Thanks very much for taking the time to read through this recipe list. I took the time to write it because in doing cocktail trainings at different bars in different countries, I noticed that most junior and intermediate bartenders are sharing a common struggle. The struggle is that (1) writing a bar recipe and training manual takes forever (2) bar managers have too much on their plate to sit down and write a good one, and (3) there’s just too much disparate information out there for new bartenders to just put together this information on their own.
At countless bars, restaurants, and hotels worldwide, the situation is this: People get hired at a bar and have to learn the menu recipes in order to work. Then, they have to learn a few core classic recipes that guests ask for regularly. Sometimes the bar provides a list of standard classic recipes, sometimes the bar doesn’t. The bartenders learn what they need to learn to make it through service, and that knowledge is usually enough to carry them through to the next menu cycle. Beyond that, additional education is pretty much up to them.
But how to get educated? Well, there are a lot of options available. Books, blogs, classes, other bartenders, second bar jobs, seminars, apps, brand reps, and on and on. But where to start? And how much to learn? There are a lot of recipes out there. Which ones are actually good? Should I memorize a whole cocktail book? Write down the recipes I like into my notebook? Or keep it on my backbar to look at when I need to?
Trying to memorize a cocktail book won’t make you a good bartender any more than trying to memorize a Spanish dictionary will make you fluent in Spanish. True, a small handful of people will actually make flashcards and memorize an entire cocktail book. But many more people will start, get overwhelmed, get frustrated, and then just go back to focusing on the day-to-day of service.
Others will be more piecemeal in their approach. They will find a spirit that they like, and then they will start learning cocktails for just that spirit. This works well for a while, but inevitably somebody is going to come to the bar and ask for something unusual, like a stirred Apple Brandy cocktail. In a pinch, bartenders will Google a recipe on the fly. Maybe it’s a good drink, maybe it isn’t.
The result is that two things wind up happening here. One is that people develop soft spots in their knowledge. They are so excited learning about new tiki drinks that they will learn 15 new tiki recipes before stopping to realize that they don’t have a drink ready for the guest who pops in for something stirred with tequila. The other is that the members of a bar will start to learn their own preferred recipes and develop independently from one another, each making their own favorite drinks for guests. This is fine at first, but when the guest comes back to get a drink they had last time or a drink that they saw their friend having on Instagram, the bartender working won’t know what the drink is or how to make it. It’s a bad look for the bar, and it makes guests lose confidence in their experience.
I feel like there has to be a better way.
With that in mind, I give this guide to you. It’s my recipe list for new hires that covers what, in my opinion, is the core set of drinks that will guide them through 99.9% of a typical cocktail bar service. I hope that you can share it with your staff and use it to guide your internal education so that you, the bar/restaurant/hotel manager, can have a little more time to lead service and improve your business.
What is this Guide?
This guide is a starting block for any person who is stepping behind a bar or developing a bar training program. In it, I provide a small list of core cocktail recipes that everyone should know. I also provide six easy recipes for each major spirit category – Three shaken and citrusy, and three stirred and boozy. Now let me say right now that I do not think these are the only drinks you should know. I also don’t think these are necessarily the most delicious drinks cocktails ever invented. What this list does provide is a very solid list of core, tasty cocktail recipes that don’t use too many disparate ingredients and don’t require too much prep beyond basic juices and syrups.
In short, it’s a starter kit of recipes that your bar can use, master, and then grow from together. With that goal in mind, I talk a little bit about each spirit before each recipe section. The point of these notes isn’t to educate your staff about the spirits themselves, but instead to just tell new bartenders practical information about how each spirit works in cocktails and what pitfalls to avoid when getting started. Baseline stuff.
Why only Six Drinks for Each Spirit?
I’m a firm believer in the 80:20 rule. That is to say that in any system, 80% of the output comes from 20% of the input. Just think about how many Martinis, Old Fashioneds, Margaritas, and Highballs you make in a given night. Isn’t it true that 80% of your guests tend to order from 20% of your product mix?
With that principle in mind, I recommend that rather than go off and dig through the thousands of drinks recipes out there, my trainees instead focus their energy on mastering a small core of popular recipes that people are actually going to ask for. In that same vein, I recommend that for each spirit, bartenders start by memorizing and mastering just 6 drinks.
In the end of this document is a reference list of 102 additional recipes that I think every bartender should strive to learn. You don’t have to worry about memorizing everything right away, but I think that this is a great list of drinks to work towards mastering, or at least to keep behind the bar for quick reference.
Can I Change or Add to these Recipes?
Absolutely. BUT please make sure that if you do so, you do it together with your lead bartender, and make sure that your entire team makes the same edits and additions to their own recipe lists. Like I said, this is just a set of starting blocks to get you and your team into a place where you’re fluent behind the bar. Once you get there, then by all means work together to evolve this list and make it your own.
One word of caution – Please resist the urge to start adding to and changing this list until you’re confident that you have mastered all of the drinks already provided. There is a strong temptation to dive in and start adjusting the gin or bourbon sections to make them your own. But if you do that before learning the cognac and sherry cocktails towards the end, then you’re defeating the whole purpose of having this list. Don’t carve ice if you can’t cook rice.
This reference guide is meant to be just that – a basic, streamlined recipe list for bartenders or bar programs that are just starting out. As such, I’m not giving a backstory or writing credits for any of the recipes contained within. I will say here and now that I didn’t invent any of these cocktails. Not one. But there’s not a single drink on this list that I don’t absolutely stand behind. I also strongly recommend that bartenders do go back and research the backstories of any drinks on this list that make them excited. That kind of storytelling texture is what can really bring a bar experience to life and make it memorable.
Ok, that’s it from me. Dig in and have fun.