Saturday, May 14

The Classics

If classics aren't ordered very often, should bartenders still be expected to
know how to make them?

This posses an interesting question.

If shootouts don't occur very often, should policeman still be expected to know how to shoot a gun?

If servers don't crash very often, should system administrators be expected to know how to reboot them?

If a bunt does happen very often, should a baseball players still be expected to know how to do it?

The fundamentals of any job should be the first thing that is learned. There are modern and classic cocktails in the bartending world that make up these fundamentals for the job. The basic principles learned by making the simple mixture of sweet, tart, and liquor to make a balanced cocktail is the core to being a good bartender.

Without the base knowledge of the fundamentals a bartender can still do very well at their job and make a lot of money doing it. By following a receipt one can make good drinks, no doubt about it. But, to be a true mixologist the person absolutely needs to know what an ingredient does to a drink.

First lets define a few things. A cocktail can be classified into 3 scopes:

  • Bar specialty drinks - typically a creation of the bar and is most likely the only place it is served. However this is where drinks are invented and given enough time can rise to be a standard cocktail in all bars.
  • Standard Cocktails - should be available in all bars and range in populartiy.
  • Non-standard cocktails - this could be a drink that once was a standard cocktail but fell in popularity or is another bar's specialty drinks.
A classic cocktail could be either standard or non-standard based on it's staying power in the minds of patrons.

When you think about it, the drinks a bartender needs know include: his/her bar's specialty drinks and the standard cocktails. There are many, many specialty drinks that are vying their way to get on the standard cocktail list a recent add to this is the Cosmopolitan.

So, what are the standard cocktails? That is another topic for another day. So I will post a bigger list in a future post, but the standard classic cocktails that every bartender should know, to name a few are: Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, Cosmopolitan, Martini, Margarita, Daiquiri, Mojito, etc... These drinks are known by patrons and they are the essence of what people think of when the word cocktail is spoken.

Within the standard cocktails there is a spectrum of drinks that range in popularity whereby the less popular drinks are less important to "know" and the more popular are more important to "know". Once a cocktail becomes unpopular it then falls off this list and becomes a non-standard.

So for the obscure non-standard cocktails patrons just should not order them. They maybe classic cocktails but they have been long forgotten. Actually, you can still order these drinks but there are three things that must be true before it is allowed:

  • The bar is slow
  • You know they have all the ingredients
  • You have a very good repoir with the bartender going.

And if you do order one of these oldies but goodies be sure to let them know that you know it is an obscure drink.

So don't go into a bar and play stump the bartender by ordering a Devil's Torch unless you want to get thrown out on your ear and I would be glad to help them do it.

Drinks have evolved over time by modifying and creating variations of cocktails. A large explosion of this occurs when there is a new type of mixer available. For example when carbonated water became widely available a fizz was invented from a sour.

As more and more mixers become available it is easy to see why one would get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of cocktails, and it is only going to get worse. The key is learning the fundamentals because you are learning the base recipes that beget all the others.

So the answer to the original question, should a bartender learn the classics if they are not ordered very often, is yes and no. This is because a classic cocktail could be a standard or non-standard cocktail.

You should definitely know all of the classic standard cocktails. But, more importantly learn the standards (classic and modern) with an emphesis on the more popular ones. Learn them and learn the modifiers that got you to your bar's specialty drinks. Make them and taste them for yourself. If you don't like the way they taste, modify them by adding more sweet or more tart flavor to get to a balanced cocktail you would be proud to serve.

As for the non-standard classics you don't have to memorize them. However they should be studied because a lot of them are the building blocks and foundation for nearly every modern drink made today. By learning the basic fundamentals of building a good balanced cocktail one can quickly refer to a bar book (don't be embarrassed to this) to get the base liquor, modifiers, and glass type and still make a great drink.


barmixmaster said...

This post was modified based on feedback received on the webtender website.

See this post for details.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention the sidecare ;)

Anonymous said...

i just discovered a new drink called Magnolia. actually, i think it's an obscure drink, which includes 2 parts coconut rum, 3 parts Dr. Pepper, and 1 part grenedine. is this drink too obscure to order at a bar? i'd like to try it!

Anonymous said...

I think the definition of a classic drink is too broad. It may have been around for a long time, but to me, a classic anything is something that stands the test of time. Classic rock is The Who, for example, and not Rare Earth. Why? Even though Rare Earth may have been a good band, no one listens to them anymore. A martini has been around a long time, and people still drink them; does anyone drink a devil's torch?

One exception is the Old Fashioned: properly made, it is a fun drink to prepare, is very tasty, and in my experience, earns a pretty good tip.