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Touching the Senses

At its best, cocktail mixology is truly an art, engaging each of the human senses—for example, the feel of the proper weight of the glass and the thin rim, which delivers an elegant sensation to the lips; or the aromas of fresh mint and nutmeg, which transport the recipient of these scents to remote lands or memories of childhood. And just as sweet or pungent smells differ from each other by virtue of their different stimulation of the senses, so also do colors vary and evoke different emotions. A drink becomes impressive when it succeeds in touching the sensibility of the guest by finding the avenue to his or her brain and heart.

A well-made drink has a distinctive character, its own soul; it is fresh and alive. An unforgettable drinking experience may end with spectacular touches, but it starts with the fundamentals. 


Set up a comprehensive spirits education program. Mixing drinks and memorizing hundreds of recipes is only part of what it takes to be a good bartender. Along with passion and enthusiasm, an in-depth product knowledge and an interest in continual improvement are basic requirements.

Expose your staff to aromas and flavors.
Bring out savory herbs from the kitchen or buy fresh passion fruit, cherimoya, star fruit, or cape gooseberries when in season and let your staff taste them. Make a drink with mint leaves and replicate the same recipe using lemon balm to demonstrate the difference.

Stock the basic equipment and provide the space necessary to carry out professional work. A well-organized mise-en- place—a combination of bar utensils, fruit garnishes, and glassware—ensures a quick, correct, and professional performance during drink preparation, especially during a busy shift.

Train your bar staff to project the look and command of true professionals. Bartenders are always on stage, and guests see every move they make. The uniform and personal image must project a sense of cleanliness and freshness, and everything involved in drink creation and delivery should flow smoothly.


Enroll your bartenders in professional organizations such as the United States Bartenders Guild. Encourage them to compete at the national and international level. The challenge will hone and elevate their bartending skills and stimulate their creativity.

Supporting a high-standards beverage program has its challenges, from the staff’s commitment to quality to issues of cost. Without a doubt, it is more cost-efficient to make a margarita with a mix to Tequila, low-quality bottled sweet ’n’ sour, and low proof triple sec. But utilizing 100 percent blue agave Tequila, 80 proof Cointreau or Grand Marnier, fresh-squeezed lime, and some agave nectar as sweetener; shaking the drink to perfection; and serving it over fresh ice truly enlightens the senses. Special ingredients add an expression of distinction to drinks, and customers appreciate these creative touches.

I enjoy developing such originals as a peach–chipotle jam margarita, lavender-cucumber mojito, or Sauternes-based cocktails with seared foie gras pierced in a caramel stick with a sprinkle of dry pistachios as a garnish. To excite your clientele, how about using in-season cherries coated with 24-carat-gold flakes for cocktails that call for maraschino or cherry brandy as ingredients?

Not every bartender needs to be an “artist,” and not every bar needs to invest in exotic ingredients to make a statement. Some very easy steps can make a tremendous improvement in the bar environment or in a well-brands cocktail and its flavor profile. For example, remove the pulp from a fresh pineapple, fill the pineapple with fresh mint sprigs and sugarcane sticks, place the fruit on a cloth napkin-covered dish, and display it on the bar counter. This modest undertaking will not only improve the look of the bar but also promote a “mojito environment.” Or put out some fresh basil and strawberries in plain sight of your patrons, and suggest that your customers try something different—a gin sour with fresh basil and muddled strawberries. Muddling, shaking, and utilizing a small mash strainer to retain fresh pulp from the shaker is eye-catching and good for business.

If you’re not pouring top-shelf spirits, you can still make a quality difference. For instance, in a cosmopolitan made with cranberry juice and triple sec from a gun, add a fresh raspberry to the shaker. The drink’s color will be remarkably brighter and the berry will disintegrate while the cocktail is shaken, releasing acidity and texture. A little imagination and ingenuity lead to a better drink at virtually no additional cost.

Creative touches, combined with a professional approach grounded in bar fundamentals, will provide a stimulating, sensual, and memorable experience for your customers. And isn’t that the point?

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