How Can I Become an Expert Mixologist?

Woman With Cocktail ShakerSo you want to be a mixologist. Great! Are you prepared to learn how to creatively spend 15 minutes making a drink the average bartender at Smokey Joe’s could slap together in under a minute? If so, you might just have what it takes to become an expert mixologist.

All kidding aside, mixology has become an art form for high-end restaurants and chic nightclubs alike. These days it’s not enough just to have one or two bartenders with excellent manners on staff. Now you need a certified mixologist capable of mixing 20 ingredients that would otherwise be off-limits into something that is mildly interesting to the taste buds.

What’s the difference between a mixologist and a bartender?

If you make under $50K a year there’s absolutely no difference. Both can serve a beer equally well. Although some would claim the mixologist does a better job with a frosted glass than a bartender. But we think that’s just nitpicking.

For those in higher income brackets, there is a distinct difference between the two. A bartender is just that. He stands around the bar and puts together simple drinks for simple drinkers. He might even engage in a conversation or two in order to make you feel better so you’ll leave a decent tip.

A mixologist, on the other hand, is someone who spent a tremendous amount of money taking bartending courses from an organization like the Professional Bartending Schools of America. These courses teach you everything you need to know to create drinks that include such amenities as umbrellas, fluorescent lighting, and an eerie mist hovering gently over the top of the glass.

Are the classes mandatory to become a mixologist?

According to Nightclub & Bar magazine, the lines of distinction between bartenders and mixologists are so blurred it’s hard to get a concrete answer about whether or not specific training is required. Apparently some people believe you can call yourself a mixologist if you’re able to mix a cocktail without spilling it on yourself.

For proof of concept, we suggest you just Google the phrase “become a mixologist.” You’ll find plenty of organizations offering three- or four-hour courses promising to make you an expert in your spare time; all for less than $50. They promise you can make hundreds of dollars a night after learning the skills they teach.

Other organizations, like the U.S. Bartenders Guild (USBG), aren’t so trite. The USBG offers a Master Accreditation program consisting of a whole series of classes, written tests, and practical tests designed to make sure you more than know your way around the bar.

We suppose it really comes down to where you want to work and what type of clientèle you’ll be serving. Some bars and restaurants will insist you have some sort of certification before they’ll hire you. They might even insist you be able to pull off some of those fancy bartender tricks that Tom Cruise was pretending to do in the 1988 cinematic flop “Cocktail.”

On the other side of town, there might be a joint or two whose managers check your credentials by simply asking if you can tell the difference between scotch and whiskey. You might earn a little less in one these places, but you’ll be a rock star if you can serve your customers with flair.

Is it possible to be a self-taught mixologist?

Whether or not you can teach yourself mixology is a question of much debate. Here’s the problem: mixology purists claim that what they do is similar to bringing the culinary arts to the world of alcohol. They insist it’s not possible to self-teach mixology anymore then it’s possible to be a self-taught five-star chef.

If you agree with that assessment you might as well forget about teaching yourself right now. Mix a scotch and tonic and call it a day. If you don’t agree, let’s talk restaurants for just a second.

There are those who believe the best restaurants in the world are the local diners owned by guys named Joe who were in construction or car repair before they decided to open their own restaurants. These self-taught cooks are to the culinary arts what an unschooled bartender is to mixology: a curse!

They are cursed because they have a natural talent for mixing up concoctions that customers love without having earned a degree or spent time at a pretentious school in Europe. In our opinion, they are the best in the business. Mixologists are no different.

We don’t mean to bash certified mixologists or trained chefs here; that’s not the point. However, as writers with a flair for sarcasm and satire, we do believe sometimes Americans take themselves too seriously. We also believe the distinction between mixologist and bartender is completely unnecessary.

If you can make a great-tasting drink that people are willing to consume, you’ve got it going on. And the bar owner who knows how to make money and keep customers happy isn’t going to flinch over titles. However you decide to become an expert mixologist is up to you, as long as what you’re serving in that fancy glass tastes good.