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Bartending is an art form, it is not just about pulling pints and never has been

Bartending is an art form and a continuous learning path that never ends; it is not just about pulling pints and never has been, writes Ciara Farrell.

Ciara Farrell

BARTENDING IS SO much more than a ‘just a job’. As a bartender in Ireland you have to accept that at least once a week someone in your bar will be asked one of the following questions: “Are you just working here while you study?” or “What real job will you aim for?”

Bartending has historically been seen as a dead-end job, a job for people with no brains or ambition. But this is just one of the countless things that makes bartending such a special job – a true bartender will simply listen to this, all the while knowing that they are so madly in love with and passionate about a job and a skill that the people asking these questions will just never understand.

Yes, bartending for most of us starts as an after school job to earn some money to go travelling or get our first car. Some of us have grown up in a family business of pubs and were thrown into it as soon as possible, and in reality we probably didn’t think we would do it as a job for long.

Oh, how that changes very quickly! For me it was firstly the interaction with people that I fell in love with, and then I found cocktails and any thoughts of other careers/jobs went straight out the window.

shutterstock_225472294 Source: Shutterstock/Igor Normann

Cocktails first struck me as being cool looking and an added challenge to throw into working a busy bar, which I already loved doing. I wanted to learn all the recipes and make the best looking drinks, and do it very fast.

When it comes to cocktail-making, people learn and take on information in different ways, some people learn recipes best by sitting down and continuously writing them out or reading them out, some people learn by watching other people do it. I am a practical learner and learn by doing and remembering the movements.

So, that’s what I started doing. I would hound my managers to teach me everything they knew and let me experiment. Over the years my mind became more and more fascinated with cocktails, with the methods and mixing of flavours.

There are certain things which bartenders need to get right before moving on and I can never stress the need to know the basics enough: methods and why different methods are used, equipment and what each piece is used for and how to utilise it the best; glassware and how this effects a drink, classic cocktails and the thought process behind them, and of course the most important … reading your guest and realising what will make them happiest.

After this is nailed down then flavour profiling is the best next step. Before mixing flavours of spirits, vermouths, cordials, juices, liqueur, etc it is essential to know what they taste like on their own.

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As a head bartender a huge part of training in any new team member is letting them get to know every bottle in the bar and what is inside them before we move on to creating drinks.

Every cocktail has a base on which it is built, the same as a chef may start a dish knowing they want to use chicken and build from there, bartenders will decide some part of the drink as a starting block and let it grow in a way that works with that crucial aspect. Over 80% of the time that base is a spirit.

Spirits firstly give an alcoholic volume to the drink; they have a higher ABV than other alcohol forms and hold more flavours. However, they are much more than just alcohol. Each type of spirit has a world of character and flavor which directly impact on the mouth feel, flavour and aroma of a drink.

I got the cocktail competition bug quite quickly after competing in the Beefeater MIXLDN competition three years ago. It was through this that I found a desire to know more about the world of spirits and their role, both singly and within cocktails and mixed drinks, and this led me to my role now as Beefeater Irish Ambassador.

I now get to work with the people behind the brands that we see behind bars around the world and with the people behind bars all across the country, bringing the two very different worlds together.

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The adrenaline a bartender gets behind a bar that is five deep with people, all feeling like the world will end if they don’t get a drink from you in the next 30 seconds, and having a team with you facing that same wall of faces and all of us moving in a dance with each other around the bar, all while entertaining the guests – that feeling is indescribable.

Bartending is an art form and a continuous learning path that never ends; it is not just about pulling pints and never has been. A bartender is a host, therapist, entertainer and a distraction from normal life.

Ciara Farrell is Beefeater Irish Ambassador. Ciara recently judged the Irish final of the 2015 Beefeater MIXLDN Global Bartender competition which saw Carl D’Alton of The Folkhouse Bar in Kinsale, Co. Cork crowned the winner. Carl will go forward to represent Ireland at the global final in London in January where he will have the chance to become the brand’s Apprentice Brand Ambassador, receive in-depth training, represent Beefeater at exclusive events and travel to some of the world’s most prestigious bartender events, including the Moscow Bar Show and the Berlin Bar Convent.

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Ciara Farrell

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