Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Bartender in training

Jonathan Steven

Recommended Posts

I'm actually a Barback, but I'm looking for some reference material to beef up my knowledge so I'm ready when I need to prove myself. The bar I work at has a good range of amari bitters and other hard to find stuff and we had a copy of Beta Cocktails bouncing around. Anyway, what's a good book for me? The new Gaz Regan Manual? My own copy of Beta Cocktails?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm actually a Bar back, but I'm looking for some reference material to beef up my knowledge so I'm ready when I need to prove myself. The bar I work at has a good range of amari bitters and other hard to find stuff and we had a copy of Beta Cocktails bouncing around. Anyway, what's a good book for me? The new Gaz Regan Manual? My own copy of Beta Cocktails?


It's great that you are looking forward to being a bartender. There is a lot that goes into being a good one, and bar backing is the first step on a long road. Reading as much as humanly possible is another step. Going out and trying spirits and cocktails in hundreds, if not thousands, of bars is also necessary. Making drinks for yourself and your friends will also be part of your overall training. Read more. Getting really good at bar backing is invaluable. Read. Talk to everyone you can about bartending, this forum is a great start. Did I mention reading yet?

Becoming a good bar tender does not happen quickly. I know you are itching to take your place at a station and dazzle the thirsty hoards. Patience, young Jedi. Bar backing is a noble and necessary job. You are the backbone of the bar, you are so very, very important. The bar doesn’t run without you. Getting used to how the bar tenders move, what they need, how to be everywhere and invisible at the same time is paramount. The work ethic you instill in yourself now will inform what kind of bartender you will become. If you are a great bareback you stand a much better chance of being great bartender.

Anticipation is the name of the game for a bareback. You need to know what needs to be stocked well before the bartender knows, let alone asks. There is only set amount of time to make money in a bar. If there is no Booze, glasses, garnishes, ice, the bartender can’t make drinks, so EVERYONE is loosing money. Bar backing is keeping every thing well oiled, and moving along at a frenzied clip.

If I think of the great, nay fantastic, bar backs I have worked with, they were a study in forethought. They knew when a bottle in my speed rack was getting low, so they had another opened with a speed pourer in it. They knew to bring ice well before I needed it. They knew to tell me when there was a spill on the floor, or that they just busted open the last case of Bud Light Lime and it was going to be 20 minutes before more was cold.

Think about bar backing like being the navigator in a fighter jet. The pilot is completely focused on what is right ahead, you need to see into the future and make sure that there isn’t a mountain on the horizon.

While you are becoming the best bar back possible get some books and read. Start with the basics. I love Beta Cocktails, but that is some really advanced stuff. Get down your Daiquiri, your Manhattan, your Martini, and your Tom Collins. I would say that you look through the Cocktail Book thread here and start with Joy of Mixology, The fine Art of Mixing Drinks, Craft of the cocktail, Harry Johnson…

Think of becoming a Bartender like becoming a cook. You need to wash dishes, and prep before you get on the line. You need to understand how a bar functions, it’s rhythm, its foibles and joys, it’s wonderful intricacies and brutal truths before you are at it’s helm. And most important you need to know what is in each bottle. Taste, taste, taste. Get Kindred Spirits 2, read spirit reviews, go to tastings, drink whiskey, rum, brandy, gin, pisco, and amari. It’s not the worst homework you have ever been assigned.

I wish you the best of luck. Hard work, perseverance, and patience is rewarded in this business.


Toby Maloney


Link to comment
Share on other sites

What Toby said.

As for books, you'll find a lot of topics around here on the subject -- and, like Toby, I'd suggest a few classics. I'm very partial to Gary Regan's Joy of Mixology, as it was the first book that I read cover to cover and it's primarily geared toward working bartenders (unlike the vast majority of cocktail books). I also think that his "family" approach, in which he groups drinks according to certain characteristics, is one excellent route into the morass of cocktail taxonomy.

When I teach intro to classic cocktails workshops, I recommend that, DeGroff's Craft of the Cocktail, Dave Wondrich's Imbibe!, Ted Haigh's Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails -- a title that contains a misnomer now thanks in part to his reclamation of the forgotten -- and Art of the Bar by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. The last is a book you can find in remainder bins and Marshalls/TJ Maxx stores, but don't be fooled: it's the best summation of the ways that the west coast bartenders remade the classics in their image.

I should add: I was one of the original Rogue Cocktail book owners, love that book to death (click for breathless rave at this post and following), and have a recipe in the remake/remodel Beta book. But I think that's something to return to once you've got a sense of the foundations, not a starting point.

I have so many more books to recommend, but best that you get those above and start studying them at some actual bars where humans make other humans drinks. Don't be a snob: you can learn a lot from just about anywhere if you approach the place with the right attitude. TGI Fridays will school you on check-handling at peak hours, minimizing movement, bottle placement, station design, and the like. Your neighborhood tavern will learn you about customer relations, shutting people off, and how to get over your asshole self when someone orders a Natty Light and you want to hit them with a bottle of Chartreuse Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé.

Of course, taking in masterful bartenders making remarkable cocktails is important, too. Find the quality bars with quality people making quality drinks, watch, and learn. Many of us can recommend specific people and places depending on the city. If you're ever in Providence, let me know you're in town so I can join you at my place, Cook & Brown Public House, for example.

Unlike other professionals, bartenders create a supportive social network in which sharing, learning, and camaraderie are the norm, not the exception. Take advantage of it.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What they all said. Especially Toby.

If your city (which isn't listed in your profile) has a chapter of the USBG (United States Bartenders Guild) I'd recommend joining. It will allow you the opportunity to meet your local colleagues on the same side of the bar and there are often opportunities for tastings, educational programs, etc. that you might not be made aware of in your current position as a barback.

I'll chime in again on the reading. All those books mentioned are excellent, and I'd avail myself of the vast array of cocktail blogs and newsletters one can subscribe to on the interwebs as well. And of course, the Spirits and Cocktails forum here on eGullet is the home of some awfully lively banter and is always a source of excellent information.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When 2 of my friends were learning how to become "bartenders," as opposed to just drunks on the customer side of the stick, they would have the occasional speakeasy event, where friends were invited, everyone paid (say $10) and they'd make cocktails for all over the course of 2 hours.

Of course, you need a decent amount of inventory to do the same, but if you invite a half- dozen or so friends over, and start with making the classics TM mentions above, that might help you a bit too.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

Link to comment
Share on other sites


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...