Bar Essentials: Drinks Every Bartender Should Know in 2023

  • By: BT Staff
  • Date: January 24, 2024
  • Time to read: 14 min.

Step into any bar worldwide, and there’s a certain lexicon every bartender should know by heart. This isn’t just about the common drinks ordered. It’s about the art of crafting these drinks every bartender should know and the tips that will take your mixology skills from good to outstanding.

A chilled cocktail glass, the perfect pour of cranberry juice, the spicy kick of ginger beer; these are more than just components – they are characters in a narrative that every bartender should know.

Key Takeaways:

  • Mastering the classics is essential: From the Old Fashioned to the Margarita, knowing how to make classic cocktails is a must for any bartender.
  • Details matter: From the right garnish to the appropriate glass, every detail contributes to the overall experience of the drink.
  • Practice makes perfect: The more you practice making these drinks, the better you’ll become at crafting them quickly and efficiently.
  • Customer service is key: Bartending isn’t just about mixing drinks – it’s about creating a welcoming and enjoyable experience for your customers.

Common Cocktails Every Bartender Should Know

In this section, we delve into some of the most common cocktails that every bartender should have in their repertoire.

These are the drinks that will be ordered repeatedly, the ones that have stood the test of time, and the ones that have become staples in the world of mixology. Understanding their composition, the story behind them, and the art of their mixing glass presentation is vital for any bartender.

For tips on what kind of glass to use, see this article.

The Old Fashioned

Ingredients:

  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Splash of club soda
  • 2 ounces of bourbon or rye whiskey
  • Orange slice and maraschino cherry for garnish

Instructions: In an Old Fashioned glass, muddle the sugar cube, bitters, and a splash of club soda. Add large ice cubes to the glass and pour in the whiskey. Stir until well combined. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.

The Mojito

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces white rum
  • 1-ounce fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 6-8 fresh mint leaves
  • Club soda to top
  • Lime wedge and mint sprig for garnish

Instructions: In a Collins glass or highball glass, muddle the lime juice, sugar, and mint leaves. Fill the glass with ice, add the rum, and top off with club soda. Stir well to combine. Garnish with a lime wedge and a sprig of mint.

The Aperol Spritz

Ingredients:

  • Ice cubes
  • 2 ounces Aperol
  • 2 ounces Prosecco
  • Splash of soda water
  • Orange slice for garnish

Instructions: Fill a wine glass with ice. Add the Aperol and Prosecco. Top with a splash of soda water and stir gently to combine. Garnish with an orange slice.

The Mai Tai

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces dark rum
  • 1-ounce orange liqueur
  • 1-ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • Lime wheel and pineapple wedge for garnish

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the rum, orange liqueur, lime juice, and simple syrup. Shake well—strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wheel and a pineapple wedge.

The Piña Colada

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces light rum
  • 2 ounces of coconut cream
  • 2 ounces of pineapple juice
  • Pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry for garnish

Instructions: Combine the rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice in a blender with ice. Blend until smooth. Pour into a hurricane glass and garnish with a pineapple wedge and a cherry.

The White Russian

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 1-ounce coffee liqueur
  • 1-ounce heavy cream

Instructions: Add the vodka and coffee liqueur in an Old Fashioned cocktail glass filled with ice cubes. Top with the heavy cream. Stir to combine or leave layered for visual effect.

The Bloody Mary

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 4 ounces tomato juice
  • 2 dashes of hot sauce
  • 2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice
  • Celery stalk and a lemon wedge for garnish

Instructions: In a shaker with ice, combine the vodka, tomato juice, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice. Shake well and strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with a celery stalk and a lemon wedge.

The Long Island Iced Tea

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 ounce vodka
  • 1/2 ounce white rum
  • 1/2 ounce silver tequila
  • 1/2 ounce gin
  • 1/2 ounce triple sec
  • 1-ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • Splash of cola
  • Lemon twist for garnish

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the vodka, rum, tequila, gin, triple sec, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake well. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with a splash of cola and garnish with a lemon or lime twist each.

The Dirty Martini

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce olive brine
  • Olives for garnish

Instructions: In a mixing glass filled with ice, combine the gin, dry vermouth, and olive brine. Stir well and strain into a chilled martini cocktail glass. Garnish with olives.

Classic Drinks

The word “classic” implies timelessness, quality, and a certain level of prestige. Classic cocktails have earned their status through consistent popularity and enduring relevance in the world of bartending. They’re the drinks that have set the standard, the ones that every bartender should know how to make flawlessly. Here are a few key examples:

The Manhattan

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1-ounce sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Maraschino cherry for garnish

Instructions: In a mixing glass filled with ice, combine the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters. Stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

The Negroni

Ingredients:

  • 1-ounce gin
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 1-ounce sweet vermouth
  • Orange peel for garnish

Instructions: In a rocks glass filled with ice, combine the gin, Campari, and vermouth. Stir well and garnish with an orange peel.

The Whiskey Sour

Another classic cocktail that many have savoured for over a century. Its combination of whiskey, fresh lemon juice made, and sweetener create a smooth and balanced drink. Some variations also include an egg white to give the cocktail a rich, frothy texture.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • Maraschino cherry and orange slice for garnish

Instructions: In a shaker filled with ice, combine the bourbon, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake well and strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.

Whiskey Sour with Egg White

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Bourbon or Rye Whiskey
  • 1 oz Fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Simple syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • Angostura bitters (optional)
  • Cherry and orange slice for garnish

Instructions:

  1. Add the whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, and egg white into a cocktail shaker.
  2. Perform a ‘dry shake’ without ice for about 15-20 seconds. This helps to emulsify the egg white.
  3. Add ice to the shaker and shake again until chilled.
  4. Strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.
  5. Optional: Add a few dashes of Angostura bitters on top.
  6. Garnish with a cherry and an orange slice.

Remember always to use fresh eggs and separate the egg white carefully to avoid contamination. Enjoy with or without the egg white!

The Martini

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
  • Lemon twist or olive for garnish

Instructions: Combine the gin and vermouth in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir well and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist or olive.

The Gin Fizz

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1-ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • Club soda to top
  • Lemon twist for garnish

Instructions: In a shaker filled with ice, combine the gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake well and strain into a highball glass. Top with club soda and garnish with a lemon twist.

The Gimlet

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce simple syrup
  • Lime wheel for garnish

Instructions: In a shaker filled with ice, combine the gin, lime juice, and simple syrup. Shake well and strain into a chilled coupe glass or cocktail glass. Garnish the glass with a lime wheel.

Each of these classic cocktails has a unique story and flavour profile, offering patrons a wide range of options. They represent the basics that any bartender should master. With a solid understanding of these classics, you’ll be well-equipped to handle a variety of customers’ preferences and expectations.

Tips for Making Essential Cocktails

In this section, we’ll provide some tips for making some of the drinks covered in the previous sections. Mastering the art of mixology is not just about knowing the recipes; it’s about the techniques, the presentation, and the nuances that make each drink special.

Tips for Making a Martini

  • Chill your glassware: A martini is best served in a chilled cocktail glass. Place your glass in the freezer for a few minutes before you start mixing.
  • Stir, don’t shake: Despite what James Bond might prefer, a classic martini is stirred, not shaken. Stirring avoids diluting the drink too much and helps maintain the clarity of the drink.
  • Choose your garnish wisely: The garnish can subtly alter the flavour of your martini. A lemon twist can add a hint of citrus, while an olive can add a touch of saltiness.

Tips for Making a Margarita

  • Use fresh lime juice: The quality of your ingredients can significantly impact the end result. Using fresh lime juice instead of bottled can make a big difference.
  • Salt the rim: This not only adds flavour but also provides a nice contrast to the sweet and sour elements of the drink.
  • Shake it well: A good shake will help mix the flavours and give your margarita a nice frothy top.

Tips for Making a Cosmopolitan

  • Use good quality cranberry juice: Not all cranberry juices are created equal. Look for a high-quality, unsweetened cranberry juice for the best results.
  • Chill your glassware: A cosmopolitan should be served in a chilled martini glass for the best experience.
  • Double strain your cocktail: This will help remove any small ice shards and ensure a smooth drink.

Tips for Making a Moscow Mule

  • Serve in a copper mug: This keeps the drink cooler for longer and enhances the flavour of the ginger beer and lime.
  • Use fresh lime juice: Again, fresh is best. The fresh lime juice will give your Moscow Mule a bright, tart flavour.
  • Don’t skimp on the ginger beer: The ginger beer is a key component of a Moscow Mule, so make sure you use a good quality one.

Tips for Making a Daiquiri

  • Don’t overdo the sugar: A daiquiri should be a balance of sweet and sour, so be careful not to add too much sugar.
  • Shake it well: A good shake mixes the ingredients well and adds a nice froth to the drink.
  • Use fresh lime juice: This is a recurring tip because it’s important. Fresh lime juice makes a big difference in a daiquiri.

Tips for Making a Mimosa

  • Chill your ingredients: The orange juice and the champagne should be well chilled before mixing.
  • Add the orange juice first: This will help better mix the ingredients without stirring, which can cause the champagne to lose its fizz.
  • Use fresh orange juice: As with all cocktails, fresh ingredients yield the best results.

Tips for Making a Whiskey Sour

  • Shake without ice first: This is called a “dry shake,” and it helps to integrate the ingredients better and create a nice froth from the egg white (if you’re using it).
  • Don’t skip the bitters: Although some recipes don’t include them, a few dashes of bitters can really enhance the flavour.

Remember, these are more than just tips. They’re the small details that can elevate your cocktails from good to great. When you pay attention to these aspects of cocktail-making, you show your dedication to your craft and your commitment to providing the best possible experience for your customers. Happy mixing!

Tips for Making a Manhattan

  • Stir, don’t shake: Manhattans are typically stirred to maintain clarity and prevent over-dilution.
  • Use high-quality vermouth: The vermouth can make or break your Manhattan. Go for a good-quality sweet vermouth for the best results.
  • Experiment with your bitters: While Angostura bitters are the classic choice, don’t be afraid to try different types of bitters for a unique twist.

Tips for Making a Gin Fizz

  • Shake without ice first: This is also called a “dry shake,” and it helps to get a nice froth from the egg white (if you’re using it).
  • Top with soda water last: This should be the final step, added after you’ve shaken the other ingredients and strained them into your glass.
  • Use fresh lemon juice: As with all cocktails, using fresh ingredients can make a big difference in the flavour of your drink.

Tips for Making a Negroni

  • Use equal parts: A traditional Negroni is an equal parts cocktail, meaning you should use the same amount of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth.
  • Stir, don’t shake: Negronis are typically stirred to ensure the right dilution and texture.
  • Garnish with an orange peel: This adds a subtle citrus aroma that complements the bitter and sweet elements of the cocktail.

Tips for Making a Gimlet

  • Use fresh lime juice: This will give your Gimlet a bright, crisp flavour that’s far superior to anything you’d get from bottled juice.
  • Sweeten to taste: Some people prefer their Gimlets on the tart side, while others prefer them a bit sweeter. Don’t be afraid to adjust the amount of simple syrup to match your preference.
  • Shake well: This will help to ensure that all the ingredients are well combined.

Mastering these cocktails takes practice, so don’t be discouraged if your first few attempts are imperfect. With time, patience, and a commitment to quality, you’ll make top-notch cocktails quickly.

Basic Bartending Drinks Cheat Sheet

As a bartender, it’s crucial to have a solid understanding of a wide range of drinks. While it’s important to know how to create complex and unique cocktails, it’s equally necessary to master the basics. Here’s a quick reference guide to some of the most common drinks:

Gin and Tonic

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces gin
  • Tonic water to top
  • Lime wheel for garnish

Instructions: Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in the gin, top with tonic water, and garnish with a lime wheel.

Screwdriver

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • Orange juice to top
  • Orange slice for garnish

Instructions: Fill a highball glass with ice. Pour in the vodka, top with orange juice, and garnish with an orange slice.

Bloody Mary

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces vodka
  • 4 ounces tomato juice
  • 2 dashes of Tabasco sauce
  • 2 teaspoons horseradish
  • 2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 pinch of celery salt
  • 1 pinch of black pepper
  • 1 pinch of smoked paprika
  • Lemon wedge and celery stalk for garnish

Instructions: In a shaker filled with ice, combine all the ingredients. Shake well and strain into a highball glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon or lime wedge, and a celery stalk.

Mojito

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces white rum
  • 1-ounce fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 6 fresh mint leaves
  • Soda water to top
  • Lime wedge for garnish

Instructions: In a highball glass, muddle the mint leaves and sugar. Add the rum, lime juice, and fill the glass with ice. Top with soda water and garnish with a lime wedge.

Margarita

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces tequila
  • 1-ounce lime juice
  • 1-ounce orange liqueur
  • Salt for the rim
  • Lime wheel for garnish

Instructions: Salt the rim of a rocks glass. Combine tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur in a shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into the glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.

Old Fashioned

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces of bourbon or rye whiskey
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Orange slice and cherry for garnish

Instructions: In an old fashioned glass, muddle the sugar cube and bitters. Add the whiskey and a few ice cubes. Stir well and garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.

These are just a few of the basic bar drinks that every bartender should know. Having these recipes at your fingertips will ensure you’re prepared to handle most orders that come your way, and will also provide a solid foundation for learning more complex cocktail recipes.

We’ve written an article on ways you memorize drinks here.

What are Simple Drinks to Order at a Bar?

Whether you’re a seasoned bar-goer or new to the scene, it’s helpful to know a few simple and classic drinks to order at a bar. Here are some tried-and-true favourites that are straightforward, delicious, and popular across a wide range of tastes.

Rum and Coke

A simple mix of dark rum, and coke, this is a classic drink that’s loved for its sweet and refreshing taste. It’s a good option if you’re unsure what to order, as it’s available in almost all bars.

Vodka Soda

Vodka soda is a great option if you’re looking for a low-calorie drink. It’s simply vodka mixed with soda water, often garnished with a lemon or lime wedge.

Whiskey Sour

A classic cocktail that’s been around for over a century, this drink combines whiskey, lemon juice, and a sweetener (usually simple syrup). It’s a smooth and balanced drink that showcases the warmth of the whiskey.

Mojito

A Mojito is a great choice if you’re in the mood for something refreshing. Made with white or dark rum together, fresh lime juice, mint, sugar, and soda water, it’s a zesty and invigorating drink that’s perfect for hot summer days.

Margarita

Another classic cocktail, the Margarita combines tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur. It can be served on the rocks or blended with ice to create a frozen Margarita.

Beer

If cocktails aren’t your thing, there’s always beer. Whether you prefer a light lager, a heavy stout, or a hoppy IPA, there’s a beer for every palate.

Wine

Like beer, wine is a simple and classic choice that comes in a wide variety of styles to suit different tastes. Whether you prefer a light and crisp white, a full-bodied red, or a sweet and sparkling rosé, a glass of wine is always a reliable choice.

What Drinks Should I Stock In My Bar?

As a bartender, you need to be prepared to make a wide range of drinks. Here’s a list of basic drinks and mixers you should consider having on hand:

Spirits

  • Vodka: Vodka is a versatile spirit that’s used in many cocktails, from Bloody Marys to Moscow Mules.
  • Gin: Essential for Martinis, Gin and Tonics, and many other classic cocktails.
  • Rum: You’ll need both light and dark varieties for drinks like the Mojito and Dark ‘n’ Stormy.
  • Tequila: Necessary for Margaritas and Tequila Sunrises.
  • Whiskey: Bourbon and rye are both useful to have on hand for cocktails like the Old Fashioned and Whiskey Sour.
  • Brandy: Used in a variety of cocktails, including the Sidecar and Brandy Alexander.

Liqueurs

  • Orange Liqueur: This includes Cointreau and Triple Sec, which are used in a multitude of cocktails, including the Margarita.
  • Coffee Liqueur: Used in drinks like the White Russian.
  • Vermouth: Both sweet and dry vermouth are necessary for a variety of cocktails, including the Manhattan and Martini.
  • Cream Liqueurs: For drinks like White Russian and Irish Coffee.

Mixers

  • Tonic Water: Essential for Gin and Tonics.
  • Soda Water: Useful for a wide range of cocktails.
  • Cola: Necessary for drinks like Rum and Coke.
  • Ginger Beer: Used in drinks like the Moscow Mule.
  • Juices: Orange, cranberry, pineapple, and lime juices are all good to have on hand.
  • Bitters: A few dashes can greatly enhance a cocktail.

Garnishes

  • Lemons and Limes: Many cocktails call for fresh lemon or lime juice, which can also be used for garnishes.
  • Olives: Necessary for Martinis.
  • Cherries: Used in a variety of cocktails, including the Old Fashioned.
  • Salt and Sugar: Used for rimming glasses.
  • Fresh Herbs: Mint, basil, and rosemary can add a fresh element to cocktails.

What Is the Most Commonly Ordered Drink at a Bar?

In the ever-evolving world of mixology and bartending, some classics remain popular for a reason. According to a 2023 survey by Esquire, some of the most popular cocktails and drinks to order at a bar include the eye-catching Cosmopolitan, the classic Old Fashioned, and the reliable Whiskey Sour, among others. These drinks have stood the test of time due to their perfect balance of flavours and wide appeal among various drinkers.

While it’s true that personal preferences and regional trends can influence what people order at a bar, these classics are ordered consistently around the world. So, if you’re at a bar and unsure what to order, you can’t go wrong with one of these timeless favourites. Or, if you prefer to enjoy your cocktails at home, these popular drinks are simple enough to recreate with the right ingredients and a little practice.

How Do I Master These Essential Cocktails?

Mastering these essential cocktails takes practice, patience, and passion. Every detail matters, from learning the right way to muddle mint for a Mojito to understanding the importance of a chilled glass garnish for a Martini.

Mastering the Art of Mixology

Mastering the art of mixology is a journey, not a destination. With this guide, you’re well on your way to becoming an exceptional bartender, ready to craft the drinks and cocktails every bartender should know and serve them with style and confidence.