Party 101: 10 Tips for Bartending Like a Pro

Whether you’re looking for essential mixing and serving tools or want to wow your guests a la Tom Cruise in Cocktail, here are 10 tricks for bartending like a pro.

Bartending Tips From a Professional Mixologist

Erica Verges, a bartender at Paper Plane, one of Atlanta’s hottest nightspots, shares her tips for mixing up cocktails that both look and taste better.

Shake Like a Pro

Cocktail shakers are used strictly for drinks composed of alcohol and juice (the exception to the rule being a stinger). To use a shaker, just remove the cap, add ingredients, then fill to the top with ice. Replace the cap, which creates a vacuum seal, and shake for 15 seconds. To break the seal, tap the middle of the shaker with your wrist. When you hear a pop, remove the cap, and strain and pour your cocktail into a glass.

5 Essential Tools

There are five essential tools that every bartender should have: jiggers, strainers, stirrers, muddlers and fruit peelers. A muddler (far left) is used to muddle herbs and fruits before adding them to drinks. Stirrers (set of three, to the right of the muddler) are long spoons with twisted stems which allow you to thoroughly mix drinks in tall glassess. A julep strainer (top center) is used for stirred drinks while a Hawthorne strainer (right of julep strainer) is used for shaken drinks. Jiggers (set of two, top right) are used for measuring liquid in ounces. All-purpose strainers (below jiggers) are used for hot drinks and tea-based creations. Lastly, fruit peelers (middle center and bottom right) are needed for creating fresh garnishes -- the colorful finishing touch to any pro-looking cocktail.

Fresh Fruit: Yes. Storebought Mixers: No.

Ever wonder why drinks made by the pros taste so fresh? A lot of it has to do with the fruit. Skip prepackaged sour mix and instead stick with fresh grapefruits, limes, lemons and oranges. In addition to fresh squeezed juices and garnishes, the pros also rub citrus along the rims of glasses for an extra hint of fresh flavor.

High Ball Vs. Low Ball

Here’s a trick for understanding the differences between high ball and low ball glasses. High ball glasses are used for drinks with ingredients that bubble upward when mixed, like a Tom Collins. The height of the glass allows for the fizziness without overflowing. Low ball glasses are for drinks that are aromatic and need wider mouths for the proper release of scents, like an Old Fashioned or a Margarita.

Jumbo Ice Cubes

If you’ve been to a bar and noticed drinks made with massive ice cubes, there’s a reason for that. These larger cubes, ideal for scotch on the rocks, are slow-melting and will keep drinks cooler much longer without watering down the liquor. You can make these yourself by picking up a scotch rocks ice cube tray, which creates cubes that are approximately 2" x 2" in size.

Before-Dinner Drink

Looking for a signature cocktail to serve before dinner? Try a negroni, the perfect concoction to help loosen up your guests without filling them up. Made from gin, sweet vermouth, bitters and ice, this classic before-dinner drink is served in a low ball glass and garnished with an orange twist.

After-Dinner Drink

Sweet and boozy, a Stinger is the perfect after-dinner drink. After a meal, just a little something sweet is often all you need. Plus, the booziness helps put guests at ease for lengthy conversations or moving on to other activities. Made from a mix of cognac and creme de menthe, the ingredients are shaken in a cocktail shaker, then strained into a martini glass. The trick to serving these like a pro is to mix and pour them individually and serve each guest just as the froth starts to form on top.

Swap Peanuts for Flavored Popcorn

For years, peanuts have been the most popular snack to enjoy with drinks. Change things up a bit by serving guests flavored popcorn instead. Savory ranch seasoning is the perfect choice to pair with rich or sweet beers.

Classic Cocktail

If you’re unsure what cocktail your guests prefer, keep things classic by serving Manhattans. Here’s what you’ll need: a coup glass, 2 ounces of rye whiskey, 1 ounce of sweet vermouth, 2 dashes of bitters and 1 dash of orange bitters. Note: A Manhattan is such a standard that mixologists often judge each other’s skills by how well they can mix this timeless cocktail.

Palate Cleanser

Palate-cleansing drinks are an excellent choice to serve for meals with several courses. The go-to palate-cleansing cocktail for mixologists is the Pimm’s Cup, known for its light taste and low alcohol content. Mixed with club soda, mint and fresh lemon juice, the Pimm’s spirit is served in a high ball glass and garnished with a cucumber.