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10 Ways to Up Your Home Bartending Game

The Royal Reserve Shaker Set on a shelf, a woman pouring a blue cocktail into a glass out of the Cresimo cocktail shaker, and a man stirring a cocktail with the HIWARE mixing spoon.
Royal Reserve/Cresimo/HIWARE

Whether you love entertaining guests or just enjoy sipping an ice-cold cocktail in the evening, learning how to tend bar is a skill that will definitely come in handy. Here are 10 tips and items that can help you up your bartending game.

Nothing beats a refreshing cocktail after work on a hot summer day. If you’d like to become more of a mixologist for yourself or your friends, here are some tips, tricks, and tools to get you on your way.

The Right Tools

The Cocktail Mixology Shaker Set on a shelf.
Royal Reserve

For an artist to hone his or her craft, the right tools are a necessity. When it comes to bartending, you’re going to need things like a proper shaker (that doesn’t leak), a jigger for measuring, and other mixing essentials that will ensure you get the job done correctly.

You’ll also want a set of tongs (for garnishes), a strainer, a muddler, and, of course, some pourers. That’s why we recommend this starter kit from Royal Reserve. It has everything you need, as well as a handy cocktail recipe book for the next time someone requests something you don’t know how to make.

Stock Up on Spirits Over Time

Three bottles of bourbon next to a sifter full and someone holding a bottle of Breckenridge.

To get your home bar off to a good start, you’ll want to stock it with staples, like vodka, tequila, gin, rum, and whiskey. You don’t have to do this all at once, as one bottle of good liquor can be expensive. Start with your favorite, or one that’s popular with your regular guests, if you entertain.

Think of (or look up) some standard cocktails and pick up some of the ingredients. You’ll likely need a few juices (cranberry, pineapple, and so on), some sour mix, grenadine, and bitters. Some dry and sweet vermouth are always good to have on hand, as well as a few liqueurs of choice.

To help you build your bar, you might want to try a liquor subscription service, like Flaviar. You can choose a quarterly ($95 per quarter) or yearly ($300) subscription, and you can cancel any time.

Before you know it, you’ll have a fully stocked bar and be ready to mix up any cocktail anyone requests at your dinner party.

Learn How to Make the Classics

"The Ultimate Bar Book: The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,000 Cocktails" sitting next to a tumbler half full of liquor.
Chronicle Books

Before you start experimenting and creating your own cocktails, it’s a good idea to memorize how to make some of the classics. Once you’ve got those down, you’ll be able to tweak, or even redesign them, as you sharpen your skills.

Here are some classic cocktails every bartender should know how to make:

  • Margarita
  • Long Island Iced Tea
  • Cosmopolitan
  • Daiquiri
  • White Russian
  • Manhattan
  • Dirty Martini
  • Bloody Mary
  • Mai Tai
  • Mojito
  • Old-Fashioned

Of course, you can always look these up on your phone, but having everything handy in one big is a wise investment. Armed with The Ultimate Bar Book: The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,000 Cocktails by Mittie Hellmich, no one will ever be able to stump you again!

Shaken, Not Stirred

A man pouring a creamy cocktail out of a shaker over the HIWARE mixing spoon.

Beyond memorizing drink recipes, a good mixologist also knows when to stir and when to shake. Some cocktails taste better when stirred because this simply combines the ingredients, while minimizing the amount of water, which dilutes the alcohol.

Stirring is done in a gentle, circular motion with a long-handled bar spoon. You stir classic cocktails, like the Manhattan, Negroni, or Rob Roy.

Shaking a cocktail makes it ice-cold. Of course, you do this in a cocktail shaker. Fruity cocktails, like margaritas and cosmopolitans, are usually shaken before they’re served.

Break Out the Blender

Someone pouring a purple smoothie out of the Ninja Countertop Blender and a a margarita garnished with limes.

While only a few cocktails require a blender—namely, frozen daiquiris, piña coladas, and mudslides—they’re all quite popular, so it’s always good to have one.

Blenders are also an easy way to experiment and create new cocktails. We like the Ninja Professional Countertop Blender because it’s perfect for breaking down ice and fruit. It’s excellent for smoothies, too (whether you spike them or not).

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

Bartending, like anything else, is a learning game, so be sure to teach yourself how to make new drinks often. Compile plenty of recipes so you’ll be ready to show your stuff when someone asks for a special drink.

Beyond just learning how to make new beverages, you’ll also quickly discover which flavor profile you (and others) like the most. Then, you can start making substitutes along the way, until you’ve created your own signature cocktail.

When your guests start requesting a drink you made up, you’ll know you’ve made it!

Prep for Parties

Someone pouring a shot out of a bottle with an AOZITA pour spout attached to it.

Whenever you have a party coming up, you’ll want to make sure your bar is prepped and ready to go. Pull out all of your bottles and wipe them down, so they’ll be free of any dust, drips, or sticky grime.

Switch any bottle caps out for pour spouts. This will make for easier, not to mention more precise, pouring. Make sure all of your liqueurs, tools, and garnishes are all sliced and ready for any drink.

Some cocktails are pretty time-consuming to make, so try to have a pitcher with a premade batch of any you can do that with (like margaritas), so you can spend more time with your guests.

Get Creative

As you learn more about the different ingredients and liquors that go well together, don’t be afraid to get creative. Try adding bold and exotic additions or substitutions to the standard ingredients.

For example, you can turn a classic Moscow mule into a strawberry basil mule, or transform a Bloody Mary into a snack by adding cheddar cheese cubes, olives, celery sticks, and pepperoni. Better yet, turn that dessert mudslide into a salted caramel dream your guests will drool over.

Concoct a Signature Cocktail

It’ll take you a bit of time and experimentation to come up with a signature cocktail, and that’s good! You want to be sure to taste test it until it’s perfect. You’ll also want to make sure you give it a solid name.

Keep in mind that temperature, consistency, and smoothness all play a role when coming up with a signature drink.

After you’ve experimented and created one, it’s time to debut it! Whether you’re planning a full-on cocktail party or just having a few friends over, be sure to have some of your specialty ready to serve.

Don’t Forget to Garnish

Five cocktails on a bar with different garnishes.
Marian Weyo/Shutterstock.com

No matter which style of cocktail you’re serving, or the environment in which you’re serving them, make sure you have some proper garnishes prepped and ready.

After all, they’re the first thing your guests see when they accept their drink from you, and you want them to love it at first sight. The right garnish should be edible, but also enhance the cocktail with its flavor and aroma.

For example, berries go with gin and tonics or vodka-based cocktails, while citrus pairs well with Sazerac or whiskey-based drinks.

It might seem like there’s a lot involved in concocting and serving bar drinks to your guests. Really, though, it just comes down to how much time and cash you want to invest into the art of home mixology. And remember, on those nights you wanna keep it super simple, there’s always the Corona Sunrise.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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