Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene
Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - Cocktail Culture Goes Mainstream
Cocktail culture has stepped out of dark, smokey speakeasies and into the mainstream spotlight. What was once an underground scene for mixology aficionados has now become a full-blown national pastime. From boozy brunches to happy hours, it seems everyone is trying their hand at crafting a quality concoction these days.
The rise of artisanal ingredients and small-batch spirits has fueled this trend. Adventurous imbibers are embracing unique and complex flavors like cardamom-infused gin, oatmeal stout cider, and activated charcoal mezcal. Premium liquor brands and craft distilleries alike are rolling out specialty releases to meet demand. No longer content with well drinks, today's drinkers expect top-shelf spirits, fresh-squeezed juices, and homemade syrups in their cocktails.
This shift is also generational. Millennials have a penchant for adult recreation and experiences over material possessions. Craft cocktails scratch that itch for hobbyist hedonism. Plus, the culture of sharing photos on social media gives them another reason to indulge in photogenic drinks. In fact, the #cocktail hashtag has been used over 56 million times on Instagram alone.
Cocktail classes and seminars have exploded in popularity as well. Mixology workshops at the local bar or liquor store offer crash courses for novices, teaching basic bartending skills and recipes. Going pro is also an option now; accredited mixology certification programs turn out trained and talented bartenders ready to handle the craft cocktail craze.
At home, DIY kits take the guesswork out of going from amateur to mixologist. Pre-measured ingredients and illustrated recipe cards give even the greenest home bartenders a chance to try unique drinks. Some kits even come with bar tools like cocktail shakers, strainers, and muddlers to complete the experience.
What else is in this post?
- Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - Cocktail Culture Goes Mainstream
- Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - Everyday Ingredients Get Creative Twists
- Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - DIY Cocktail Kits Let You BYOB at Home
- Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - Virtual Classes Teach Tricks of the Trade
- Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - 'Appy Hour: New Apps Inspire Amateur Mixology
- Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - Barware Gets Budget-Friendly Makeover
- Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - TikTok Trends Birth Creative Concoctions
- Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - Amateur Nights Let Newbies Show Off Skills
Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - Everyday Ingredients Get Creative Twists
One of the most exciting aspects of the craft cocktail renaissance is the creative ways bartenders are transforming humble, everyday ingredients into star mixology components. While exotic elixirs and rare liqueurs still have their place, you're just as likely to find pantry staples like peanut butter, apple cider, and coconut milk starring in today's most innovative drinks.
Take tonic water, for example. This bubbly beverage has long been wedded to gin in the classic gin and tonic. But modern mixologists are breaking up that union and bringing out new dimensions in tonic by pairing it with tequila, rum, or whiskey. The Bitter Fit at LA's Everson Royce Bar, mixes tonic with mezcal, dry vermouth, Campari and grapefruit for a smoky, herbaceous concoction. Meanwhile, the Penicillin cocktail at New York's Attaboy pairs scotch and lemon juice with a float of smoky Islay whisky for a serious depth of flavor.
Even humdrum honey is getting its chance to shine. Bartenders are swapping basic simple syrup for infused varieties made with single-origin honeys like orange blossom, wildflower and lavender. Washington DC's copycat-named speakeasy Good Stuff Eatery uses honey as the sweetener in their bourbon-based Gold Rush cocktail instead of sugar for a rounder, fuller flavor.
Another quotidian ingredient making splashy cocktail cameos is apple cider. The Bonfire at LA's Ever Bar infuses apple cider with cloves and star anise, then combines it with rum and lemon for a drink that's autumn in a glass. Fall-flavored ciders also star in hot toddy riffs and substitutions for ginger beer in Moscow Mule variations.
From peanut butter to matcha powder, root beer to oat milk, bartenders are clearly thinking outside the bottle when it comes to bringing new life to everyday pantry items. This willingness to color outside the lines and get creative is what's keeping the craft cocktail scene from getting stale. Every bar wants to put out drinks that are Instagram-worthy yet still deliver on taste.
Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - DIY Cocktail Kits Let You BYOB at Home
For at-home mixologists, DIY cocktail kits are the perfect solution for upping your home bar game. These pre-packed kits come with all the fixings needed to craft pro-level drinks, minus the booze. It’s like Blue Apron...but for cocktails.
The DIY cocktail kit trend took off in 2020 as quarantining drinkers sought to recreate the happy hour experience at home. Once the exclusive domain of monthly subscription services, they’re now widely available at liquor stores, specialty markets and even big box stores. Prices range from $15 for a single cocktail kit up to $50 or more for a multi-drink kit.
DIY cocktail kits take the guesswork out of making craft cocktails at home. Each kit contains pre-measured ingredients like mixers, syrups, bitters, garnishes and spices - basically everything except the alcohol. All you need to provide is the liquor that serves as the base.
For newbie home bartenders, these kits offer a foolproof way to make pro-level drinks without investing in a full stocked bar. You just grab the kit matched to whatever liquor you have on hand - tequila, gin, rum, etc. - then add ice and shake or stir. Most kits include recipes and instructions, so you can easily fix that Negroni, Moscow Mule or Margarita no matter your existing skills.
More experienced home mixologists enjoy DIY cocktail kits for the convenience as well as the inspiration. Having pre-portioned ingredients assembled in one pouch saves time versus gathering supplies from your bar cart or pantry. And specialty syrups or liqueurs you might not stock at home let you expand your repertoire.
Many kits are designed around unique themes or cocktail trends. You can try your hand at smoked cocktails, cold brew coffee drinks, yuzu sours or other of-the-moment libations. Limited edition kits offer exotic new flavors to play with like damiana-infused tequila, yuzu bitters or activated charcoal.
For entertaining, DIY cocktail kits streamline prep work so you can actually enjoy the party instead of missing half of it while shaking up individual drinks. Just set up a DIY cocktail bar and let guests customize their own drinks to taste. Send everyone home with a kit as a party favor for an instant replay.
You’ll find cocktail kits for nearly every spirit out there - whiskey, tequila, vodka, gin, rum, and more. Popular kits let you craft classics like Old Fashioneds and Moscow Mules, or try trendy new options like spicy Palomas or smoky Mezcal Sours.
While you can find basic one-drink kits everywhere, companies like Cocktail Courier and SaloonBox offer more elevated options, with glassware and premium garnishes included alongside the bar ingredients. For a monthly supply of new kits, check out subscription services like Thirstie or Minibar Delivery.
Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - Virtual Classes Teach Tricks of the Trade
For aspiring mixologists, virtual cocktail classes are the new trade school. Online workshops and video tutorials allow you to learn pro techniques without leaving your living room. And you don’t need to invest in a pricey mixology certification or bartending school to pick up recipes and skills.
A variety of virtual classes cater to every experience level, from shaking up your first martini to mastering advanced flair bartending. Options range from free YouTube videos and short skill sessions to multi-week intensive courses.
Intro classes like Cocktail Camp and Cocktail College give newbies core foundations in mixology through a series of lessons. Step-by-step videos teach essential skills every bartender needs, like properly using a shaker, muddling herbs, and layering liquors. Recipe tutorials help you master classic cocktails and modern twists so you can become that friend everyone wants behind the home bar cart.
Once you’ve got basic methodology and recipes down, more advanced virtual classes take your mixology prowess up a notch. Flair bartending classes teach crowd-pleasing tricks like flipping bottles, throwing glasses behind your back, and setting liquors on fire. Mixology workshops from sites like Skillshare and CreativeLive offer industry secrets on flavor pairings, infusions, homemade ingredients, and other insider tips.
For a truly immersive experience, some virtual cocktail classes offer interactive group sessions. Companies like Stir It Up bartending school provide live Zoom mixology classes complete with hands-on demos, Q&As, trivia and games to test your knowledge. Virtual happy hours let you mix, mingle and taste new drinks together. You’ll come away with friends as well as fresh skills.
If you prefer to learn at your own pace, many mixology classes livestream lessons and keep videos available on-demand. This allows you to rewatch certain techniques until they click. Class passes from sites like Mixology give unlimited access to their entire video library for a monthly fee. Think of it like having a master bartender available on call anytime you need to brush up or learn a new recipe.
For inspiration, explore virtual cocktail classes themed around holidays, events and trendy recipes. Seasonal sessions will get you prepped to mix spooky cocktails for Halloween or creamy eggnogs for Christmas. Pop culture classes range from Downton Abbey-era tipples to binge-watch worthy Game of Thrones concoctions.
Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - 'Appy Hour: New Apps Inspire Amateur Mixology
With smartphones in hand, a new generation of amateur mixologists are shaking up happy hour. A booming crop of cocktail apps has emerged, arming wannabe bartenders with recipes, tutorials and tools for crafting craveable creations at home. Forget old-school cocktail guidebooks or notecards of drink recipes. Today's tipplers are getting their mixology know-how from their mobile devices.
Intuitive app interfaces and gorgeous photography set these apps apart from basic online recipe lists. Visually driven apps like ShortPath Distillery and Bartender Magazine make browsing for new drinks a multi-sensory experience. You can explore recipes randomly, or narrow your search by key ingredients, flavors, themes, and advanced filters like ABV. Built-in timers, conversion calculators, and shopping lists round out the utility.
But these apps go beyond just recipes to offer in-depth guidance for aspiring mixologists of every skill level. Video tutorials demonstrate proper techniques for tasks like muddling and stirring. Class features cover topics like bar setup, glassware, and fundamental methodology in an easy-to-digest format. Interactive quizzes reinforce knowledge and help you memorize key facts as you learn.
Cocktail Chemistry takes the educational element even further with an e-textbook diving deep into the science of mixology. Topics range from the physics of carbonation to how taste receptors work. Understanding these core scientific principles gives context that allows budding bartenders to get creative and go off-script with their own riffs rather than just following recipes verbatim.
A few standout apps also assist with the actual cocktail-making process. Mixology and RumChata both offer "Shake-to-Mix" functions that use your phone's accelerometer to guide your shaking and stirring tempo for perfect dilution and chill. Customizable timers cue you through each step of the recipe to prevent mis-measures.
On the fun side, apps like Cheers allow you to visually browse boozy recipes based on your liquor cabinet inventory. Choose what you have on hand, and suggestions of possible drinks formulated from those ingredients pop up. Mixologist Match then takes it a step further by recommending the optimal bottle purchases to fill gaps in your home bar arsenal.
The social component is also strong with these apps. Popular features let you snap and share photos of your creations, favorite recipes, and home bar setups. You can browse friends' and other users' drinks for serious FOMO or inspiration. Ratings, reviews and comments foster a sense of community within the app.
Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - Barware Gets Budget-Friendly Makeover
Cocktail culture used to be the domain of the well-heeled, who could shell out for pricey vintage barware and accouterments. Crystal mixing glasses, silver jiggers, handblown decanters - such pieces added to the mystique. But today's budget-minded mixologists have ushered in a democratic revolution in home barware. Options now run the gamut from thrifted vintage finds to crafted DIY pieces, making it easy to stock a stylish home setup no matter your spending limit.
Scouring flea markets and secondhand shops pays off for those seeking distinctive glassware on a dime. Mismatched vintage coupes, cordials, hurricane glasses and more can be scooped up for just a few bucks each. Dollar store stemware and glass tumblers also work in a pinch. The imperfections and idiosyncrasies just add character. Give them an overnight soak in detergent and water to remove any lingering scents from the previous owner's liquor of choice. For a special touch, etch names, monograms or designs into glasses using tutorials from TikTok and Pinterest. Customization for less.
Thrifted vintage tools like shakers, strainers and muddlers also bring retro charm. Stainless steel pieces clean up nicely with some Bar Keepers Friend. Splurge on one nice leaded crystal mixer if you must have some heirloom chic. Then round out your arsenal with basic Boston shakers, jiggers, and citrus squeezers from restaurant supply shops or online restaurant gear sites.
Take cues from restaurants and bars by opting for more budget-friendly metals over silver for spoons, tongs, etc. Stainless steel, copper, and nickel all lend an upscale look for less. Small boards make chic oversized coasters and provide space to arrange glassware.
For an artisanal look, try your hand at fashioning pieces from unexpected materials. Concrete craft tutorials yield sturdy freeform mug-style vessels. Paint, glitter, or inlay with tiles to make them pop. Use mini terracotta pots as single-serve carafes; coat with food-safe resin for durability. Slice logs or lumber into drink coaster slabs and rub with food-grade wax or sealant. Get crafty with natural items like large seashells for cocktail servers, or geodes and agate slices to embellish glassware rims.
Repurposed items also work wonders as budget barware. Vintage tea tins or stoneware vessels make charming drink shakers. Painted mason jars serve as rustic rock glasses. Use thrifted teapots as decanters and vintage silver as custom cubepour spouts. The options are limited only by your imagination; a little creativity goes a long way.
Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - TikTok Trends Birth Creative Concoctions
TikTok has become an ideation engine for adventurous amateur mixologists seeking to concoct camera-ready drinks. Scrolling through the #cocktailtok hashtag reveals an endless scroll of innovative recipes designed to dazzle on-screen and on the palette. These viral drink trends offer imaginative spins on the classics reimagined for the social media age.
The joy of TikTok cocktails lies in their emphasis on both flavor and visual impact. Vibrant colors, billowing smoke, flowers, and fire all make drinks hyper-photogenic. Kaleidoscopic patterns swirl in tie-dye creations using activated charcoal or butterfly pea flower tea. Dramatic smoke effects arise from smoldering shards of wood, dried citrus wheels, or hollowed passionfruit shells. Edible flowers like rose petals, lavender, and hibiscus add pastoral beauty. For show-stopping chemical reactions, dropping Pop Rocks or dry ice into drinks triggers mesmerizing bubbles and smoke.
This flair for visual appeal pushes TikTok mixologists to expand beyond standard bar ingredients. colorful cereals, candy sprinkles, gold leaf, and edible glitters all make regular cameos as garnishes. Whipped cream piped into artful dollops crowns creamy frozen piña colada pops. Grated zests from exotic fruits like yuzu and Buddha’s hand citron add acidity and natural vibrancy. Even functional items get creative makeovers, like latte art etched into foam toppers.
Outrageous mashups also thrive on TikTok. Hybrids like salted caramel espresso martinis and rosé wine gummy bear schnapps exist solely for social media shock value. Crossover flavors gain popularity as viewers clamor to try what seems unfathomable at first sip.
This constant demand for novelty pushes amateur mixologists to turn whatever's in their kitchen into impromptu ingredients. Pancake batter mimosas, ramen noodle old fashioneds, and Flamin’ Hot Cheeto-rimmed margaritas all signify outside-the-shaker-thinking. TikTok also caters to restricted diets, with trends like keto cocktails using zero-carb liquors and sugar-free mixers. The platform's hyper-specific customization allows niche imbibing styles like sober curious and clean drinking to thrive alongside traditional mixology.
While many TikTok tipples emphasize camera appeal over drinkability, some creativity does transfer well from screen to glass. Inspired takes on classics breathe new life into standard recipes. A smoky mezcal Negroni variation adds depth, while techniques like fat washing vodka with bacon lend savory new flavors. Infusing liquors and homemade syrups expands the possibilities.
Brushing Up on Bartending: How Amateur Mixologists are Taking Over the Bar Scene - Amateur Nights Let Newbies Show Off Skills
Once you've honed your skills through classes and practice, what better way to put your amateur mixology chops on display than an old-fashioned drink-off? Amateur and guest bartender nights at local bars offer a lively venue for newbie mixologists to show off their abilities and flair behind the sticks. Far from serious competitions, these events aim to create a welcoming space for cocktail enthusiasts to try their hand at slinging drinks without the pressure of a crowded Friday happy hour shift. The atmosphere is laidback and fun rather than stiffly competitive.
The format of amateur nights can vary, but usually centers around each participant creating a signature cocktail to serve a panel of guest judges. While experienced bartenders may offer mentoring and feedback, the focus stays on enjoying the creativity of amateurs interpreting traditional recipes in new ways. Irene Yoo, who organized an amateur mixer at Otium restaurant in LA, describes it as "a good opportunity for industry folk curious about getting behind the bar to test drive making drinks."
Rather than using high-end spirits and mixers, most bars limit amateur nights to well liquors and basic bar staples to keep the playing field level. Christine Wiseman, whose Tini Bigini nights in Hoboken spotlight up-and-comers, notes "We want to showcase their individuality and talent, not who can afford the nicest $500 bottle of rum." The challenges of working within tight constraints often push amateurs to devise fantastically inventive low-brow drinks. Warm nostalgic flavors like peanut butter banana daiquiris, s'mores martinis and root beer Old Fashioneds tend to charm judges rather than complex molecular creations.
Many bars sweeten the experience by offering winners coveted guest bartending gigs. Mike Ryan, owner of Atlanta's Elder Tree, recounts how amateur nights led him to "discover two of my best bartenders - one who had only ever worked as a server and another who was an accountant." Wiseman agrees that aside from being fun, the events serve as "a way to organically add good new energy" behind the bar. Amateurs get valuable real-world experience, bars scout new talent, and patrons enjoy the novel drinks.