Q: Will this section help me get a job?

A: Yes, of course. But notice that you only need to know the basics.

Q: Will the interviewer ask me any questions about drink recipes?

A: Yes – probably. But don’t stress this as MOST Bar managers are great people and won’t try and trip you up. They’ll probably ask you something like the recipe for a Long Island Iced Tea.

In the following, I’ll give you a list of 60 or so Cocktail Drinks and 20 shooters. Don’t panic! They’re actually very easy to learn, and I have a lot of great tips for you.

Knowing drink recipes is 10% of the job – if that. Sure, if your intent is to work in a Craft Bar, or a bar whose owner wants to carry every liquor made under the sun – you need to know a lot more. But, you have no experience and may wish to forego applying at these places when you’re first starting off. However, for the 90 – 95% of us regular bartenders out there – that’s overkill.

But first, let’s look at why this section is important – and what an interviewer is probably going to ask you. I will go into greater detail in a later section of the course about the Job Interview process, so I’ll discuss here what to do if and when the interview shifts to drink recipes.

When you sit down for the interview, I want you to remember something very important: The interviewer knows that you have no experience. He has your cover letter/resume/application right there in front of him. He sees that you have no experience as a bartender. Believe it or not, when it comes to drink recipes, that works to your advantage during the interview process.

If someone like me (and experienced bartender), sat down to be interviewed, and I didn’t know how to make a Long Island Iced Tea – I’m in trouble. Immediately, the interviewer is going to think I’m conning him. You don’t have to worry about that, so don’t stress about learning 100’s of recipes!

Concentrate on the very basics – which I’m going to give you in the next section. You already got your feet wet in the previous section – All About Liquor, so this section of the course will be, believe it or not, fairly easy.

Green Cocktail With Lime Wedges

Why is this ‘no experience’ thing  important? Firstly, the interviewer doesn’t expect you to know any of the ‘House Specialties’ that the bar pushes. That’s good. (However, I have a great tip for you on this subject in Section 15).

Secondly, he knows that you certainly haven’t been around long enough to know what the popular drinks are in that area. You may have done a little homework (again, I’ll cover that later in the course), but there isn’t a bar manager out there that’s going to ask you how to make some obscure drink. A good bar manager, that is. If he does, he’s probably just messing with you to break the ice. He may even be making stuff up.

I always asked for the recipe to something fairly common. Maybe a Cosmo, Margarita, or a Long Island. Popular, middle off the road stuff, and it shows that you definitely know the basic drinks.

Thirdly, he’s very well aware that if he hires you, he’s going to (hopefully), give you a list of drink recipes. (Along with a price list, a list of liquors that bar uses, and their house specialty recipes.) He’ll ask you to memorize them before your first shift. Do the best you can. He also knows that your trainer will fill you in on precisely what the house policies are when it comes to the amount you should pour, pricing, etc.

Finally, being that you’re inexperienced, he’s not going to waste his time quizzing you about cocktail recipes. Again, that works to your advantage, as you can move on with more important things – techniques that I’m going to teach you in later sections that will actually get you the job.

And, above all else, remember that you have no experience – yet you’re sitting there being interviewed anyway. Why is that? Because they need a bartender! And, they probably need one quickly.

You Already Know 500 Cocktail Recipes!

Now, let’s talk about drink recipes here. We’re going to go from zero to 500 drink recipes that you pretty much already know without even trying. I’m going to give your confidence a huge boost here, so think about this:

  1. Most people call exactly what is in their drink. “Rum and Coke!” “Vodka Tonic!” “Whiskey Seven!” Add all of the combinations up and you get at least 100 – probably closer to two hundred. Add even more if they add “on the rocks” or “tall.”
  2. Think of the types/brands of liquor that we discussed in the previous section. Beefeater Gin, Skyy Vodka, Jack Daniels Whiskey. “Call” drinks. How about the 8 brands of Scotch they carry? Do the same thing we did in #1 above and you can add another 200 recipes to your growing total.
  3. Martini’s, Daiquiri’s, and Margaritas. OK, so you know all the recipes for these three drinks. Add in the different flavorings (syrups, mixers, Schnapps, Brandy’s), many bars have, and you can add another 100 drink recipes – at least. Strawberry Margarita, Banana Daquiri, Apple Martini. Customers will tell you exactly what they want!
  4. Add the 60 or so most common drinks I’m going to provide you with.

As you can see from the above – you already know 100’s of drinks. Trust me – after you’ve been behind a bar for a few weeks (not months), you’ll wonder why you ever worried about this. Just memorize the drinks in this section’s lesson 3 and you’ll do just fine.

Side Note: Yes, for all of you “experienced” bartenders out there (and I know you’re reading this!), you might say, “Well , that’s bogus, Mark! That’s not really 500 drinks. Tall, regular, and on the rocks are basically the same thing. A Bacardi Coke is the same as a Meyers and Coke. A “Cuba Libre” is the same as a Rum and Coke – you can’t count that! And blah, blah, blah. If it makes you feel better, add all of these drinks to your “repertoire” and increase your recipe count to 5K. Feel better?

And one more thing: Half of your customers are going to call for beer or wine, That’s easy stuff, as the bar will carry only a few wines and maybe 10 each of bottled/draft beer. Now we’re talkin’!

Remember: Customers will many times “Call” the liquor. “Stoli Driver!” “Give me a Grey Goose Martini!” And, instead of calling “Screwdriver” or “Cape Cod” they’ll actually call the juice: “Vodka OJ!” Vodka Cranberry!”

How Much Liquor Should Bartenders Pour?

So, exactly how much alcohol should I be pouring in each drink? All bars are different, and it depends on what the owner dictates. 1 ½ ounces of liquor is a fairly standard amount for your normal/regular drinks. 1 ¾ – 2 ounces for “on the rocks” drinks is not uncommon. 2 -2 ½ ounces for Martinis and Manhattans are common – that’s also why they charge more.

I’ve worked in bars where the bar owner was incredibly cheap. 1-ounce shots – even on the rocks. 1 ½ ounce martinis. Ouch. Weak drink complaints galore!

One of the very first questions you BETTER be asking your bar trainer is how much liquor to pour. I’m going to keep it simple for this lesson as well as the following lessons where we get to exact drink recipes. We’ll go with this: 1 1/2 ounces, 2 ounces, and 2 1/2 ounces.

Very Important: Knowing the above portions, it now makes it so much easier to memorize drinks. You don’t have to know the amount of alcohol in each drink, as the bar owner has already dictated that: Any regular drink in a highball, bucket, tall/Collins gets 1 ½ ounce. On the rocks gets 2 ounces. These drinks account for about 80% of the drinks you’ll ever make! Martinis/Manhattans/Cosmos get 2 ½ ounces. The bar manager will tell you how much to pour in “Specialty Drinks.” Two-liquor drinks usually get a price bump. So do blended drinks. Simple. I go into more detail in the Liquor Section of the course.

Big Tip: During the interview, if you are asked how much liquor you would put in drinks, cite the above, something like this: “I’ll pour whatever the house dictates. Generally speaking, 1 ½ ounces, 2 ounces, and 2 ½ ounces depending on the drink.”

Liquor Drink Pricing Examples:

$4.00 – Screwdriver, Whiskey Coke, Vodka Collins (1 ½ Ounces, well liquor)

$4.75 – Scotch rocks, Bourbon rocks (2 Ounces, well liquor)

$6.25 – Martinis, Manhattans, Cosmopolitans (2 ½ Ounces, well liquor)

$5.00 – Stoli Driver, Jack and Coke, Tanqueray Collins (1 ½ Ounces, Call liquor)

$5.75 – J & B rocks, Jim Beam Rocks (2 Ounces)

$8.00 – Grey Goose Martini, CC Manhattan, Smirnoff Cosmo ( 2 ½ Ounces)

If you’re using two alcohols, generally speaking, ALWAYS raise the price. Follow bar policy – they probably have a set price for two-liquor drinks.

POS System: I cover this in great detail in another section of the course. For now, just know that it’s vitally important to select the proper key that pertains to the type of drink and alcohol brand.

Additional Liquor Pouring Tips

Tall glasses and “Specialty” glasses are pretty much interchangeable. Don’t sweat it.

Martini glasses and Cocktail glasses are also pretty much the same thing. Many bars use the same type of glass for these drinks.

NEVER substitute a cheaper liquor in place of what the customer “Calls.” I’ve seen too many bartenders try to cover their over-pouring/theft with this technique. Please – don’t be one of those bartenders!

Tall Screwdriver With Blood Orange Garnish

Many of your customers really don’t know what is in the more complicated, multi-ingredient drinks. Mai-Tai’s, Zombies, Sex on the Beach, etc. Of course, you want to get it right – but I don’t know how many times I’ve been “close enough” on weird, exotic cocktails and the customer claims it’s “the best -fill in the blank- I’ve ever had!”

* Fake it till you make it. Yes, but be careful. You don’t want drinks coming back – lots of waste. And, it should always be your goal to give the customer exactly what they want.

Don’t be afraid to ask the customer what is in the drink. Sometimes you just cannot assume. There’s no shame in this. You’ll get stumped here and there – all bartenders do. Ask a fellow bartender or the bar manager, look it up online or in a book. Whatever you need to do.

Here’s something that all bartenders do – but few will admit to. Are you ready? We make stuff up. Especially when we’re “In the Weeds!” For example, there may be a drink that you’ve made in the past, but cannot recall all of the ingredients. You THINK you have it right and decide to wing it. Careful with this! NEVER DO THIS WHEN IT’S SLOW AND YOU HAVE TIME TO LOOK UP THE RECIPE! I can’t wait to see some experienced bartender’s comment on this!

I’m not talking about the simpler drinks here, as you need to get those right because the customer will know. We’re talking weird, exotic, fruity type drinks. There’s 1000’s of them. Personally, I’ve made Mai-Tai’s five different ways in five different bars.

Here’s an example: A lot of these fruity multi-liquor types of drinks usually contain rum. Maybe add a little vodka. And pineapple juice. Throw a little color in there (Grenadine), and an additional juice and a splash of soda and fruity garnishes and you’ll probably be fine.

Bartender geeks will freak out about the previous paragraph. Good for them. I live in the real world, and when I have a 2 or 3 deeper – I take care of business.

If you’re following along in the Basic Bartending Course:

Next Lesson: How Customers Call Their Drinks

Previous Lesson: All About Liquor – The Alcohols

Back to the Course Start Page: Basic Bartending Course