How to be a barman, lesson two

It goes to show just how wrong you can be. I thought that learning the bartender's craft would take me years of patient study, yet I learned it all in a few evenings. Unfortunately, I didn't understand half of what I learned. Being a cocktail bartender means having good taste, a cool head, and thousands of hours of experience.

Memorising endless recipes is less important. Danny Fierstone, ex- barman of Detroit (where I've been receiving cocktail instruction), speaks of a guy who knew 400 recipes. "The only problem," adds Danny, "was that he couldn't make any of them well."

At Detroit, taste is king. When a barman finishes a complicated cocktail, he dips a straw in and tastes the drink himself. Even if he's never made that drink before, and even if he doesn't actually like it, he will know whether it's good. If it isn't, he will correct it.

They can do that because they understand the basic principles. There may be thousands of cocktails in the world, but most are based on a small number of ideas. Master those ideas and you can make anything.

My experience of hanging out with professionals certainly bears that out. Of course, it's easy for them: they've got the experience. Boneheads trying to get a crash course (like yours truly) will find the abstract principles baffling. My cocktail guru Dick Bradsell, head barman at Detroit, tried to simplify using diagrams, showing how the principal flavours of a drink are brought together by ancillary flavourings, and when he draws his diagrams (usually on a napkin) you think you've seen the light. But try to duplicate the results yourself and - well, it doesn't look so easy. Dick and his team did a lot of demonstrating for me. I looked, listened, tried to make notes - but there was too much to take in.

For the record, however, here's an approximate version of cocktail basics. First are the aromatics: a base spirit "adjusted" with vermouth or bitters. The most important of this class are the Martini, the Old-Fashioned (Bourbon, sugar and orange peel), and the Manhattan (Scotch, sweet vermouth, bitters). These all need "gentle, loving, respectful treatment, no shaking, no messing around."

Next comes the sour. In the States, it's a whisky sour; in Brazil it's a Caipirinha; in Mexico, a Margarita. All combine sweetness and sourness, typically in proportions of 6:2:1.

Then comes punch. All punches are essentially "a sour made long" (i.e. with ice in a tall glass). Based on the Planter's Punch, they follow exactly the same principle: four parts weak, three parts strong, two parts sour, one part sweet, regardless of which spirits are used, and which mixers.

Sixth is the Daiquiri. This is just rum, lime and sugar, with the variations coming from different types of rum and the addition of fruit blended in. Daiquiris can be shaken or blended.

The crucial point is balance. "You have to make the different flavours into a whole flavour on the palate," as Dick puts it.

Many of the newer cocktails are just gimmicks, and a popular one is to provide a novel shortcut to inebriation. This is the raison d'etre of shots and shooters; short drinks served in shot glasses for quick inhalation. Detroit sells one called The Three Wise Men, consisting of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker Red in the same glass. "What's the point of that?" I asked Dick. "It's a code," he replied. "With these drinks, the code means: 'I want to get drunk.'"

Layered drinks are another gimmick. Detroit sells a few of them, including the B-52 (Kahlua, Bailey's and Grand Marnier) and the Vulcan Mind Probe (Bailey's, creme de menthe, overproof rum). Perhaps the code here is: "since you don't serve Mars Bars, I'll have one of these."

If these concoctions make you think about reaching for the sickbag, you're on the right track. Dick reckons there are 30 good cocktails in the world. Many of the remainder are disgusting, and others are just pointless.

Detroit sells around 40 cocktails, and each bartender there should know how to mix one without thinking about it. If they need a reminder, they can use what he calls the "Idiot Book" - each cocktail described in method and measurements.

The Idiot Book and I seemed to be set for a beautiful friendship.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album