Once Upon a Time…
What many of you may not realize is that once upon a time, I was a bartender. A damn good one.
It was a long time ago, but I bartended for nearly seven years. I was a divorced mom and needed extra money, so I began my foray into the bartending world by starting as a barback. It was easily the hardest work I’ve ever done for less than minimum wage in my life. As a barback, I prepped each bartender’s station, which included cutting up the fruits for garnish, ensuring the well bottles were in place and in their specific order, that the soda boxes were full and that the soda guns were ready to go, that the juices/mixes were ready to go, and that each station had plenty of ice.
During the course of the evening, I continued to monitor the levels of the mixes, the garnishes, and the ice, as well as collecting, washing, and stacking glasses. If ice needed to be “burned,” I helped out the bartender, who was usually swearing.
My bartender career was also on-the-job training and was very intense. Since I worked primarily in nightclubs, most of the drinks had to be quickly mixed drinks, beers, or straight up drinks. There was no “crafting” of cocktails in a 1992 San Bernardino nightclub! The volume was high and fast-paced, and it required focus, accuracy, and speed. It also required great customer service, courtesy – even to inebriated customers – and the ability to interact with anyone. As the eventual bar manager, I’d even send out an occasional bartender (myself included!) to participate in a line dance for a few minutes and even further engage the patrons!
I loved every minute of it and would do it again in a heartbeat if The Day Job™ weren’t so demanding.
A few years ago I attended the local Ace Bartending School, not because I planned to become a bartender again, but to brush up on old, somewhat rusty skills, learn what’s new, and to get a certificate.
All of that said, maybe it’s little more understandable why I chose this topic. It’s in my blood!
I love to make drinks for people, even though nearly all of my friends are wine folks and don’t drink much else. So I’ve found several YouTube channels that feed my bartender jones and allow me to keep up to date with what’s going on in the brave new world of mixology.
These are in no particular order, but all fit my criteria. They are well made, the presenters know what they’re doing, the audio is great, and they’re informative. In addition, the channels are updated on a pretty regular basis; in other words, any that have not been updated in the past two years are not listed here, even if they are otherwise quite good. I like to see new videos on a regular basis. This is definitely a “do as I say, not as I do” moment since my own YouTube channel has been somewhat neglected.
The Bonneville Cocktail Collection
This originates in East London and has a great collection of drink recipes and techniques. Like several of the other channels, it often pushes purists’ buttons by making cocktails out of spirits that should be – in my opinion – drunk neat, but it’s done so well. The host is a handsome, bald, bearded man whose name I can’t find anywhere.
More about reviews than technique, this channel mirrors wine videos in many ways. There are individual reviews of spirits, and one of the things I like about this channel is that the reviewer, “LiquorHound,” compares glasses as well. However, this young man has an amazing palate and reviews fairly and thoroughly the whiskeys, rums, tequilas, and more in front of a dream backbar. The fact that he has such gems as 200th Anniversary Laphroaig and Lagavulin tells me a lot about the quality of the channel. If you have an interest in straight spirits of any kind, I can’t recommend this channel highly enough. Super quality.
This one is unusual in that you never see the host until the end of each video. You hear his voice as he demonstrates techniques for both simple, everyday drinks as well as more complex offerings. Most of the videos are short and to the point, although the videos demonstrating techniques and explaining how to set up your own home bar are a little longer and more involved.
While I find this one somewhat annoying and the host a little too enthusiastic, it does update what seems like hourly and is probably the most popular bartending/drink channel on YouTube with over 3.2 million subscribers. The drinks that are presented here are what I call “nightclub” drinks – drinks that are fast, pretty, and mixed. The names are unusual; they certainly weren’t around when I was bartending! Casa Swizzle, Bong Water, and Don’t Miss a Beet are just a few of the names that are new to me. With a variety of guest bartenders/mixologists, there is always a different take on their drinks. This channel has a Jamaican flair and is very high-energy. I like it despite the desire to strangle the garrulous host.
Originating from the Four Seasons in Moscow, this is as much choreography as it is mixology. Several of the bartenders are international competition winners, and the techniques employed are stunning, as are some of the visuals. While there are other types of videos on the channel, including food and touristy videos as well as a few in Russian, the channel is high-end and classy with excellent production values.
A Bar Above
Not only is this a good video channel, but it’s also a podcast (Mixology Talk) and does a great job in sharing everything from the very basics to more advanced techniques. This is definitely a “learning” channel. They’ve been around for a while and I feel this is one of the best all-around bartending channels. Be aware that many of the videos are actually podcasts and are discussions of types of liquors, presentations, information for working bartenders, etc., and may only have a static photo.
Common Man Cocktails
Another fun channel with information about drinks and what can easily be called reviews. The host, Derrick, is a little crazy and high energy, but he’s likable and fun to watch. Fun channel! Oh, and he also appears on The Craft Cocktail channel.
These fall into two categories: Either they haven’t been updated for a while, or I actually don’t have a good reason as to why I like them. It’s easy to figure out which is which. All of them, in my opinion at least, offer great information to both the fledgling and experienced bartender.
Drinks Made Easy
Easily could be in the primary list above. Updated regularly, and has a good variety of drinks. The guys are crazy.
Once more, basic cocktails, mixed drinks, and restaurant/bar tips. Good, and it’s updated regularly.
Like LiquorHound above, this is a whiskey review site. My only gripe is that I wish he’d get a microphone for better audio. Otherwise, I like the channel.
Whiskey with Wes
I really like this channel, but the last video was uploaded a year ago. Wes, the bartender, has great recipes – some classic, some new – as well as bartending techniques. He seems to be a charming and personable young man, and I hope that he updates soon.
American Bartending School
This channel hasn’t been updated in three years, but the information is good. After all, it’s a school.
There’s a Lot More, But…
And there you have it. Naturally, there are lots more videos on bartending/mixology on YouTube, and some of them are really good. Others are odd, and a few others, such as The Modern Rogue, only have a few videos on the topic, which are actually very well made. Unfortunately, they are just part of a large number of totally unrelated stuff, and the drink portion is just a small part of the overall offerings. Some of which are beyond weird. Or, there are a few like the Monk Bar Buxton, which is an Irish bar with only four videos of excellent quality, but no updates for a year. Dammit.
While I don’t know if I’ll ever work behind the bar as a professional again, it’s great to know that I can easily expand my knowledge of the craft of mixology. It’s a job that I loved from the beginning, and who knows? I’d love to be both a multi-faceted bartender, an expert in beer and spirits, and be a sommelier as well. Definitely my dream job!
Note: All photos from Unsplash
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