5 Skills you can learn to be your own favorite bartender

Anyone who has attempted to make a great cocktail at home knows there is a lot more to bartending than just pouring drinks and having an endless supply of  "A guy walks into a bar..." jokes at the ready. 

So what comes after you buy the tools and the alcohol? What is it that the guy (or gal) behind the bar knows that you don't? And is it really possible to wield your Boston Shaker with the same skill and perfection?

The answer is YES! And today, we are "spilling the bitters" for you.

man pouring a cocktail from a shaker

How to be your own favorite bartender

1) Have an understanding of the various types of spirits, liqueurs, and mixers used in cocktails.

If you read our article Humble Beginnings: The Basics Every Home Bar Needs, then you already have a cabinet full of quality spirits, liqueurs, and mixers to choose from. But having them and knowing what to do with them are 2 completely different things!

Let's it break it down, shall we?

What is a Spirit?

(We're not talking about the ones you attempted to conjure up with a wiji board at a sleepover when you were 12.)

 A spirit is an alcoholic beverage that is distilled from a fermented base such as grains, fruit, or vegetables. Examples of alcoholic spirits include vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, and tequila. These beverages typically have higher alcohol content than other alcoholic beverages, such as beer and wine.

unlabeled bottles of alcohol

What's the difference between a Spirit and a Liqueur?

The main difference between a spirit and a liqueur is their alcohol content and production process. Because spirits are distilled alcoholic beverages, their alcohol content is much higher than that of a liqueur.

Liqueurs, on the other hand, are made by infusing spirits with fruits, herbs, spices, flowers, and other flavorings. This infusion process lowers the alcohol content, resulting in a sweeter, more flavorful beverage.

What is a Mixer?

(Don't worry, this is not an awkward singles meet-and-greet.)

A mixer is an alcoholic beverage that is used to combine with other ingredients to make a cocktail. Mixers can range from soda, juice, tonic water, simple syrup, cream, bitters, and more. Depending on the cocktail you are making, the mixer will play an important role in the flavor and texture of the drink.

2) Understand the fundamentals of proper bartending such as shaking, stirring, and layering drinks.

How do you know when you shake instead of stir and does it really make a difference? 

Yes, it does! Let us crack the code for you.

Generally speaking, you should shake a cocktail if it contains a combination of liquid ingredients, such as juices, syrups, and liqueurs. Shaking the ingredients helps to mix them evenly and create a light and frothy texture. 

If the cocktail only contains one type of liquid, you can usually just stir it. This is because stirring will not create the same frothy texture as shaking, but will still create a balanced and even mixture.

Now, what's this bit about "layering?" We're making cocktails here, not cakes, right?

Layering a cocktail is a great way to add complexity and depth of flavor to your drinks. The most important thing to remember is that cocktails should be built in order of density, from lightest to heaviest.

  1. Start by adding a spirit to the base of your glass. 
  2. Then add a light liqueur. 
  3. After that, add a few drops of a heavier liqueur.
  4. Then add a few dashes of bitters or a few drops of an herbal tincture. 
  5. Top off the drink with a mixer. 
  6. You can also add a garnish.
  7. Enjoy your layered cocktail!

3) Develop an eye for presentation and garnishing drinks.

There are many easy and creative ways to garnish a cocktail. You can start by using fresh fruits like lemon, lime, orange, and berries to add a splash of flavor and color to your drinks. You can also use herbs like mint and basil to give a subtle hint of flavor. 

For a bit of sweetness, you can add a sprinkle of sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, or even a drizzle of honey. You can also garnish with edible flowers, edible glitter, or even a dusting of cocoa powder. Have fun experimenting and creating unique garnishes that will make your cocktails even more delicious!

4) Learn how to make the "3 Classic M's"- Martini, Margarita, Manhattan

These classic cocktail recipes are a great way to practice your skills of shaking, straining, and finding the right balance of alcohol to mix as you practice layering your drink.

Classic Martini Recipe


  • 2 ounces of gin 
  • 1/2 ounce of dry vermouth 
  • 2 or 3 olives or a lemon twist 


  1. Fill a shaker with ice cubes. 
  2. Pour the gin and vermouth into the shaker. 
  3. Cover the shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. 
  4. Strain the mixture into a chilled martini glass. 
  5. Garnish with olives or a lemon twist. 
Martini in a tall cocktail glass with 3 olives

Classic Manhatten Recipe


  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Maraschino cherry 


  1. Fill a mixing glass with a handful of ice cubes and add the whiskey, vermouth, and bitters.
  2. Stir the mixture until the glass is cold to the touch.
  3. Strain the mixture into a chilled glass.
  4. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.
  5. Enjoy your Manhatten!

Classic Margarita Recipe:


  • 1/2 cup of tequila
  • 1/4 cup of triple sec
  • 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/4 cup of simple syrup
  • Ice
  • Lime slices for garnish


  1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
  2. Pour in the tequila, triple sec, lime juice, and simple syrup.
  3. Shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds.
  4. Strain the margarita into two glasses.
  5. Garnish with a lime slice.
Margaritta with lemon garnish

5. Develop the confidence and knowledge to create unique and flavorful drinks.

Now, this is one skill we can't teach - you can only learn it by DOING it so get started! Will every drink turn out well? Eh, probably not. But practice makes perfect, right? 

Professional bartender stirring drink

So there you have it! The 5 skills you need to be your own favorite bartender - and everyone else's too. So set up your home bar, start mixing some drinks, and don't forget to put out your tip jar.

By the way, if you are curious to know what an honest-to-goodness, real-life, professional bartender has to say about the quality of our Boston Shaker compared to the one he has behind the bar...you can watch this short video to find out!

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