Contrary to the popular belief, bartending is far more complex than taking orders and pouring drinks. From setting up your bar and maintaining inventory to making mixers and prepping garnishes, there is a lot going on behind the bar. Here are some easily implemented hacks that will help you up your efficiency while prepping without sacrificing finesse.

Chilling drinks on the fly

It may seem obvious, but making sure your drinks are cold is an elemental, and sometimes stressful, part of bar service. If you run out of cold beers, what are you going to do? Definitely not serve them warm or tell customers to wait 30 minutes until they get cold.

What if you someone orders a $100 bottle of Chardonnay and the only one you have is un-chilled in the liquor room?

Here are two great ways to get bottles cold in a hurry:

  1. For bottled beer or soda, wrap the bottle in a damp paper towel and put it in the freezer. In 10-15 minutes, the beer will be cold enough to serve, saving you a great deal of time and grief. (NOTE: avoid putting wine in a freezer. While it may help cool the wine down, if you freeze it for too long you can easily ruin the wine’s structure and taste.)
  1. For both beer and wine, put the bottle in a large bucket of ice and add salt. The salt helps to cool the ice faster and allows you to get the bottle to the customer faster.

Ice hacks

Ice, while overlooked by most, plays a significant role in the composition and presentation of a drink. As pro bartenders know, the type of ice cube you use can make or break a drink and prepping for this needs to be executed flawlessly.

One easy way to make your ice look clean and crisp is by boiling the water before you freeze it.

This removes the dissolved gas, making it clear and not cloudy. Clearer ice allows the colors of your cocktail to flourish. The best example of this is in an Old Fashioned, which uses one big ice cube, and the clearer the better.

Using crushed ice will also help take your cocktails to the next level. Many summer-time drinks thrive when served with crushed ice. Make your own as needed by taking a ziplock bag with your cubed ice and beating it with a rolling pin or strong muddler. Simple as it may seem, your patrons notice the details, especially when they enhance the drinking experience.

Making syrups

No bar is complete without mixers and syrups, but they don’t grow on trees. Bartenders spend countless hours prepping before their shift, making their syrups and mixers. Here are some simple tips for enhancing your mixers and making them last longer.

There is no bar without simple syrup and, as any bartender can tell you, it’s an easy recipe: combine equal parts sugar and water, and boil until the sugar is dissolved.

The real trick here is about making it last; by adding a splash of vodka, you can extend the life of your syrup.

Everyone knows about the bar staple, Rose’s grenadine, but you don’t have to use the brand-name stuff. Making your own grenadine syrup is an easy task. Whether you’ve run out of your Rose’s or want to use your own version, simply boil one part sugar in one part pomegranate juice to achieve the classic taste, then add your own twists to put a spin on it.

To change it up, and add some pizzazz to your drinks, use a jam-like mixture instead of syrup. Marmalade or raspberry jam are perfect examples that will sweeten up your drink and add a little viscosity; add a tablespoon to 2 oz of liquor and 3/4 oz of citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit juice).

Garnish like a boss

Garnishes should bring a cocktail’s ingredients together, not be used carelessly as decoration. From an olive in your martini to a bourbon cherry in your Manhattan, there is rhyme and reason for every garnish, so make it count!

Here are some garnish ideas that will bring the wow factor you’re looking for:

  • Adding edible flowers to ice can enhance your cocktail’s flavors with its fragrance while also creating an aesthetically pleasing accent. The key here is using the right flower and quantity without going overboard, so be sure to play around with the technique.
  • Sticking a rosemary sprig or an aromatic leaf, like mint, to the top of a cocktail can bring out the sweet and earthy tones in your drink that previously had gone unnoticed.

By placing the herbs on the top of the drink, you can take advantage of both its smell and taste, adding another layer of complexity to your cocktail.

  • To add a bit of flare to your cocktail (pun intended), burn the outside of an orange peel to give your drink some sharpness and unique character.

Chase the taste away

While most people will ask for a soda or juice to help eliminate the burn of a shot, offer a homemade pickleback as a chaser to change things up. The salty, acidic taste will instantly take away the taste of alcohol and add a distinctive note that will bring customers back.

Try making a traditional pickleback with cucumbers and something hotter, like pepperoncini or jalapeños, for those who want a bit of burn. If you need somewhere to start or some inspiration to get you going, check out this pickleback recipe.

We hope that these tips and hacks will help make your life behind the bar easier. By using a little bit of foresight, some creativity, and a few tricks, you can take your game to a new level and transform any old drink into an artistic cocktail creation.

And if you’re finding yourself short on time, check out  Bartending Hacks: Managing Your Time →

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