Bartender Basics, Tips, And Tricks For Entertaining At Home

We all love hanging out with our friends on the patio and hitting up the pub for a drink after a long week but let’s be honest, it can get pretty expensive. While we might not be able to “tap” into our favorite ales at home, we can whip up some pretty gnarly cocktails and brush up on our bartending skills at the same time for a fraction of the price. Plus, if you learn all these tricks you can show them off to friends and family in the future.

man with mustache and man with beard having a good time at a table drinking beer
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Like a well-made martini, sometimes we need to shake things up a bit. Just because you’re not actually going out to a bar doesn’t mean we should stop having a good time at home. That includes upping your home mini bar game and pretending like you’re in Margaritaville.

Mixology 101

Mixology is the process of mixing cocktails and other tasty beverages. It’s a practiced skill that most bartenders master with practice over the years. You don’t just wake up and pour the perfect Red Eye, like Brian Flanagan in the 1988 classic movie Cocktail. 

man in a suit stirring martini in a bar

There are some pretty complicated cocktails out there. Have you ever ordered a Rum Martinez? This cocktail goes through quite the process before it makes its way into your hands. It entails toasted wood chips, smoke, well-aged rum, vermouth, and maraschino liqueur. Cocktails like this might not be an at-home option. That being said, there are some cocktails that are very easy to make from home and don’t take a ton of fancy tools. 

The 6 Base Liquors

There are six base liquors you should be stocking your home bar with. These six bottles will create hundreds of tasty cocktails. The base liquors are whiskey, brandy, rum, gin, tequila, and vodka.

shelves with liquor in a dark bar

The Home Bar Essential Tool Box

ManMade Recommended: 6-Pcs Stainless Steel 24ox Cocktail Set that includes all six toolbox items you’ll need for $24.99 – if you don’t want to make the investment we’ll give you at-home options for each

Mixing drinks isn’t just pouring from bottle to cup. There are tons of bartender tools on the market, but only a few you need to use at home. Let me explain what these tools are for… 

The Shaker is an essential tool when it comes to home mixing. Equip with a strainer, the shaker quickly chills a drink and keeps the ice contained from splashing out into your cocktail. 

male bartender pouring a drink from a martini shaker in a bar
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A Jigger is a double-sided measuring tool that bartenders use to measure their pours. When tending at home, a regular shot glass works just as well. 

bartender pouring alcohol into a jigger in a bar
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The Bar Spoon is long and lean with a twist. It’s designed to help you to reach the glass’s bottom to stir the cocktail well without making a mess within the glass. At home, you can use any long spoon alike or metal straw.

male bartender mixing a drink in a bar with a stir spoon

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A Zester is a tool used for garnishing beverages. At home, pull out your potato peeler and carefully peel thin slices of citrus. Skip down to the how-to on this below. 

male bartender peeling orange zest in a bar
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Garnish Tweezers are used for gently placing delicate garnishes into a beverage. It also helps to remove and maneuver items within the cup with ease. At home, you can use your kitchen tweezers or chopsticks and obtain a similar result.  

bartender adding a lime garnis to a glass of red wine using tweezers
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The Secret Essential Ingredient

Another essential item to have on hand is Saline. This salty solution is a hidden bartender secret that’s been used for generations. Add two droplets into the drink and it will remove bitterness and take those sweet and citrus flavors up a notch. You can make your own saline mix by combining 1 tablespoon of salt with 2 ounces of water.

To Shake Or Not To Shake?

Let me save you the mess and waste with one simple rule. Never shake a carbonated mix in the shaker! Unless you want a volcanic eruption happening on your bar table, avoid using these types of combinations in your shaker at all times. This goes for blenders too. 

Fruit juices, syrups, or other flat fluids are great shaking contenders. Fill your shaker halfway with ice, and then pour in your favorite mix and liquor. Put the lid back on and hold the shaker tightly with both hands. One hand should be over the cap at all times. Hold this up to your shoulder and shake well for 10-12 seconds. Pour and enjoy. 

man pouring shaker into glass in dark lit room
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Essential Garnishing 

One of the most impressive bartending tricks is garnishing. Bartenders can dress your drink up as easily as my daughter dresses her Barbie dolls. However, this skill requires lots of practice and patience. A garnish is used to enhance flavor and decorate a cocktail. Essential garnishes include:

Rimmers: Pour some salt or sugar onto a small plate. Next, take a lemon wedge and rub it around the rim of your glass. Doing so will help the rimmer stick to the glass. Flip the glass mouth down onto the plate and spin it around until you have a coated ring around the rim. 

beverage with sugar rim, mint and lemon
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Skewers: You can find plastic and metal skewers in bulk at local dollar store, or you can get creative at home and try something new, like a stem of herbs.  Add lemon slices, canned fruit, olives, or a pickle to your skewers, depending on you’re flavor pairings. 

Citrus Zest: This is the toughest garnish to master. If you’ve ever had a proper old fashioned, you know it always comes with a delicate twisted slice of orange zest. Without it, they just don’t taste the same. Next time you want to make an old fashioned at home, pull out your potato peeler and gently peel back a thin slice of peel (with some pith). Use your fingers and gently twist it over your drink. Let the citrus oils drop into the glass, and then place the peel over top of the ice before pouring. You won’t believe the difference this makes!

old fashioned whiskey drink in lined glass on a counter with garnis
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And remember, the perfect your craft you get to be the designated taste tester for your practice cocktails. So remember to pour yourself a tall glass of water and rinse your palate after each drink. Stay hydrated and have fun!