Passing the Bar


Forget soda guns and high-volume drink slinging. Bartending education in the age of craft cocktails teaches how to work with scratch recipes, homemade syrups, infused spirits, and seasonal ingredients.

Typical bartender schools aren’t very thorough or well-respected. In fact, driven by the craft cocktail renaissance, some bar managers claim they won’t hire graduates of bartending schools, as this training is nearly always for high-volume bars that use soda guns and outdated recipes. These skills aren’t useful in bars with homemade flavored syrups and more than one bottle of bitters, so bar managers say they’d have to retrain bar school graduates from scratch.

However, there are hundreds of options for continuing a bartender’s education and providing next-level information, many of them free.

Rick Dobbs, owner of The Last Word in Livermore, California, didn’t rule out graduates of bartender schools, but it wasn’t his top criterion either. “I hired for personality and willingness to learn, first. Even the bartenders who had experience, I told them that I was taking them back to Bartending 101,” he says.

Dobbs’ program is a useful example of modern bar and bartender education. The town of Livermore is far enough from San Francisco that Dobbs is not pulling from that area’s very experienced employee pool, yet it is close enough to take advantage of the city’s educators.

For starters, Dobbs required his staff—bartenders and servers alike—to take an online course called BarSmarts Wired before their first day of training. “I didn’t want servers to drop a drink menu off and then come back and just take an order,” he says. “I wanted interaction, conversation, and dialogue. I required BarSmarts for everyone. Even my hostess has taken it.”

Sponsored by liquor company Pernod-Ricard, BarSmarts uses content produced by experienced industry experts including historian David Wondrich and spirits judge F. Paul Pacult. BarSmarts is available as a Wired (online only) and Advanced (with additional live education and written/practical testing) tutorial.

These same educators also produced a simple program for enthusiasts and beginning bartenders called Drinkskool, which can serve as a transitional education program for entry-level bartenders, who might be considering a change from catering-style bartending to more advanced cocktail bartending. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the group offers an annual five-day, hyper-intensive program in New York City called B.A.R., considered by many to be the most advanced training program in the cocktail and spirits industry.


Add new comment