home. And you’re going to do it well.

Nothing’s written in stone, and you can get by with improvisation, but these are the basic tools a bartender uses, whether he/she is mixing at home or behind the stick, for money.

1. Jigger. Used for measuring pours of alcohol and mixers. Never seen one before? That’s because you’ve been drinking at clubs and sports bars, my friend. These things ensure accuracy and can be used quickly after a bit of practice. I prefer 1 and 2 oz. cones, though jiggers come in a variety of sizes. Don’t fret if yours doesn’t have demarcated 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 oz. lines. Measure out these volumes with measuring spoons/cups, pour into your jigger and note the lines.

2. Mixing glass. 16 oz. pint glasses work best. This cheap one I grabbed at the discount store has flat edges, making stirring with a bar spoon a bit difficult. Shoot for a round edged, plain ol’ pint glass.

3. Boston Shaker. The king of utility, this guy is faster and more versatile than the three-part cobbler shakers, plus it looks tougher during usage. There’s a bit of a learning curve, so practice with ice and water. Lightly tap to form/break the seal, and make sure you’re exerting enough force to keep the mixing glass firmly enclosed by the shaker. I use a 28 oz. shaker.

4. Bar spoon. This pretentious-looking spoon is quite versatile thanks to its narrow head and twisted shaft (useful for twirling in crushed ice drinks, etc.), and is used primarily for stirring booze, mixers and ice in the mixing glass. Although cheap, these aren’t a must–a long chopstick is the fastest stirrer out there.

5. Juicer. This utilitarian device works for both lemons and limes, but you have a variety of options here, from squeezing with your hands to heavy-duty manual or electric juicers. Just make sure you strain your fruit juice, unless you or your guests really like pulp.

6. Muddler. This wooden muddler is cheap and effective, though a sturdy spoon or a flat-handled bar spoon works too.

7. Conical strainer. Used for straining juices, muddled concoctions, etc. Strainers come in a variety of sizes but this one looks pretty and fits over even the smallest glassware. When straining higher volumes of juices, infusions, etc., use a larger cooking strainer.

8. Fruit peeler. Used for peeling twists, this charming little guy gives you lots of control but can be subbed out for a pairing knife.

9. Julep strainer. This strainer is traditionally used in tandem with a mixing glass in stirred drinks. The Hawthorne strainer fits your mixing glass just fine, but unlike the Hawthorne, this guy doubles as an ice scoop. Muhaha.

10. Hawthorne strainer. Named after the inventor, not the author. This amazing tool just works, and they start cheap.

11. Pairing knife. Any somewhat sharp knife will do, large or small–you just might have to adjust your technique. Used for cutting twists and for slicing fruit.

12. Waiter’s corkscrew. From popping beer bottles to cutting packaging to unscrewing corks, this guy does it all.

This basic list of barware will bring you a long way. You’ll notice these supplies rest atop a bar mat, a worthwhile expenditure that allows for faster mixing by absorbing spills in the heat of the moment, hence postponing cleanup. Also not pictured here is a cutting board, which you’ll need unless you like chopping fruit in the palm of your hand. In which case you’ll also need a first aid kit.

Stay tuned for Part II: Bottles !!

Easy Bloody Mary Recipe

Brooklyn Republic vodkaV8 Original tomato juiceSriracha hot saucePonzu sauceCento Pepperoncini pickled peppers

Who doesn’t like a good Bloody Mary? Alongside the margarita, it reins as one of America’s great unorthodox cocktails that remains wildly popular for a good reason–because  it tastes amazing. Possibly the best daytime drink, the Bloody Mary simultaneously gives you your vitamins and an excuse to drink at any time. After tasting my fair share of good and not-so-good renditions of this classic, and making them at home in a variety of incarnations, I’ve settled on an easy recipe with a couple twists.


Vodka (Brooklyn Republic pictured above; $22/750ml)

Tomato juice (V8 is the standard)

Hot sauce (I choose Sriracha over Tabasco because, well, it’s better)

Ponzu sauce (soy sauce, vinegar and lemon. Simple and delicious. Available at most Asian markets, though easy to make at home)

Pickle juice (Cento Pepperoncini pictured above. Jalapeno juice works great too)

I know what you’re thinking. “No worcestorshire sauce?! This is bullsh*t!” Too much worcestorshire is the downfall of many a Bloody Mary, and I’m not a big fan of the stuff in the first place. The flavor is extremely pungent, and can mask other flavors far too easily. I’ve been using ponzu sauce for awhile and I feel it works better. It’s salty, smoky, tangy and sour. As for the Sriracha, it’s the best hot sauce on earth. And it contains garlic and more salt. The pickled pepper juice is key, a trick I learned from Phillip Marie in NYC’s West Village, a humble restaurant with a wicked brunch and the best Bloody Mary I’ve ever had. Pepperoncinis are milder than jalapenos, but still pack quite a kick, and you can float one of these bad boys on top for a garnish–celery and olives be damned. As for the salt/pepper and the horseradish? You don’t need ’em.


2 oz vodka

1 tsp. Sriracha (or more for those who like it hot)

1 tsp. ponzu

1 tsp. pickle juice

fill tomato juice and ice cubes, stir, serve.

I don’t bother measuring these out, and if you’re at all decent at estimating portions, you shouldn’t need to either. You should have about twice as much tomato juice as vodka, and you just need a splash each of the hot sauce, ponzu and pickle juice.

As for the celery stalk, that’s up to you.

The cocktail showdown

for Momofuku co. bar staff today at Booker and Dax was a blast! Two teams of five members went drink for drink, each team member creating a cocktail from a limited list of ingredients ranging from base spirits like Aquavit to liqueurs like Campari to funky ingredients like plum wine and coconut vinegar. I ended up incorporating rhubarb bitters and apple cider syrup into a uniquely American old-fashioned style cocktail I named “American Pie” (so creative, right?). Here’s the recipe:

2 oz. Rittenhouse rye whiskey

.25 oz. coconut vinegar

.5 oz. apple cider syrup

2 dash rhubarb bitters

Rittenhouse rye American whiskey

Rittenhouse Rye–as American as they come.

I built the drink in a double old fashioned glass  then added ice and stirred for ten to fifteen seconds and served as is. This concoction tasted spicy and tart, while remaining spirit-forward thanks to the Rittenhouse (100 proof), and the drink was well-received. Other unique libations the team came up with included a French 75 derivative with Kool Aid (seriously) and a Mezcal apricot sour that was delicious. Round two of the showdown is scheduled for next month, by which time we’re expected to have perfected our original cocktails, or at least gotten them as close to serviceable as possible.

“Imbibe!” by David Wondrich [2007]

Imbibe! by David Wondrich

Now reading Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar., David Wondrich’s “lively” guide to the history of American mixology. Wondrich tracks the exploits and recipes of larger-than-life barman Jerry Thomas and his “sporting” fraternity in a billowy, regal writing style that clearly shows Wondrich’s passion and also his enamoration for his subject(s). Favorite line so far:

“You were rich, you were broke, you were rich again–sometimes all on the same day. For the Victorians, money was an object. For the Sports, it was a process.”

Imbibe!, p. 24

Haystack Fire

Working on a new cocktail. Tentative title, “Haystack Fire”.

2 oz. Rittenhouse Rye

3/4 oz. Cointreau

One whole egg

3/4 oz. lemon juice

7-8 dashes hot sauce

3/4 oz. maple syrup

I’ve grown obsessed with egg-based cocktails recently (most are, lamentably, usually composed only of egg whites), and I’ve been a fan of spicy libations for some time now. Combining these two unique fronts into a single drink, I’ve come up with the Haystack Fire. Rittenhouse is cheap and widely available, but could be substituted for any American whiskey. Cointreau is a pricey, name-brand orange liqueur–substitute Triple Sec for value (note, however, that ‘Sec’s proof is lower–usually around forty, compared to Cointreau’s eighty proof–adjust accordingly), or Gran Gala or Gran Marnier for a twist. The whole egg is something I can’t, personally, budge on. To me, discarding an egg’s yoke is an outright sin. I go for the dark meat on Thanksgiving, I’m a sucker for anything with the word “belly” in it, and, in the same vein, to me, the idea of tossing out the most nutritious and filling part of an egg is farcical. The whole egg also gives greater viscosity and a nice faint yellow color to the drink that looks pretty along with the dark maple syrup and the red hot sauce. As for the hot stuff, I’ve been considering infusing the spirit itself in red pepper and straining it off after a day or two, but a heavy handful of Tabasco or Louisiana, or a squirt or two of Shiracha does the trick. And for the sweetener, I’ve opted for maple syrup because of the great dark color and the unique, smokey flavor. Honey is a Godsend, but it’s so ubiquitous these days in American mixology (usually in tandem with ginger, which I’ve also expressly foregone). A final version of this product would ideally use New Hampshire-sourced maple syrup in a cheap sort of homage to my upbringing. The obvious choice here, however, would be to go with VT stuff. Upstate New York dark matter could be a solid play as well.

Steps: shake the raw egg in a Boston Shaker first. Then add spirit, liqueur, hot sauce, lemon juice, maple syrup, and finally, a few ice cubes. Shake vigorously and strain into a tumbler over a couple (preferably large) ice cubes. Drizzle a bit more maple syrup on top for effect, and enjoy.

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