FINEST CALL’S GUIDE TO SAVVY BARMANSHIP

At Finest Call we’re proud that ours are the most relied upon drink mixes in the business. It means that our products have earned the seal of approval of bartenders and bar managers around the world.

Working behind a bar, you learn the difference between a passable drink and a great one. The distinction is typically seen on the guest’s face. You also learn to appreciate the power of a ready smile and the impact that a sense of humor can have on someone’s day.

In the same vein, it’s difficult to overestimate the value of treating people like welcome guests. The fact that they enjoyed themselves two visits ago no longer counts. The only thing that matters is how well they’re treated tonight. It entails connecting with your guests such that they feel at comfortable at your bar, rather than just another warm body in the crowd. There’s nothing passé about making people feel appreciated. After all, who doesn’t want to go where everyone knows your name?

Rendering street smarts and bar savvy into a tutorial on how to keep your clientele engaged and coming back may be an inexact science, but it certainly must contain the following precepts.


• QUALITY SELLS — When Americans drink spirits, their tastes are gravitating to the good stuff. Nearly every category of spirits has experienced a marked increase at the top-end, both in case depletions and number of new brands.

Boosting the sales of premium spirits at your bar makes good things happen, namely revenues go up, profits rise and the guest experience is enhanced. A backbar well stocked with premium brands is effectively prompts guests to trade-up their purchases. Also, your staff likely appreciates pouring the good stuff, since the higher the tab, the larger the tip.

Not surprisingly, the ever-growing fascination with cocktails has been a boon to premium spirits. The notion that better brands make better drinks is widely accepted now as a sociological fact. As the adage goes, always buy quality and you’ll never be disappointed.


• TECHNIQUE DELIVERS — Vigorously shaking a cocktail is typically a good thing. One objective is dropping the temperature of the ingredients to serving temperature. While only the genuinely obsessed would bother sticking a thermometer into the drink to ensure that it is sufficiently chilled, the proper serving temperature for a Martini is around 37-38˚F.

Thoroughly mixing the various ingredients into a homogenous cocktail is equally important. Distilled spirits have specific gravities lighter than water, while ingredients such as liqueurs and drink mixes are heavier than water. The gentle act of stirring is often insufficient to mix the various ingredients into solution.

One of the unheralded benefits of thoroughly mixing a libation is that it aerates the drink, infusing it with delightful, palate-tingling bubbles. The drink’s zeal and exuberance is short-lived though. Cocktails are optimally consumed shortly after leaving the mixing tin, which underscores their fleeting and ephemeral nature. Like moments in time, cocktails are to be savored in sips.

The last and rarely acknowledged purpose behind shaking a cocktail is to add a healthy measure of water, the purpose of which is to allow the spirits and modifiers to meld seamlessly together. The water also further softens the raw edge of the liquor. It’s advisable to only use quality ice, because its taste will affect the finished cocktail.

When preparing an order containing two of the same cocktails, care should be taken to ensure that both contain the same serving portion. Otherwise one of the guests is going to feel slighted. Here’s what you do. Pour the first cocktail halfway, and then do the same with the second drink. Pour small amounts of the chilled cocktail into each glass, and continue pouring into each until the mixing glass is empty. In this way the serving portion in each glass should be identical.


• DOUBLE STRAINING— Fortunately for society, a new generation of top-notch bartenders rendered the status quo passé by outfitting their bars with handled tea strainers. At once the creative floodgates were thrown open. Today mixologists and bar chefs are crafting cocktails by muddling fresh products directly in shakers rather than the service glass as is the traditional norm. After vigorously shaking the contents—ice, muddled fruit and all—the frothing cocktail is strained through the fine mesh en route to the chilled glass waiting below. The procedure ensures that nary a trace of flotsam will make its way into the finished cocktail.


• DRINK MAKING ESSENTIALS  — Selecting the right small wares and bar equipment can have a significant impact on speed of service and the excellence of your drinks. You have a much better chance of achieving greatness using professional grade barware than you will with items made in the Truman administration.

There are several bar-related items upon which all commerce behind the bar seems to depend. As in all things, there are practical considerations to weigh when making purchasing decisions, so whenever in doubt, our advice is to err on the side of quality.


A. MIXING EQUIPMENT — Regardless of the particular style of shaker set you choose, it should of sufficient volume to accommodate preparing two of the same cocktail at once (within reason). There should be sufficient quantity of shakers on-hand such that bartenders can prepare multiple cocktail orders simultaneously. Finally, some shaker sets look much cooler than others; so don’t discount aesthetic considerations.

B. WINE OPENERS — Unless screw-top enclosures become the universal standard, you’ll need an adequate supply of French waiter’s wine openers. When selecting an opener to purchase, choose one equipped with a straight blade for cutting away the foil on the neck of a wine bottle. Curved blades often tear the foil. Also, select an opener that has a screw with five coils instead of four and preferably one that has a center groove etched down the middle of the coils. The groove reduces friction and is easier to use.

C. WALL-MOUNTED OPENERS — These devices are capable of removing the cork from a bottle in one smooth, effortless motion. They’re a fast and efficient method of opening a bottle of wine.

D. BAR CUTLERY — Sharp paring knives are essential for preparing fruit garnishes. A dull-edge knife is potentially more dangerous to use than a sharp one. While too dull to cut through a tough citrus rind, the blade is still sharp enough to slice open a finger or palm. If the bar knife is dull, ask someone in the kitchen to have it sharpened. If time doesn’t permit you to do that, flip over a ceramic coffee mug and carefully use the unglazed bottom as a whetstone to hone the blade. Cutting fruit is also made safer and neater by putting a wet bar towel underneath the cutting board. The towel will prevent the cutting board from moving and will soak up any run-off juice.


• GLASSWARE ETIQUETTE — There are a few basic guidelines to keep in mind when working with glassware. Holding a glass to the light and giving it a final visual inspection prior to filling it with ice is the mark of a conscientious bartender. While it takes a few extra seconds per drink, failing to do so risks serving guests drinks in chipped, cracked, spotted or dirty glassware. Obviously that can’t be permitted to happen.

There’s a quick method of checking the cleanliness of your shelved glassware. Pick glasses at random and fill them with club soda. A “clean” glass will not have streams of carbonation rising from its sides or bottom. The carbon dioxide in club soda, or beer, requires a small amount of dirt, grease, or film before actuating a bubble stream. Therefore, the more bubbles you see escaping to the surface, the dirtier the glass.

Always handle glasses by the outside bottom half, thereby avoiding the area from which people drink. Needless to say, don’t touch the rim or the inside of a glass. Likewise, don’t use a glass to scoop ice. It could easily chip or break in the ice, which would necessitate emptying all of the ice, thoroughly cleaning the bin before refilling it with fresh ice. A pain though it is, “burning” the ice is far preferable to chancing a guest being served a drink containing a shard of glass.


• FINAL ACT — Small nuances can make a lasting impression. Such is the case with garnishing. Give your Martini drinkers something to talk about by garnishing their drinks with vodka-steeped, anchovy-wrapped green olives, or pepper-infused, almond-stuffed green olives. Put some pizzazz in your Bloody Marys with a shrimp and scallion garnish. Embellishing drinks affords an opportunity to add some sizzle without significantly increasing cost.

Some garnishes—such as lime and lemon wheels—are merely embellishments. While attractive and in keeping with the general theme of things, they lack the functionality of lime and lemon wedges, which allow guests the option of squeezing more fresh juice into their drinks. Using both a lime wheel and wedge in combination is a clever compromise between form and function.

Swizzle sticks are enjoying a renaissance in bars and nightclubs and rank among the coolest collectibles around. More than mere implements for stirring, swizzles are contemporary memorabilia for the taking, mementoes embossed with the bar identity. Swizzles provide a function and lots of impact for the buck.


• RELAX AND ENJOY YOURSELF — Having fun as a bartender is an integral aspect of the job, even when the job has stopped being fun and turned frenetic. When it’s busy, remain cool and work as expediently as possible. The key is to have your composure last longer than the rush.

Also, in almost every situation you might find yourself in as a bartender, the best course of action is to keep on smiling. Rarely is it inappropriate, while a frown or deadpan expression is always out of place. So kick it out, have fun and be entertaining.