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By thenimblebar

A Chat With Dead Rabbit’s Sam Casuga on Her Journey to One of the Best Bars in the World

Sam Casuga has worked at some of the best bars in Canada, and is currently a senior bartender at Dead Rabbit in New York City and a brand-ambassador for Chareau Aloe Liqueur. She’s a testament that you can have a long, wholesome, and fulfilling career in this industry, and she lets us in on some of her secrets…

In this chat, we asked about…

  • How Sam got started as a bartender…
  • The steps she took to get to the Dead Rabbit…
  • What a day-in-the-life is like for Sam…
  • What Dead Rabbit does differently from other bars to be more efficient and optimized…
  • The book Sam currently recommends the most to bar owners who want to take it to the next level and why (spoiler alert: Mixology & Mayhem)
  • Sam’s secret weapon that sets her apart…
  • And more…

Watch the conversation here:

 

Full Transcript:

Kyle

All right. Hey, Sam.

Sam

Hi.

Kyle

Want to tell us a bit about who you are, and what you’re up to?

Sam

Totally.

Kyle

Awesome.

Sam

I’m Samantha Casuga. I’m originally from Calgary, Alberta. Used to live in Victoria. Now I’m currently residing in New York City where I’m working at The Dead Rabbit.

Kyle

Awesome. How long have you been at The Dead Rabbit?

Sam

This past May was my second-year anniversary, so just over two years.

Kyle

Okay. Could you take us back to the moment you realized you wanted to be a bartender? Just tell us a bit about that story, where you were, and if there was some sort of, “Aha,” or some sort of spark that happened that set you on this journey.

Sam

Totally. Well, like most of us who start in hospitality, I definitely just kind of picked up hosting shifts at a wine bar. Then just kind of worked my way through it, realized I really liked the hospitality industry and wanted to stay in it. When I moved to Victoria, I started at Veneto as a server’s assistant. That’s where I met Simon Ogden and the rest of them through … I didn’t know immediately that I wanted to be behind the bar, but I really enjoyed it and I thought it was really cool that cocktail culture was this elaborate. I had no idea before this. I did continue working at wine bars, and then started serving, and then managing eventually.

I didn’t really realize I liked bartending until I was literally just thrown into it. I think especially in Victoria, the community was so small. Being another female bartender, another keen, young bartender, Shawn Soole, and Simon just both took me under their wings and definitely showed me that this could be a legitimate career. Since then, when I joined Veneto with Simon, he really helped me see that this is a legitimate career, and it could really take you places. I wouldn’t say it was an immediate, one-time, “Aha.” It was definitely over time, and then fully realizing just how vast this industry is.

Kyle

Yeah. That’s awesome. You’ve come a long way. I mean, Veneto’s a great bar in Victoria, but now you’re at one of the best in the world, Dead Rabbit in NYC. Can you tell us about some of the steps you took to get there?

Sam

Yeah. I mean, a lot of people ask me this. It comes up in conversation all the time, especially, it’s like, “How did you end up at Dead Rabbit? How did you get a visa?” Well, I mean, unintentionally or not, it started as soon as I started bartending. I found great success immediately, whether it be because I worked really hard at it, but then I also, I just feel like it was the right time, right place. I fell into the hands of the right people. Yeah. I worked my ass off, but I also stayed humble. I did the appropriate steps. I was patient. After Veneto, I went, I did actually go back to Calgary. I was managing a program there —

Kyle

What bar was that in Calgary?

Sam

That was at Native Tongues in Calgary, but it was my friend’s restaurant. We were about a year and a half delayed, so I was kind of bouncing around and working different bars in the city, which was great, because I got to learn the industry there and learn the community there. That helped a lot, but really, essentially as I started bartending up until even now, I’m still doing it, I was competing a lot. I was really putting myself in any opportunity that came. Immediately started bartending, Shawn Soole had his book come out. He asked me to be a part of it. Of course, I said, “Yes.” I attend every sort of training, any sort of program out there, educational for bartenders. I just did everything I could. When I was in Calgary, I started traveling more in the States.

Sam

I was doing any of those programs, like Camp Runamok, Bar Institute, Tales of the Cocktail I going to. I’m a very social person. I think all bartenders are, but I was definitely just putting myself out there. That helps a lot, because once it actually came down to coming to New York, which I’d always wanted to do. I was so prepared for the visa and for what it needed that it wasn’t seamless, but it was a lot easier for me to get everything together and get everything prepared. Getting to Dead Rabbit, obviously it took me, I do bartending by this point about for, just over five years. It took me five years to get prepared to make a big move like that, but it was definitely just over time and being diligent, and I just kept at it the whole time.

Kyle

Yeah. Have you worked at any other bars in New York City?

Sam

No.

Kyle

Okay.

Sam

I actually have a part-time brand ambassador role, which is pretty cool, and that’s totally different.

Kyle

For who?

Sam

It’s an aloe liqueur coming out of California, so it’s not available in Canada yet, but it’s a small little brand that’s super awesome. We’re a very small team of brand ambassadors, all bartenders, but even that, having Chareau under my belt as well just really helps me in the industry. I meet a ton more people than I would by just bartending in New York City. I have so many more opportunities just because I’ve taken on another project.

Kyle

Yeah. Well, that’s actually a great segue, because my next question, I’d just love to hear a bit about a day in the life of Sam Casuga today. I mean, I’m not sure how often you’re bartending, but it’d be great to get a picture of a day in the life. Also, just what your whole work-life balance looks like.

Sam

Totally. Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mean, okay. I feel like I’m just starting to really, really figure it out now. In the past six months, I’ve really figured out my work-life balance not to a T yet, but it’s really coming along. I’m really happy about it. A typical day in the life for me these days. I work a lot. With a part-time brand job, you don’t really have a set schedule. You kind of just fit it in where you can. I’m at Dead Rabbit about four days a week, but I do pick up a lot, so I’m there quite often. When you do work in the Parlor at Dead Rabbit, it does require a lot of extra time. We usually run R&D for about three months per menu flip. We flip the menu every six months, so we’re in R&D quite a bit, but–

Kyle

Like research and development?

Sam

Yeah. Because we come up with all of our cocktails as a team, we collaborate. It’ll be once a week for about three hours. This is when we come up with our ideas and present our cocktails. We work on them together. That’s another, I mean, not a shift, but it’s another commitment that has to be done if you’re a part of the team. Then we also have monthly trainings for Dead Rabbit and BlackTail. Then on top of that, there are just extra ones that are kind of thrown into there if you can attend. A typical day for me is I wake up, I really try not to sleep in too much, even if I work a really late shift-

Kyle

What time do you wake up at?

Sam

I’m around about 10:00. That’s like my ideal. 10:30, maybe 11:00. It really depends on the night before. I do really try to hit yoga. I’m averaging probably three to four on an intense week. Sometimes I hit more, just because I want to. I really use yoga as a time to refocus and just do something for myself. Then it’s off to work. Again, if you have R&D or if you have something you’re working on. I try to have maybe an hour before I actually start my shift to eat and sit down and map my week out, or whatever it is. I get things on paper if I need to, and then I do a shift. If I do a shift, you’re usually on for about eight to 10 hours. By the time I’m done, I’m probably pretty sleepy.

Kyle

So a shift is usually 8 to 10 hours. That means, you’re getting out of work at what time?

Sam

The Parlor will close at 2:00 AM. It depends if you’re either on the open shift or the closing shift. The latest I’ll ever get out there is 3:00. It’s not crazy-crazy late, but that’s kind of, my days do fluctuate because of that. With Chareau, I try to at least have one day completely off of everything, but I also, I really try to hit the accounts where I can. There are days that I do have to completely dedicate to Chareau and what that needs.

Kyle

When you say, “Hit accounts,” you’re going to different establishments, or?

Sam

Yeah. Just as a part-time brand ambassador within New York City, it’s really focused on maintaining accounts and just being a presence. That’s why I said it’s been really beneficial to me to be able to meet a whole bunch of people, go to these bars I wouldn’t usually go to, these restaurants I usually wouldn’t go to, and then make connections and make relationships with bars and bartenders especially. It works great to have both Chareau and Dead Rabbit, because I visit Chareau accounts, and I say, “Hey, I’m also a bartender. I actually work at Dead Rabbit.” That sells itself. They’re like, “Oh, cool. That’s so amazing.” Then I also so, “Well, come see me and come see the bar.” It works both ways. Yeah.

Kyle

One feeds into the other?

Sam

Absolutely. Totally.

Kyle

That’s awesome. In a way, it’s kind of like a dream set-up, right? You’re working at a great bar. You have a great brand ambassador gig on the side. Yeah, it’s a great set-up, but a lot of folks who are just starting, I imagine a lot of this is, it’d be pretty overwhelming. They’d just have no idea where to start. I’m wondering what advice you might offer someone who’s just getting started, whether it’s bartending, or the industry, or … What would you say to that person who’s just like, they want to be where you at, they want the brand ambassador role, they want to work at a great bar in the world? What would you say?

Sam

Well, I think one of the biggest things that I ever did when I first started bartending was I made it my lifestyle in a way that I integrated my job with my interest and what I would spend my time doing, with my free time. Even just when I started, if I had time on the side, I’d be, again, attending any sort of seminar, or tasting, or whatever it is. Reading, spending the time if I’m on the internet trolling or whatever it is that we all do on the internet and on our phones. I am actually reading, still reading up a lot on the industry and what’s happening. I’ve always been very involved in my community. I’ve always been curious about other communities. I look out at bigger markets. I’ve always looked out and just seeing what other people are doing. Again, I just make it a part of my every day.

Sam

It can be overwhelming, but then that’s why I do something like yoga to just take myself out of it for an hour, so I don’t think about it. Then I come back into it, but at this point and my career where most of my friends are bartenders, or brand ambassadors, or are in the industry. My personal romantic relationship is with someone who’s also a bartender. It’s all around me all the time. I would say if you’re just starting out, and you want to get to this level, it’s purely just working at it all the time. It’s diligence, and it’s patience, and a lot of it is humility. I’ve been so fortunate to meet really great people, but it’s also just because I’ve shown that I’m keen, and I’m also just kind. I just remain grounded. Sometimes I still feel so tiny and so little and still a baby in New York City.

Sam

Then I remember, “Holy shit, where am I?” Like, “This is crazy.” I still wake up all the time like, “This is wild. I can’t believe this is my life.” But, I mean, if you just keep going, just keep going at it. The greatest thing about the bar industry is that it’s so social. There’s so many resources for you out there. Whether it be your bar mentor at your own bar that you’re working at, or their mentor, or the people that they know. It’s just so connected and there’s such a network. If you really, really take advantage of it, you have so many opportunities ahead of you. Everyone’s always looking for someone who’s excited and wants this-

Kyle

For sure, yeah.

Sam

Those are the people who get the most rewarded in this industry is those who really, really want it.

Kyle

You said you read a lot. Do you have a most-recommended book, or books?

Sam

I would admit that I’m not the best drinks creator at Dead Rabbit. I’ve been able to execute menus before, but I think just at the level that we aim for Dead Rabbit cocktails is so high. It’s a totally new world for me. For me, the things I’ve been reading lately are way more, they pertain way more to food and flavor pairings, just because I’m really trying to work with that right now. One of our things that we use the most is The Flavor Bible. The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, because it has way more, the ingredients we’ve been using. Reading more on, actually, the science of flavor pairings and why it actually works together.

Sam

Then I actually like reading chef-written books too, just to kind of understand where that is. That’s the kind of stuff I’ve been reading lately. In terms of actual cocktail books that I’ve found, have been good, I mean, there are a lot of really good ones right now. Not to like, a shameless promo, but the Dead Rabbit books are awesome. I remember when I first read the Drinks Manual by Sean and Jack, I remember thinking, “Who are these people?” Especially Sean’s story is incredible. You’re just in awe of how this person came to be where he is now, and now I see him every day. It’s like–

Sam

It’s pretty wild. The book itself is super fascinating. You just see how they, it’s like, “Yeah. It makes sense. This is how you create one of the best bars in the world.” Now we have a new book, Mixology & Mayhem, which really delves into the R&D process that we do at Dead Rabbit, and our bar set-ups, and why the Parlor is the way it is. It’s so interesting. I think that if you are, especially if you’re a bar owner and you want to take it to the next level, reading that book is, it’s so cool, because you really get it.

Kyle

Is there one or two big takeaways from that book that come top of mind? Something for that bar owner who wants to take it to the next level?

Sam

I think one big thing is quality, is just actually your quality. We do go into a lot of the recipes that have been featured in menus, but also just showing, “This is the prep that goes into this.” It even highlights, “This is the back-of-house of the cocktail making. This is our prep guide. This is our juicer.” It just shows really the behind the scenes. I think the biggest takeaway is just that, is just knowing it’s not … It’s such a big picture. It’s everything that encompasses the experience at Dead Rabbit. There’s so many little details that you just don’t even know exist until you really read the book.

Kyle

That’s awesome. Yeah. I’d like to take a little bit of a different direction. We hear all the time about longevity in the industry. You’re a testament to the fact that a person can have a good, long, healthy career. I’d love to hear a bit about what contributes to that longevity for you. A bit about why you stay in the game, what keeps you going, and ultimately what you love the most about bartending that just, yeah, that keeps you ticking.

Sam

Totally. I mean, I feel like every year probably I have a new goal and I set a new goal. I feel like maybe I don’t achieve all of them, but I definitely come close and/or achieve it in a different way. Ask me seven years ago, “Would I ever think I’d be in a senior bartender role at Dead Rabbit?” Of course not. Of course not. I would have had no idea even if I would still be bartending, but every year changes. You meet new people. You go to different bars. You have totally different experiences. It grows with each coming year. For me, this time last year, I just wanted to … When I started at Dead Rabbit, I had to serve. You can’t just come into a bar position right away at a bar like that.

Sam

I was serving, and I was frustrated, and I wanted to bartend. I just kept making that my goal. Then, of course, it happened. Now, okay, “Well, what’s the next goal?” I want to bartend, but I want to take it to the next level. I got a brand job that really helped. Dead Rabbit has been so good to me, and I’m only moving up, and I’m only doing better, and I’m only just really claiming it as my own. Then, again, you think, “Well, what’s next?” For me, I love New York and I love being in it. I think the community’s crazy. I don’t know, I feel like it always evolves and that’s why I like the industry and I like the people in it is because they’re always doing new things. I feel like the more involved you get in the community, the more you kind of see that you can have an impact and you can actually influence. I did Most Imaginative Bartender last year. I didn’t win, but I came really close.

Sam

But even that, it’s like it did so much for my career. It actually got my name out to a lot of people that, I have no idea how I would have ever been able to come into contact with them. It’s definitely helped me. To know that there are people out there who look up to someone like me, or hear that, “Oh, my god. She came from Canada and a smaller city. All of a sudden, now she’s at Dead Rabbit.” That means a lot to me. Hearing that from other people means a lot. That also keeps me going is, okay, well, it was … Of course, it was worth it if I also help other people realize that it’s not impossible. I have this conversation all the time with people who sit at the bar. They’re like, “How?” It’s not impossible. You just got to do it. Just make it happen.

Kyle

Totally. Sort of on the flip side of that, of something that continuously fuels you. What do you find most challenging? What are the hardships that are there? Would you be able to speak to that a bit?

Sam

Totally. I mean, I think one of the biggest ones for me, I’m turning 30 in two weeks. I think about, “Okay, where do I want this to really go?” I’m very open in that. I really feel like, again, doors just keep opening. I do feel confident that I will figure out my next big move if it is … Eventually I will want to come off the bar. Everyone does eventually. I want to have a family, and I want to be a very present mother. That was my life goal. To make that happen is to take a step away from the bar, and to figure out a new set-up. That’s a challenge. Especially right now, I’m finding so much success in my career right now. It just keeps coming. I’m so happy and so grateful. I feel like I deserve it. I’m like, “Yes, this is happening,” but on the flip side of that is like, “Well, how much more do I want? When am I going to say that this is enough and now it’s time to settle down and start a family?”

Sam

That’s my own personal struggle. I think on the flip side of that as well, just on the lighter side is burning yourself out. I take so many projects all the time. It’s because I’m thirsty, and I’m hungry, and I want it. Especially in New York, you got to hustle. You got to hustle. Being able to say, “No.” I think a lot of people say to test this. Just being able to say, “No,” is so hard. I’m only starting to realize that. This year, I’m not going to be doing Most Imaginative Bartender, because I just have too much on my plate. I also don’t feel like it’s the right move for me right now. Yeah, definitely. Real life comes, like not real life, but life-life and taking care of yourself. Then remembering your value and stuff, I think, is the biggest.

Kyle

Yeah, for sure. What do you think’s missing from our industry? What do you want to see more of?

Sam

I will say, I do feel like the industry’s going in a really great direction in terms of wellness and promoting bartenders to be more healthy and more balanced. I mean, we talk about this all the time, work-life balance, which is amazing. I really, really do think it’s going in the right direction. I also think it’s really amazing that bartenders are using a platform of the industry and the power that it has to do better things. Whether it be searching for equality, or just even getting hard conversations out there and topics out there to really be embraced and talked about is really cool. I love it. In terms of what I think needs to maybe change or develop is, this is a little bit more on where in my world and what affects me is, I guess, just the whole recognition thing.

Sam

I think it’s really cool that awards are given out and lists are given out of the top bars. People are getting recognized and awarded all the time. I think that’s amazing. I think that it is really, it helps your career for sure, but I think the pressure on it is a little bit too much. I think people can take it too seriously. I think people can just be very devastated if it doesn’t happen. I’ll even say myself not winning MIB last year, it crushed me, but I had to remember and realize that it’s like that wasn’t, that’s not the end, you know what I mean? I wanted it so bad because I wanted to prove myself and make it like, “Yes, I did this. I came out and I won,” but at the end of the day, I realized like, “It’s not, that’s not the have-all, be-all. There’s a new winner the next year.”

Sam

These competitions can just get so intense. You just get so invested into them. Then when you don’t win, it’s just like … I just feel like you need to really take the pressure off. Then also just see the benefits of just participating in general. You’re getting out there, you’re doing it. It’s not in vain that you didn’t win. I don’t know. Especially the pressure on just bars winning awards, too. I’ve got so many people who come into Dead Rabbit and they’re like, “Oh, so you’re not number one anymore?” It’s just like, “Shut up.” It’s not about that. It’s about your experience here and about us giving you the best experience we can. If you want to judge us based on a list, that’s your own thing, but try to just view us as a bar and as a place you come. If you like it, you like it, then awesome.

Kyle

Yeah. You mentioned wellness and all that stuff. This is actually kind of a side bar, but I’m curious about what you put on your feet. What’s shoes do you wear when you’re tending bar?

Sam

There’s someone who’s going to kill me for saying this, because she already gave me so much shit about wearing them, but I wear Danskos. They’re like hard clogs. I like them because they have a little bit of a heel to them, because I am pretty tiny. They’re durable. I’ve worn them since I started. They’re so durable. I do also have a second pair of Crocs.

Sam

Crocs are very comfortable. They don’t quite have the lift, but behind Dead Rabbit, we all wear different shoes. Some of the bartenders wear Docs. Shout-out to Will Pasternak at BlackTail who just loves his Crocs. They’re very colorful, designer. But, yeah. I wear clogs.

Kyle

Dansko? Why does your colleague give you shit for it?

Sam

Well, it’s not my colleague. There is a lovely lady who back in the San Antonio Cocktail Conference two years ago, I want to say. She gave us a body check-in seminar. Like, “You shouldn’t be scooping ice like this, because it’s bad for you,” or like, “You need to take care of the way that you’re aligned.” It was awesome, but one thing she did, she looked at my feet and she was like, “What are you wearing?” She’s like, “Danskos are terrible.” She was just saying they don’t move with your foot, so your arches get lazy. I was like, “Oh, okay,” but then I kept wearing them.

Kyle

Did she suggest something else, or…?

Sam

Just anything that’s comfortable with a back. It has to have a back behind your heel. Then movement. It just needs to have movement. Obviously, yeah, you need something very comfortable, but also for me, it’s just structure. I like to be supported, but I hope she doesn’t see this.

Kyle

Just a couple more questions. A lot of people are really curious about earnings in different cities and different bars. I’m wondering to what extent you’d be comfortable with sharing any numbers around earnings of, whether it’s you or people around you, or just your demographic in New York City and cocktail bars. Yeah, anything like that you-

Sam

Yeah. I mean, New York City is awesome. You can make a lot of money here. I will say, though, that in all honesty, working in the cocktail parlor at The Dead Rabbit, yes, we still, I mean, we still make money. Definitely the most money I’ve ever made bartending in any of my jobs, but if you were to compare what we make in the Parlor to, say, a more high-volume bar in New York, you just can’t. I would say what we make is what you would make serving in a restaurant. Two to 300, in that area, per night in tips.

Kyle

That’s USD?

Sam

Yes.

I would say that’s a good, yeah. I feel like most servers in nice restaurants will make about the same, but when you’re talking high-volume bars. If you’re working in the Taproom at The Dead Rabbit, you’re making cash. But I mean, it’s just, it’s the difference of the type of bartending you’re doing, right? They’re pumping it out and those girls are running. In the Parlor, we do provide a totally different experience where we do … It’s definitely more paced. It’s catered to you. It’s completely so methodical, which is awesome. We definitely work at the Parlor for the love of it. Yeah, of course we need money to live, but it is definitely, it’s passionate bartenders who want to be working in that style of service.

Kyle

So it’s clear for those listening, the Parlor is the cocktail bar, right?

Sam

Yeah. The Dead Rabbit is comprised of two, well, three levels. The third floor is a private event space, but the second floor is the cocktail parlor. Just recently, we opened up an extension to it. We opened basically a second room to the Parlor three nights of the week, which really helps. It kind of alleviates that wait time, but yeah. The second floor is just the cocktail parlor. That’s where you’ll find all the super elaborate cocktails and just like all the cheater bottles and all this crazy bar set-up. Then the first floor is the Taproom, which is awesome. It’s kind of like your idea of an Irish pub where beer’s on draft.

Still really great cocktail program, but made to execute faster and made for efficiency, and just a totally different vibe, right? It’s way more casual. You come and you go. It’s awesome. It’s fun. It’s where I hang out, but they also have an extension room. It’s quite massive. Dead Rabbit’s pretty massive right now, technically houses five bars in its entirety. But, yeah. That’s the biggest difference. That’s why there is a difference of your hours, the kind of bartending you’re doing, and then also the money.

Kyle

What would you say is the one ting that, because I imagine Dead Rabbit’s a really efficient bar. I’m wondering if you could speak to the one thing, the one or two things that Dead Rabbit does differently from other bars that just makes it more enjoyable to work at, more efficient, more optimized. Anything like that.

Sam

Totally. I think one of the greatest things is, yes. So much thought has been put into our technique, and our set-up, and the way we approach R&D, and the way we approach just the whole experience of the Parlor. Even in the Taproom, with the extension, we were able to kind of basically build that bar out to be a little bit more like the Parlor, so it is quite efficient. It’s set up beautifully. An example is for the stations that I work in the Parlor, the way that the bar’s set up is purely just for body movement. You’re really trying to not work in an inefficient way or that’s bad to your body. More or less, I’m always moving side to side rather than twerking around. Everything’s just always straight. It’s set up the way it should be. We work with a lot of cheater bottles, so that being basically pouring any of our syrups, juices, spirits, liqueurs into smaller bottles to–

Kyle

What cheater bottles do you guys use?

Sam

We just use these, I don’t know, little 250 ml bottles. They’re all the same, so they all just line up on the rail of the bar. That’s our mise-en-place. We use so many ingredients that you have to use cheaters, and you have to have it readily accessible to you. Our tools are hung. Our tools are placed in certain areas where it’s easier to grab them, easier to get them. It’s so thought-out, and it’s such a school of thought now that it’s, that’s just the way we approach everything. Even if, for example, if we were flipping the menu.

Yes, it takes us some time to get used to where everything is, but because we understand the whole method that goes behind setting that bar, we understand it way more. You’re more or less working on muscle memory rather than, “Oh, where would I get this syrup? Where would I get that?” People always ask with the cheater bottles, “Do you know what these are? Are they labeled?” I was like, “First, yeah. They’re labeled, because we’re not stupid.” If they weren’t labeled, we’d be sitting there being like, “Oh, my god. Did we switch up these two dark amaros?” Of course, they’re labeled.

Kyle

Do you guys use a label maker?

Sam

Yeah. Yeah, a label maker, but over time, you get to know exactly where these bottles are without looking. That’s the efficiency of it, right? It’s always in the same place. You should always be grabbing it and that’s what it should be. I think it’s a fun, really fun bar to work at. You’re always thinking in your mind, “What’s the best way to do this ticket? What’s the best way to make this round?” It’s never boring. A shift is never boring. It’s always really geeky and cool. I love talking about it too, because I just think it’s the coolest.

Kyle

That’s awesome. Okay, just one last thing. What’s your favorite tool and why? Do you have a specific tool that you love?

Sam

I have always loved bar spoons.

Kyle

Yeah?

Sam

I’ve dabbled in the weird, decorative ones and all the crazy, cool designs of bar tools, or bar spoons, but my favorite always just comes down to a regular teardrop, that medium size. I love that spoon. It’s just so useful. I mean, I’ve always had this thing where Simon, when I first started working for him, made me stir water and ice for an hour until I got my perfect stir right. That’s always a massive joke, but I do actually love stirring cocktails. I just love having to have the accuracy and the touch on it of knowing when something’s actually … Obviously, you’re tasting too, but just knowing when something’s perfect the way it should be. But also, from working at Dead Rabbit, I have really loved working with an ice tapper.

Kyle

To mold the ice?

Sam

The ice tapper to break cubes. So, smack it and it just cracks the cubes that we use [crosstalk 00:37:07] so, it just cracks it. We use that for jump-starting stirred-up cocktails. We just get our smaller bits of ice and then you top it with a cold draft, and then you’re kind of using that to jump-start. Then also because we use large format blocks that we break down for cocktails, I love that. I’ve never really worked with an elaborate ice program such as Dead Rabbit’s, so it’s really fun.

Kyle

Do you guys get ice delivered to you?

Sam

Yes. We do get big blocks delivered to us, but we did very recently acquire our own machines that we will be using, and we actually will be trained on.

Kyle

Is it a Clinebell?

Sam

Yeah.

Kyle

Yeah? That’s sick! Wait, I have one more question.

Sam

Okay.

Kyle

Do you think you have a Sam Casuga sort of secret power that sets you apart? I know you mentioned you work hard, you’re diligent, all those things, but is there something that’s kind of like your hidden weapon?

Sam

Yeah. I do. I actually do think that being kind. At the end of the day, I’m just, I don’t want to say I try to be kind. I mean, you do kind of have to try sometimes with some people, but I just try to be pleasant to be around, and kind, and caring. Just being a good energy around people. I think that has always set me apart, and it’s always been something that people I’ve worked for have said something about. That’s the kind of person I want to be remembered-

Kyle

Totally.

Sam

… to be like, “Oh, I worked with Sam Casuga. She was so kind.” Especially, I’m very aware that the position I hold, not only at Dead Rabbit, but in our whole bartending community. It’s like, I’m very grateful for it, but I’m also very aware that I hold a position where I do have people who look up to me and want to talk to me about things, or want to get advice. Just being kind, and humble, and giving them the time, and being that person for them. I take that very seriously. I feel like I’ve been mentored before. I’m so grateful for it. Simon’s somewhat a mentor to this day, but just I really feel that kindness, and humility, and actually giving time to people is very important.

Kyle

For sure. I think you’re definitely a model of all of that, so well done.

Sam

Thanks.

Kyle

Okay, well, thank you. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Sam

I’m so excited.


cocktail-garnish

By thenimblebar

This Cocktail Garnish is Saving Time, Money – and the Planet

7 reasons why dehydrated cocktail garnishes are awesome

We’re always looking for better ways of doing things. Every step we can take – no matter how small – to make things simpler, more efficient, more beautiful, etc., has a compound effect on our profitability and joy.

 

If you’ve ever been in the middle of a 10 cocktail rush, and thought to yourself “F*&#, I really wish I didn’t have to cut this lime wheel right now,” or “Gee whiz, this an inconvenient time for me to be making an apple fan” that’s because the smarter version of yourself was screaming at you: “this is inefficient — there’s a better way!”

 

Well, it’s time for this tom-foolery to stop, and for you to listen to that smarter version of yourself. Dehydrated cocktail garnishes are part of the answer, and here’s why… 

 

 

  1. They save you the time of having to cut / prepare a cocktail garnish a la minute

 

 

That’s right, instead of cutting and peeling (often adding an extra 10-20 seconds to your chit time), you get to reach, grab, and elegantly place on top.

 

Over the long run, that’s enough extra time to turn a busy shift from Un-Happy Hour into a relaxed and controlled experience for yourself, and your customers.

 

You’ll have freed up time that you can then use to keep conversations going, help out your teammates, and generally look like a pro.

 

 

2. They reduce waste by ensuring that every part of the fruit gets used (particularly in the case of citrus)

 

 

Let’s use lime and lemon wheels, for example…

 

Many of the bartenders I’ve seen waste a good chunk of the fruit on either side of their citrus wheels. While the fruit wastage adds up over a shift, each individual piece isn’t quite big enough to juice, or to turn into another garnish.

 

Even if they do intend to save it for juicing later, it usually ends up in the compost.

 

It’s not laziness – it’s just the path of least resistance. We all take it, it’s in our nature.

 

Dehydrated garnishes are a way of providing a positive path of least resistance, while also eliminating waste.

 

I’ve never seen anyone eliminate waste entirely from their bar, but having garnishes that you can prep ahead of time, and not have to ditch at the end of a shift, goes a very long way.

 

 

3. They look beautiful 

 

 

Ever heard the expression ‘people drink with their eyes’? It’s true – the better your drinks look, the more your customers will enjoy them. 

 

Again, using citrus as an example, the dehydration process darkens the fruit itself quite significantly. This can provide a dramatic, intriguing contrast against your drinks, allowing you to play with really interesting colour combinations – think foams, or darkly coloured combinations of liquids.

 

4. You can dehydrate, well, anything as a cocktail garnish

 

 

So let your creativity go wild! For example, in our Taste of Canada Cocktail Masterclass, one of our current drinks features dehydrated beef (aka beef jerky):

 

 

It’s a great way to get yourself, or your teammates, excited – especially if you’ve been pumping out the same drinks list for a while. Grabbing a bunch of dehydrated garnishes and throwing some ideas around the bar can really reinvigorate a team, and bring them closer together.

 

After all, variety is the spice of life – so spice it up! (Did someone just say ‘dehydrated chilis’…?)

 

 

5. Dehydrated cocktail garnishes last a very long time

 

 

Prepping garnishes ahead of a shift is a no-brainer for saving time – but can you nail down the exact amount you’re going to use, every time? If so, you’re basically Nostradamus. 

 

There are two outcomes when you pre-prep your garnishes: you underestimate, and get caught short-handed – usually in the middle of the unexpected rush that caused you to underestimate in the first place.

 

Or, you overestimate – and either end up with soggy (or dried out) citrus in your customer’s glass, and/or a compost full of expensive fruit. It’s not just the fruit itself – it’s the labour that went into cutting, storing, and tossing it.

 

Dehydrating your garnishes means they become a lot more shelf stable.They won’t last forever, but they DO give you a much wider margin for error when you’re trying to forecast your sales, and prep accordingly.  

 

 

6. Dehydrated cocktail garnishes let you control cost-per-garnish

 

 

Good bartenders are pretty darned close to perfect humans – but we’re still not machines. One person’s cuts are inevitably thicker or thinner than the next. That makes it next to impossible to accurately assign a cost-per-garnish amount to your finished drinks. 

 

When you buy dehydrated garnishes, if they’re not ‘by the piece’ then the containers usually come with an ‘average contents’ statement – both will give you the ability to nail down your per-unit costing, and manage your inventory with ease. 

 

 

7. Dehydrated citrus holds aromatics more effectively 

 

 

When you strip the water out of anything, it usually intensifies the remaining ingredients. Garnishes are no different. 

 

We’re talking about aromas, mostly – we’ve found that in terms of flavour, they don’t offer much of a boost. But the increased aromas that they impart can be used to a bartender’s advantage. (And they are still completely edible, just in case an overenthusiastic patron decides to mow down on one.)

 

For the real pros, you can also rest assured that a customer won’t squeeze a wheel or wedge of lemon or lime into their cocktail, throwing out the balance you’ve worked so hard to create.

 

Dehydrated garnishes have a ton of benefits – with a really wide range of applications. There’s so much to learn about which fruits and vegetables you can dehydrate, and the best ways to use them. If your curiosity has been piqued, come check out Nimble Bar School – we’ll up your bar game, whether you’re a home enthusiast or aspiring professional.


New Student in Bartending School

By thenimblebar

Bartending School: Should You Sign Up?

Before you decide whether bartending school is for you, ask yourself these important questions.

If you’re researching bartending schools, you’ll likely find that there are a lot of opinions out there about whether or not they are worthwhile.

 

Here are 3 great articles that most soundly make the argument to not go:

 

  1. Bartending School Scams: The Facts They Don’t Want You To Know
  2. Ask Your Bartender: Bartending Schools
  3. Should Aspiring Bartenders Go To Bartending School?

 

Go ahead and read those, and then let’s talk about why bartending school may – or may not – be a good fit for you.

 

While the above articles persuasively make their cases, they’re still ‘opinion pieces’ that look at the argument through a single lens — the lens of the writer.

 

This of course doesn’t represent reality – or you.

 

When it comes down to it, bartending school isn’t for everyone. But, depending on your personal situation, it might be a perfect fit for you.

 

One caveat before moving forward: many bartending schools are to be avoided. It’s actually the reason we created the Nimble Bar School. This article assumes that you’re considering a high-quality bartending school.

 

Like anything in life, it all comes down to the lens through which you see bartending – how will it fit into your life? In other words: we need to consider its context.

 

We get a ton of different inquiries from a wide range of people all looking at the same situation, but in a different context. The following questions are the ones that come up most frequently, and how we recommend moving forward.

 

Again – it all depends on your particular lens.

 

Lens #1: I desperately need a job and bartending school will help me get it.

Should you go to bartending school? No.

 

Go read this article, apply the lessons, and simply get a job. You don’t need bartending school to get a job – you just need a bit of strategy and persistence. 

 

Bartending school is for people who want to raise the bar (see what I did there?) in their profession. People who want to achieve a level of greatness that elevates them above the average.

 

At the Nimble Bar School, we ask our candidates if they seek to be excellent bartenders. We do this because of two universal truths:

 

  1. The way you show up to do one thing is how you show up to do all things
  2. The pursuit of excellence is what leads to fulfillment

 

If you just want a place to show up to that pays you enough to get by then ‘no’ – bartending school won’t get you any closer to your goals.

 

Lens #2: I’m already a bartender and I want to improve.

Should you go to bartending school? Yes.

 

A professionally-run bartending school will have instructors who have made it to the ‘next level’ of their craft. While they can definitely get a new bartender off to the races, the nuanced skills they can pass along will help elevate even very experienced bartenders to a high-performance level.

 

(It’s important that you let the bartending school know about your goals and experience before you sign up. Not all schools have the same programs – some focus on fundamentals, which may leave you retreading steps you’ve already learned. That’s not good for you or for your instructors.)

 

Lens #3: I’m a home bartender and want to improve.

Should you go to bartending school? Well, why not…?

 

If bartending is strictly a hobby for you, why not go somewhere that you can rub shoulders with other enthusiastic home bartenders? You know how fun it is to get a group of friends together and wow them with pro techniques and tips – imagine being in a room full of people who love doing the same thing.

 

It’s a great way to up your game with some healthy competition, and there’s a high chance you’ll find people – ie, ‘future friends’ – who share your interests and enthusiasm.

 

Lens #4: I have long-term financial goals, and I see bartending as a fun way to help me reach those goals.

Should you go to bartending school? Yes.

 

Focus goes a long way. If you have set financial goals in mind, bartending can be a great way to help you realize them – and if you learn the craft well, it can get you there quickly.

 

Fast-track your learning by getting one-on-one professional coaching. You could save a little money by starting at the bottom, and working your way up. But if you want to achieve your goals fast, a good bartending school is the way to go.

 

Remember: if you add just one bartending shift a week to your work-life, that’s an average of an extra $220.00 per week (or $11,440 per year). If you save and invested that for 4 years, you’d have approximately $50,000.00 saved — more than enough for a down payment on a house, startup capital, debt repayment, etc.

 

Lens #5: I’m already a student and I would like to bartend my way through school.

Should you go to bartending school? Yes

 

This is ‘probably’ a yes – unless you just want to cash a paycheck and not think too much about what you have to do to get it.

 

BUT – it’s ‘definitely’ a yes, if…

 

  • You’re drawn to the culture of bartending
  • You can see yourself enjoyably bartending for a number of years
  • You’re ready to apply yourself to bartending with as much drive and energy as your other studies.

 

The only reason why bartending school – and bartending in general – wouldn’t be a great fit for you, is if you already feel like it’s just ‘a means to an end.’ If you consider your role as a bartender ‘just a job’ you’ll get by cashing a paycheck and going through the motions, but if you want to really excel, you’ll need to be driven by more than just covering your bills.

 

If you’re a student, you already understand that sometimes you need to invest in yourself to make long-term gains. That same mentality makes you a perfect fit for a bartending school.

 

Lens #6: I’d like to go to bartending school to see if bartending is for me.

Should you go to bartending school? Yes.

 

Do you have what it takes to work the pine, as a pro? There are a few ways to find out. But some are more awkward than others.

 

Having an instructor offer personal and immediate feedback is a rapid-fire way to test yourself, and your skills, in a safer environment than the heat of the battle (like 7pm on a Friday with the lineup out the door.) You’ll get honest feedback without pissing off your employer, co-workers or guests.

 

Lens #7: Just by showing up to bartending school, I will automatically be a great bartender.

Should you go to bartending school? Yes, but not so fast…

 

You’ll learn a lot, and up your bartending game – and yes, there’s a chance you’ll develop the skills to become a great barkeep. But remember: a chance isn’t a guarantee. Even the best bartenders have honed their craft over time. And there’s nothing automatic about that.

 

On the flipside, if you do have the desire to be a great bartender, you’re already part of the way to becoming one. A professional instructor will be able to answer that burning question for you: Do I have what it takes to be one of the greats? You might end up surprising yourself with what you can accomplish in a short time.

 

Lens #8: Bartending school will entitle me to better jobs.

Should you go to bartending school? No.

 

Can bartending school prepare you for better jobs? Absolutely. Does it entitle you to better jobs? That’s a hard ‘no.’

 

Even the best of the best know, if you want to get ahead in the bartending world, you’ll need to check your ego. Not forget who you are, or hide your true personality – but the idea that you deserve something just for putting in a few hours and handing over a few bucks – that’s a bit of a stretch.

 

If you’re willing to use the tools given to you during your bartending course, to further your skills and improve your technique, then over time you’re far more likely to get your dream bartending gig – because you will have earned it. A great bartending school will put you on the right path, right out of the gate.

 

After you’ve decided which lens best describes your expectations of a bartending school, you can safely make up your mind about whether or not it’s going to be your best course of action.

 

(Spoiler alert: not all bartending schools are created equal. In fact, we only recommend two in the world: Nimble Bar School and European Bartender School)


By thenimblebar

How to Become a Bartender that Any Bar in the World Will Hire (+ Free Script for Job Applicants)

Wondering how to become a bartender that anyone will want to hire? Simple. Develop the attitude that the best of the best will always want on their team

If you read our recent article on how to get a bartending job, you probably noticed that all 3 of the bar managers we interviewed unanimously said attitude is the most important quality they look at when considering candidates.

 

(btw, if you haven’t read that article and you’re looking for actionable strategies to help you become a bartender and land your dream job, go read it now).

 

Becoming a bartender that any bar in the world will hire is really about one thing:

 

Becoming the kind of person that any bar in the world will hire.

 

While that might sound a tad simplistic, continuously working on your attitude and character will transfer to (and enhance) all aspects of your life — and any bar in the world would be dying to have you as a result.

 

We’ve put together 4 steps that you can take today to do this.  

 

But first…

 

Think about why the owner of an establishment would want to hire someone with an amazing attitude. It’s because these people:

 

  • Attract better regulars (and keep them in their seats)
  • Attract the best team members who want to help the business grow
  • Are great to work with because they’re fun, supportive, and eager
  • Improve the culture of their establishment so that everyone is more aligned, excited, and happy
  • And more…

 

So, without further ado, these are the 4 ways you can develop your mindset to help you become the bartender (and person) that any bar in the world will hire.

 

How to Become The Ultimately Employable Bartender: A Simple Guide to Unchain Your Potential

Part 1: Cultivate a growth mindset

 

In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck uncovers how cultivating a growth mindset can lead to success.

 

As she describes it, our mindset can strongly “affect what we want and whether we succeed in getting it”, whether it’s done consciously, or not.

 

In her book, she asks “what are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait?”

 

An interesting question, especially when put into the context of becoming a bartender. To answer it, start by asking yourself if any of the following sound familiar to you:

 

  • I like to stick to what I know
  • I haaate being challenged — I know my shit
  • I can’t do much to change my abilities; I’m either good at it, or I’m not

 

If these feel familiar, then take note: they are all telltale indicators of a fixed mindset. And the problem is that most bar owners are growth-oriented — they want their business and their culture to grow.

 

So if you find that you generally have a fixed mindset, it’s time to begin adopting some new ways of thinking.

 

 

(Bonus: growth mindsets perform extremely well in interview situations. This means that if you have a growth mindset, there’s little preparation you’ll need to do for your interview other than do some research on the establishment, and be yourself. Pretty cool, huh?)

 

Here are some growth-mindset antidotes to the fixed-mindset examples above:

 

  • I’m excited to try new things
  • Challenges are great! They help me to grow
  • I can learn to do whatever the heck I want (and to that we add, you can do it to a level of excellence)

 

Carol Dweck has created a test on her website, if you want to see where your mindset’s at.

 

And here’s a helpful graphic from Nigel Holmes:

Part 2: Get clear on what you want

 

“The discipline of desire is the background of character” — John Locke

 

When you get clear on what the big, juicy desire is that you have in your life, things begin to organize themselves so that you can achieve the things that you’re after.

 

But there’s a catch:

 

In our culture, it’s actually very rare for us to be able to articulate what it is we really want — it feels  greedy, or selfish, to talk about those things.

 

The flip-side?

 

Thinking big actually inspires others to do the same.

 

Now you might be wondering, “Okay, but what does this have to do with my question of how to become a better bartender?’

 

Well, look at it this way:

 

At The Nimble Bar School, we ask our students to do a goal-setting exercise that acts as a springboard for those who haven’t thought much about what they really want.

 

It’s important because we teach our students not to think of bartending as means to a small end (like paying the bills), but as part of a powerful arsenal that will help them get to a great big end (like their dream home, career, lifestyle freedom, or something else that’s really worth pursuing).

 

If you can realize exactly how bartending can fit into your big picture, you’ll be more motivated to see it through to whatever success looks like for you.

 

Remember: if you add just one bartending shift a week to your work-life, that’s an average of an extra $220.00 per week (or $11,440 per year). If you save and invested that for 4 years, you’d have approximately $50,000.00 saved — more than enough for a down payment on a house, startup capital, debt repayment, etc.

 

Want to get a head start on your bartending goals? Contact us today and find out how we can help.

 

Part 3: Develop the muscle of alacrity

 

Ala-whut?

 

That was my initial reaction too. But for anyone wondering how to become a bartender of world-class proportions, alacrity is key.

 

To explain alacrity (and how it applies to becoming a bartender) let’s take a gander at this classic quote:

 

“I do the very best I know how — the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”

— Abraham Lincoln

 

‘Honest Abe’ said that when he was 6 months into his presidency.

 

It sounds kinda like something you’d read in a children’s book, yet it was said by the most powerful person in the world, at the time.

 

This is what alacrity sounds like. You just keep cheerfully doing the very best you can.

 

Here’s the definition of alacrity:

 

Alacrity: promptness of response : cheerful readiness : eager willingness

 

This is the attitude that got Abraham Lincoln to the White House, and it’s the attitude that gets many others where they want to go in the world.

 

Here are two practical ways you can effectively apply an attitude of alacrity today:

 

  1. Practice enthusiasm and cheerfulness using one simple mechanism: smiling

  2. Proactively solve a business problem and present your proposed solutions to someone who will find great relief in your initiative

 

Want a cool way to demonstrate this proactivity, that could easily land you a bartending gig at your dream bar? Dream up 3 big ideas that will help that bar improve its business, and send one to the owner (without expectation of anything in return).

 

Here are some word-for-word examples of 3 big ideas:

 

  1. Your drinks are AMAZING. I’m wondering how many hours per week are spent prepping all the ingredients that go into those drinks? In a bar I’ve worked at previously, we delegated our prep to the kitchen team – it saved tons of hours of labour, and produced even better ingredients.
  2. You have a super impressive/expansive back bar. Lots of inventory! I imagine it could be quite challenging for new staff to learn about. Have you thought about cataloguing some of the top selling spirits from each category with evocative descriptors that will help them sell these products with more confidence (and speed)? I’d be happy to help.
  3. Your cocktail presentations are OUTSTANDING. In my experience, taking a culinary approach to cocktails can lead to quite a bit of waste (particularly in the citrus department). Have you experimented with dehydrated garnishes? Some wonderful examples I’ve used are lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, candied ginger, rose buds, and more. They look beautiful, last forever, and the best part? Waaay less waste. If you’d like me to source some dehydrated garnishes for you to test, let me know.

 

If you want to see a word-for-word script of a successful email that I sent to a bar owner, get free instant access here.

 

You could, over time, even send 3 separate emails with each idea. I assure you that if you do this a few times, you will get your foot in the door.

 

(I believe in this tactic so much that I’ll offer you a guarantee: if you try this and don’t see success, send me an email and I’ll personally help you).

 

Part 4: Be other-focused (aka lose your ego)

 

This one is simple, but not easy.

 

Thing is, it’s absolutely essential to get right if you want to become a bartender that a-heeeeenyone would want to hire.

 

Why, you ask? Put simply: working in the service industry means you gotta prioritise those you’re serving (err… duh). 

 

Hey, we know as well as anyone who’s worked behind the wood that it’s easy to succumb to emotional reactions when a customer complains their drink “isn’t strong enough” (or whatever it may be in a given scenario.) But there’s a big difference between standing your ground when necessary, and overreacting when your ego feels threatened.

 

Training your ego to take a back seat is a sure-fire way to put you on track to becoming a stellar bartender (and an awesome person to work alongside, too).

 

There are two specific ways you can practice the art of losing your ego:

 

  1. Think about what you can give, instead of what’s in it for you

 

When cultivating the traits needed to help you become an awesome bartender, you should always be thinking about what you can do for the establishment and the people who work there.

 

Start by asking yourself questions like:

 

‘How can I enrich their lives?’ and ‘what can I give them?’

 

This circles back to our earlier point about scoping out ways to improve the business (remember our examples about inventory, dehydrated stock, and getting prep support from the kitchen? If not, refresh your memory up above!).

 

Always be on the lookout for ways you can create value for your team. Because doing this well makes you valuable to them — which will end up far better for you in the long run than simply prioritizing your short term gains.

 

2. Think about how you can listen more

 

Most folks think bartenders are talkers, but a seriously good bartender is one who has mastered the art of listening.

 

As Ryan Holiday — master of ego-squashing — so eloquently put it:

 

“And that’s what is so insidious about talk. Anyone can talk about himself or herself. Even a child knows how to gossip and chatter. Most people are decent at hype and sales. So what is scarce and rare? Silence. The ability to deliberately keep yourself out of the conversation and subsist without its validation. Silence is the respite of the confident and the strong.”

 

Yep, the old adage that silence is golden is as relevant behind the bar as it is anywhere else.

 

And you know what?

 

It’s not only the silence that’s golden, but also the space you create for your customers to do the talking. After all, what’s better than a good chit-chat to unload the stresses of the day? It’ll make your patrons feel at home, at ease, and excited to come back to see you again.

 

The best bars in the world will be proud to have you representing them – if you remember to practice these skills:

 

  1. Develop your ‘growth-mindset.’
  2. Be clear with yourself about your goals.
  3. Remember: Alacrity.
  4. Ditch the ego.

 

These are the differences between a decent bartender, and a Master of their Craft. Which side of that equation do you fall on? It’s your call – and it’s never too late to switch sides.

 


bartending-terms-spirits

By thenimblebar

The Holy Trinity of Bartending Terms: Nimble’s Simple Framework For Knowing Your Bar Lingo

One of the biggest challenges a new (heck, any) bartender faces is understanding different spirits- and being able to communicate them effectively to a guest.

Sounding like you know what you’re talking about is an important part of being a pro, and it’s our job to educate guests to a point where they ACTUALLY understand what they’re buying, drinking, tasting, and experiencing.

This is how you, as a bartender, can create a high-value experience that your customers will talk about again and again- and eventually come back for.

All too often, bartenders are overloaded with information and jargon — complex flavour profiles, proprietary distillation processes, unicorn-tear ingredients, and so on.

I’ve left many brand seminars wondering what the hell I was supposed to be walking away with; bafflement at how I’d ever repeat anything I’d just heard, and pages of notes- with no clue how to use them.

Am I a dummy?

I used to think so- until I discovered that so many other bartenders felt the same way.

This is why we created The Holy Trinity Of Bartending Terms — a pithy and practical guide to common bartending terms, which will help you quickly (and effectively) communicate spirits, wine, and fortifieds to anyone.

If you can learn the following bartender terminology, you’ll be well on your way to being able to talk about- and sell more of- any spirit on the market.

If bartending was equal to learning the piano, these would be your basic scales:

The framework is structured as follows:

  1. Flavour Note: alcohol terminology to describe the taste
  1. A Production Identifier: Something unique that differentiates the spirit from other categories
  2. Anecdote: An interesting piece of information that you can pass on to your guests to ‘pour concrete’ on your status as an expert

Bartending Terms for Spirits

VODKA

  1. Clean and medicinal
  2. Can be made from anything that has fermentable sugars (distilled to a high proof and then cut down with water)
  3. The name stems from the Russian word ‘woda’ meaning water or, as the Poles would say ‘voda’.

GIN

  1. Dry and herbal
  2. Juniper forward with supporting botanicals perfuming the spirit
  3. Different styles: (Old Tom, London Dry, Plymouth, New Western, Genever)

AQUAVIT

  1. Savoury, herbal
  2. Caraway seed, dill and fennel
  3. Scandinavian equivalent to gin

PISCO

  1. Citrusy & Floral
  2. Made in Chile or Peru (Chile consumes much of its production, where Peru mostly exports)
  3. There are 8 Pisco grapes that can be used for production including Moscatel, Quebranta, and Negra Criolla

BRANDY/COGNAC

  1. Fruity, burnt wine taste
  2. Brandy can be made from distilling any fruit wine. Cognac is usually only made from Ugni Blanc grapes *All Cognacs are brandies, not all brandies are Cognac*
  3. The word “brandy” comes from the Dutch word “brandewijn” which means burnt wine. The Dutch settlers distilled wine they purchased abroad in France to preserve it for the journey home.

GRAPPA

  1. Strong grape must, aromatic, sharp
  2. Made in Italy, (the name Grappa is protected by the EU like Parmigiano Reggiano)
  3. Made of leftover seeds, pulp, skins from pressing wine grapes

ABSINTHE

  1. Strong, Herbal
  2. Green Anise, Florence Fennel, Grande Wormwood
  3. “Louches” when water is added (aromatic oils in the anise go cloudy milky colour)

CACHAÇA

  1. Feisty, sharp, and grassy
  2. Made from strictly the sugarcane juice
  3. The word Cachaca was coined by African slaves working in the colonial sugar mills; it became a staple ration to energize them during grueling work days

RUM

  1. Toasted sugar flavour
  2. Made from distilling sugarcane byproducts like molasses
  3. Due to the hot and humid climate, the Angel’s share (barrel evaporation) in the Caribbean is 3 to 4 times higher than for spirits aged in France or Scotland – which explains the difficulty to keep a rum more than 8 or 10 years.

TEQUILA

  1. Earthy and vegetal, to vanilla/caramel notes
  2. Can be Plata (silver), Reposado (rested), Anejo (aged), or Extra Anejo (over 3 years)
  3. Must be made in Jalisco, Mexico from only blue weber agave. Also, agave is not a cactus; it’s closer to the Yucca or Lily family.

MEZCAL

  1. Smoky, earthy minerality
  2. Agave pinas (hearts) are cooked in underground pits
  3. Made in the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico from any of the 150+ types of agave

Whisk(e)y Terminology

As a general rule-of-thumb, if the country has an ‘E’ in its spelling, then there’s an ‘E’ in the spelling of ‘Whiskey’. E.g. IrEland = Irish Whiskey. Canada = Canadian whisky.

CANADIAN WHISKY

  1. Sweet & spicy
  2. Individual grains (corn/wheat/rye/malted barley) distilled, aged & blended separately
  3. 70 percent of Canadian whiskey is exported to the U.S. Up until 2010, it was the best selling whiskey in the United States for 145 years

IRISH WHISKEY

  1. Honey, hops, green apple flavors
  2. Light
  3. Triple distilled, often in copper pot stills

BOURBON WHISKEY

  1. Fresh Oak (Woody)
  2. Sweet vanilla, leather, spice
  3. Corn heavy mash bill (at least 51% by law)

SCOTCH WHISKEY

  1. Light & Fruity (Speyside) —-> Smokey and/or peaty (Islay)
    1. Note: It’s very useful to come up with a trinity of descriptors for every region in Scotland (highland, lowland, speyside, Islay, etc).
  2. Made with malted barley
  3. Can be single malt (from a single distillery) or blended (multiple distilleries)

BARTENDING TERMS FOR RED WINE

PINOT NOIR

  1. Usually lighter
  2. Barnyard (hay and earth), black cherry
  3. Pairs with duck, roasted vegetables, salmon

MALBEC

  1. Medium
  2. Dark fruits (blackberry, plum), chocolate, earthy
  3. Pairs with dark poultry meat, cheese & charcuterie, dark chocolate

MERLOT

  1. Medium
  2. Dark fruits (black currant, plum), Baking spices (cocoa, vanilla)
  3. Pairs with burgers, baked pasta dishes, mushrooms

ZINFANDEL

  1. Heavy
  2. Jammy (red berries), slight spice (tobacco, anise)
  3. Pairs with sausage, venison, tomato, parmesan

SYRAH/SHIRAZ

  1. Medium to heavy
  2. Black pepper, blackberry, BBQ smoke
  3. Pairs with cured meats, BBQ & grilled meats, bold spices

CABERNET SAUVIGNON

  1. Heavy
  2. Dark fruits  (blueberry, black currant), savoury note (green bell peppers)
  3. Pairs with lamb, steak, blue cheese, rosemary

BARTENDING TERMS FOR WHITE WINE

RIESLING

  1. Light. Usually sweeter.
  2. Orchard fruits (apricot, pear, honeycrisp apple)
  3. Pairs with curries and spicy dishes, seafood

SAUVIGNON BLANC

  1. Light and crisp
  2. Grassy, passion fruit, gooseberry
  3. Pairs with shellfish, vegetables, herbs and greens

PINOT GRIS/GRIGIO

  1. Light and crisp
  2. Lime, pear, and nectarine
  3. Pairs with cream pastas, sushi, vegetarian cuisine

VIOGNIER

  1. Medium body
  2. Peaches & honeysuckle
  3. Pairs with lobster, almonds, pork

CHARDONNAY

  1. Full body
  2. Buttery, oaky, asparagus
  3. Pairs with white fish, butter sauces, creamy vegetable soups

BARTENDING TERMS FOR ROSÉ WINE

  1. Light
  2. Flowers, citrus, melon, rhubarb
  3. Pairs with light salads, seafood, soft cheeses

BARTENDING TERMS FOR CHAMPAGNE

  1. Light and effervescent
  2. Green apple & pear, bread & toasty notes
  3. Pairs with oysters, fatty fried foods, poached or deviled eggs

BARTENDING TERMS FOR FORTIFIED WINES

SHERRY

FINO/MANZANILLA

  1. Fino = Nutty, light, fresh, saline
  2. Manzanilla = Spanish for chamomile. Tastes similar to fino, a bit more delicate.
  3. Pair with oysters, nuts, olives & tapenades

AMONTILLADO

  1. Bridge between fino and oloroso (aka a bit richer with similar saltiness)
  2. Add nuttiness and herbaceousness
  3. Pair with cured meat, cheese, and gamier meats

PALO CORTADO

  1. Amontillado/Fino on the nose, oloroso on the palate (Fuller bodied)
  2. Accidental sherry → Starts out as a fino and then inexplicably loses its film of flor (aka the rarest and most expensive sherry)
  3. Pair with roasted poultry, sardines, heavy stews

OLOROSO

  1. “Scented” in Spanish. Dark, aromatic and nutty
  2. Full body; walnut, balsamic, and dark fruit notes (plum, dates)
  3. Pair with mushroom risotto, steak/venison, aged cheeses

PEDRO XIMENEZ “hee-men-ez” (PX), MOSCATEL

  1. Grapes are dried under the sun to concentrate sweetness
  2. Heaviest and stickiest of the sherries. Lots of molasses, raisin, fig flavors
  3. Pair with ice cream & desserts, fresh fruits, blue cheeses

PORT

  1. Made in Douro Valley, Portugal in the seaport town of Porto
  2. Can be made into different styles: white, ruby, tawny, or vintage (aging main factor) Full bodied, raspberry, blackberry, chocolate, cinnamon
  3. Pair with nuts and richer cheeses, duck confit, coffee

MADEIRA

  1. Small semi-tropical island that belongs to Portugal in the Atlantic ocean
  2. Unique wine-making process mimics sea-aging through tropics by running steam coils through the barrel rooms creating sauna effect. Think cooked flavors (roasted nuts, stewed fruit, toffee)
  3. Pair with old hard cheeses, roasted vegetables, stewed meats/fruits

MARSALA

  1. Italian equivalent of port town on the Western point of Sicily
  2. Dry and sweet variations; median flavors are vanilla, brown sugar, apricots, tamarind. Traditionally served as an aperitif between 2nd and 3rd course of a meal.
  3. Pair with chicken, cauliflower, octopus, chocolate desserts

AROMATIZED WINE

  1. Separated into 3 categories and bittered with different herbs: Vermouth (wormwood), Quinquinas (cinchona bark), and Americano (gentian root)
  2. All start as wine that have been fortified and flavoured with spices,herbs,fruit peels, and other natural flavours. Medicinal, bittersweet, savory and spicy flavor.
  3. Pair with lighter fare (tapas, antipasto, cheese & charcuterie), stocks and sauces, and of course…cocktails!

Conclusion

Getting to grips with the reams of bartending terms out there can seem daunting, but by following our simple 3-step framework, you’ll be nailing your alcohol terminology in no time.

You just need to remember:

  1. Flavour note
  2. Production identifier
  3. Quick anecdote

Once you’ve got that down pat, you’ll be ready to deep-dive into the advanced bartending terms associated with each category of alcohol: spirits, wines, fortified, and cocktails. Let us know which topic you’d like us to cover, and we’ll get down to crafting a new guide.


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