Every bartender needs to learn basic drinks, whether you get professional training or on-the-job training. You have to know how to mix drinks in the right proportions.

However, what sets you apart from other bartenders is how long you’ve been able to practice in a real bar set up.

In this article, we will discuss concepts around bartending for both professional bartenders and those who just want to impress at home. But, first things first, how many drinks do you know already?

The Different Types of Drinks Explained

Alcoholic Drinks

These contain ethanol (alcohol) in varying percentages. They are commonly used to make cocktails. The names vary depending on the country of origin and the manufacturer, but they all follow a similar production process.

For example, all beers are produced via saccharification of starch.

bartending 101

In layman’s language, starch from malted cereal grains such as barley and wheat is broken down using enzymes and the resulting sugar undergoes fermentation.

The resulting liquid is then flavored with hops to act as a preservative and to add the bitter taste. Other brands add fruit syrup or an assortment of herbs. 

The categories of alcoholic drinks available include:

  • Beer
  • Cider (apple wine)
  • Distilled drinks (spirits and liquor)
  • Hard soda (Alcopop)
  • Wine

Did you know that beer, wine, and liquor have been part of human entertainment culture for over 8,000 years?

Under distilled drinks, vodka is the most popular spirit worldwide. Different manufacturers give it a different name while others add flavors to make their vodka distinct.

As a bartender, you might also come across the term “hard liquor”. This distinguishes distilled drinks from undistilled ones. The latter are implicitly weaker.

A Blend of Alcoholic and Non-alcoholic Drinks

This category includes a blend of an alcoholic drink with a soft drink, or any drink, but then during production, they add alcohol (or they let the ingredients ferment to produce ethanol). Under this category, we have:

  • Barley drinks
  • Hot drinks (Irish coffee, Hot Toddy etc.)
  • Mixed drinks

Non-alcoholic Drinks

Bartending 101 Basic Drinks

These don’t contain any alcohol. They include:

  • De-alcoholized wines (sparkling wine)
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Non-alcoholic beers
  • Chocolate drinks
  • Plant-based soft drinks such as those produced from barley, rice, and maize
  • Other soft drinks like soda

The Equipment Used

As a bartender, you will most likely be using the following equipment. However, you can omit some while others are becoming even more advanced.

Shaker – Plastic is better to avoid broken glass in your drinks. Shakers are used to thoroughly mix all the ingredients just before serving.

Strainer – A strainer makes pouring the well-mixed drink in a glass easier while getting rid of coarse particles.

Ice scoop – You can also use a tablespoon but an ice scoop makes work easier.

A cutting board and knife – You use these to slice your fruits and herbs with precision.

Lemon and lime squeezer – Again, this equipment just makes work easier, especially when you’re preparing several batches at once. However, you can squeeze lime juice the old school way as well.

Measuring cup for beginners – With pre-written recipes, you need to follow them precisely. Over time, you can confidently pour the ingredients directly from the bottle.

Bartending 101 Basic Drinks: Alcoholic Cocktails

Alcoholic cocktails are simply a mixture of base fruit with alcohol.

Bartending 101 Basic Drinks

For example, if you are using vodka, to make say Screwdriver or Greyhound, you just add 4 Oz fruit juice (lemon, grapefruit, pineapple, cranberry, etc.) to 2 Oz vodka.

At an advanced level, you can mix more than one type of alcohol with multiple fruit bases including herbs such as mint.

There are numerous cocktail recipes for you to try. However, you have to strike the right balance to avoid overly sweet cocktails or those with a bitter ethanol flavor.

In this bartending 101 basic drinks article, we will discuss the common mistakes new bartenders make under the do’s and do not’s section.

To serve alcoholic cocktails, you need to use a little creativity. If your cocktail is more on the sweet side, coat the circumference of your serving glass with salt.

If you used herbs in your cocktail (like with a mojito), a hint of mint leaves as a garnish will go well. Similarly, use a slice of whichever fruit base you used as a garnish.

Ice cubes are also important with alcoholic cocktails. However, don’t just throw them in during service. Incorporate them in the shaker.

This ensures your ice cubes absorb the cocktail flavors and consequently, the cocktails won’t have some sections tasting blunt (due to melting water).

Bartending 101 Basic Drinks: Non-alcoholic Drinks (AKA Mocktails)

In this section, we call them mixed drinks (not cocktails). They are the alcohol-free versions of cocktails. Most mocktails use sugar syrup as the base.

Bartending 101 Basic Drinks

To make this syrup, you cook equal parts sugar and water for a few minutes or until the sugar melts.

If you’re not using the entire batch of syrup right away, pop some in the fridge until when ready to use. You can also use store-bought syrup but homemade is always better.

Another tip with mocktails is to always use freshly squeezed fruit juice and serve immediately. Fresh fruit juices undergo oxidation. This results in a metallic taste and a dull colored fruit juice.

Mocktails also go well with fresh herbs such as ginger, basil, and mint. However, you have to strain these herbs right before serving. Chewing a slice of ginger can be very unpleasant. But a few minutes of soaking it in your mocktail is enough to extract the ginger flavor.

Alternatively, soak the ginger in hot water. Drain the water, grate your ginger, and then squeeze off the juice using your fingers.   

Finally, unlike the alcoholic cocktails, you add ice cubes just before serving. So always make your mocktails a little more concentrated because the ice cubes will naturally dilute the juices and sugar syrup further.

Bartending 101 Basic Drinks: The Do’s and Do Not’s

Dos

  • Do clean messes and spills as soon as they happen.
  • Be friendly towards your crowd. They came to have fun. Maintain a genuine smile and be patient.
  • Know your brands and understand how to mix them professionally.
  • Wear comfortable footwear and professional attire.
  • Do cut off alcohol supply to intoxicated customers.

Bartending 101 Basic Drinks

Do Not’s

  • Do not ever serve alcoholic drinks to minors.
  • Do not drink on the job
  • Accidents do happen. Do not use the shaker while pointing it towards the customer. The last thing you want is to spoil their clothes.
  • Do not bang a stuck shaker on the bench. Instead, tap it gently at the point where the two join. It’s just a little air suction or liquid flow making your shaker jam.

So What Popular Drinks Should Every Bartender Know?

  • Long Island Iced Tea
  • Black Russian
  • Mojito
  • Martini
  • Sex on the Beach
  • Piña Colada (both alcoholic and mocktail versions)
  • Negroni

Conclusion

Amicable bartenders take pride in being competent with multicultural cocktail recipes and proficiency in the art of suitably serving their guests.

With the right ingredients and a healthy repertoire of bartending 101 basic drinks, you will be the heartbeat of any gathering.