6 ways to fast-track from bartender to mixologist

I’m not a mixologist, but I have access to insight from some of the best and brightest in the biz. This shortlist is based on intel gathered from conversations with those mixologists and other experts, as well as what I’ve observed first hand.

And yes, I know some people bristle at “mixologist” used as a fancy-pants term for bartender, but in this case I mean it to reflect someone who has achieved professional success in the field, sort of an as-chef-is-to-cook analogy.  From what I’ve seen and been told, success follows those who take some or all of the following steps:

1. Enroll in BarSmarts. A disclaimer up front:  I’ve not personally taken this course. But I’ve heard from smart people I trust that it’s a worthwhile educational program, and a far cry from crappy “Bartender School” programs that teach you to mix Apple-Tinis. The introductory “Wired” course opens for registration on July 1, and it’s a prerequisite for the more advanced programs that follow.

2. Join the US Bartenders Guild, or better still, a local chapter. The point is to get involved, build contacts, avail yourself of educational opportunities….and cocktail competition opportunities! Winning a few cocktail contests builds your visibility fast and makes you highly marketable.

3. Apply for the Cocktail Apprentice Program at Tales of the Cocktail.  It’s competitive, but it’as also a networking hot-button. Personally, I think the term “apprentice” is misleading — it implies that the individual is a newbie who is “apprenticing” him or herself to the masters. Most of the CAPs, as they’re known at Tales, are up-and-comers who already have considerable skill and experience.  A year from now, they’ll all be celebrities in the mixology world, so if you’re at Tales this year and meet someone in the CAP program, be nice to them. (Besides, they’re doing menial labor and making your drinks and likely nursing a wicked hangover, all of which is reason enough to be nice to them anyway!)

4. Build a website or write a blog. Or better still, do both. One of the big differences between a “bartender” and a “mixologist” is the marketing. The world is now online, so put yourself out there and build a presence and a platform for yourself. (If you’re looking for an online resource to help you get started, I recommend ProBlogger.)  Which takes me to my next tip…

5. Write a book. You know you have expertise and great drink recipes to share. Plus, a book gives you a product to promote besides yourself , and can help catapult you to the next position. (If you have an idea, but don’t have the time or inclination to write,  email me, and let’s talk. This is what I do!)

6. Practice your craft. Wait, did you think the headline promised 6 EASY ways to fast-track? There’s still no substitute for knowing what you are doing. Even if you don’t consider yourself a master yet, get out there and be the best bartender you can be, at any level. Take a leadership role if you can. Learn about your ingredients, practice great hospitality, and just plain make amazing drinks.  Tips 1 through 5 above might help you add to your knowledge, personal network, and visibility, but only you can make yourself into a great mixologist.


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