No group of people can agree on everything, bartenders included. There are some topics in the bartending community that have been debated for decades. While there is no clear-cut right or wrong, feel free to pick your side in these seven classic bartender debates.
1. Jigger vs. free pour
This debate is a case of accuracy vs. style. When we use a jigger, we can create cocktails that follow an exact recipe. This system is great for minimizing waste and maximizing consistency, but it lacks flair and individuality. While free pouring is often a faster method and it can be a mesmerizing show for the customers. But there is definitely more room for error; this method requires a lot of faith in your skills.
2. Spirits: first or last?
The traditional approach is cheapest ingredients are the first thing to be poured when building cocktails. That way, if a mistake is made, the drink can be tossed without sacrificing pricey booze. Pouring spirits first, though, allows a bartender more control over the cocktail. If they overpour the gin, for example, they can course correct with extra vermouth or bitters.
3. Vodka martini: shaken or stirred?
While martinis were originally a stirred gin cocktail, Ian Fleming started a trend with James Bond’s shaken vodka martini. Shaking a martini is a faster method, but it dilutes your spirit. Purists disapprove, but often vodka martini drinkers prefer it shaken because it makes the cocktail feel colder and lighter. As a bartender, go with your gut on this one or ask your guest to specify.
4. The vermouth question
Martinis are one of the simplest cocktails, but they have a lot of room for variation. 4:1, gin/vodka to vermouth is the standard recipe, but modern palates often prefer dry martinis. In which case, do you do a vermouth rinse? Or just a half-ounce pour? If you’re making a dirty martini, do you use equal parts vermouth to brine or mostly just brine? Bartenders may have their opinions, but in a cocktail as personal as a martini, the drinker is the real judge.
5. Olives: one or three, stuffed or pitted?
Two olives is definitely bad luck, but one or three is a matter of preference. The same with stuffed vs. pitted. It comes down to the size of the olives, as well as the flavor profile of the base spirit. A stuffed olive may overpower a delicate gin. Three large olives floating in your martini would detract from the elegance of the cocktail.
6. Cocktail straws: one, two, or none?
Cocktail straws are meant for both stirring and sipping, depending on the drink. A crushed-ice cocktail or a muddled drink may need two straws to make it easier to sip. An old fashioned takes one straw, so it can be stirred. A whiskey on the rocks, maybe one, to stir, but it depends on the barkeep. As the world tries to limit its plastic use, maybe we’ll all adjust to strawless cocktails.
7. To drink or not to drink?
Some bartenders like to be the life of the party. That energy can create an inviting atmosphere, but that energy often comes from drinking on the job. A shot with a guest or the leftovers of an overpoured cocktail are harmless enough. But if you don’t have a good gauge of your limits, things can get messy behind the bar. Many career bartenders eventually go sober because the lifestyle can be hard to maintain.
8. How often to buy drinks for regulars?
It depends a little on how generous your bar is. Some bartenders prefer to give away the bar in order to up their tips and build a strong clientele. Others favor offering a parting shot or buying an occasional round for regulars. That way, free drinks are appreciated but never expected.