What is Alcohol pt. 2 — Distillation

Without distillation, alcohol would very rarely be more than 30 proof. This process is the foundation behind creating many of the wonderful liquors and liqueurs that we saw on todays market.

Distillation roughly follows this process with manufacturers eliminating some of the steps depending on the spirit and their own unique production method:

  1. In a still, heat is added to the mixture of sugar and yeast as described in What is Alcohol pt. 1 -- Fermentation.
  2. The process is often repeated multiple times, in different stills, to get as much of the impurities out as possible while preserving a desired flavor from the esters, acids and other desired flavorings. The goal of this process is to slowly churn a low-proof mash (rarely over 20 proof) to at least 130 proof.
  3. The spirit is transferred to a holding container for aging or flavoring.
  4. Next, manufacturers choose from some or all of the filtration methods described in part 1 of our blog!
  5. Afterwards, spirits from different batches are married together to create the brand’s desired flavor. 
  6. The product is watered down to get the proofage correct. The exception to this is known as “Cask Strength” spirits.
  7. The spirit is then bottled and shipped out.

Why Distillation is Dangerous and How Alcohol Companies Avoid Murder

The biggest reason why distillation is dangerous is Methanol. 

Methanol is a by-product of forming alcohol with the fibrous pectin in foods during the distillation process. Some of it is also carried in through the air as well. While in fermentation, due to the low amount of Methanol in the final product this is almost rarely ever an issue. In Distillation, however, all of the methanol from all of your batches is concentrated to a very small region of the drink. For example, if you are doing a 100 gallon batch of a mash, and all of the Methanol is getting concentrated into under 10 gallons of alcohol, people start dying.

Moreover, because Methanol weighs more than Ethanol, it can also get concentrated in a very small portion of the beverage. This means that even if you don’t use a lot of mash (say just 10 liters which is likely not even enough to make a bottle of alcohol), drinking the wrong 5 ml of the product not only has the possibility to permanently blind you, but it can also kill you as well.

The way distillers avoid this is usually by separating the Methanol from the ethanol during the distillation process. Methanol has a lower boiling point than Ethanol, so many manufacturers can avoid Methanol poisoning by simply boiling it away at 65 degrees celsius and disposing the liquid that comes out.

While not as prominent in todays world due to tougher manufacturing standards, lead poisoning and other heavy metal poisoning is still a danger when using stills.

How Flavor is added to Distilled Products

Ethanol is basically flavorless, so how do different Whiskey all have distinct, complicated and wonderful flavors that we know in alcohol? 

We will talk more about flavors and how alcohol companies can manipulate the use of wood, sugar content, spices, water and chemicals to create an infinite assortment of different flavor profiles in part 3 of What is Alcohol.

Want a customized Cocktail Event? Visit www.avicocktailevents.com

What is Alcohol pt. 1 — Fermentation

In order to create modern day ethanol (the ingredient that gets us drunk in alcohol), a process known as fermentation is always invoked.

The formula for alcohol is VERY roughly as follows:

Sugar + Reagent (Yeast)—> Alcohol + CO2

By changing the sugar and catalyst it is possible to produce other types of alcohol other than ethanol. One example is methanol which is in most alcohol as well and comes from the fibers of fruit like grapes and is eaten by bacteria known as methanogens instead of yeast! For humans, this is very toxic as it turns into formaldehyde in the human body. However, for rats, they are able to survive more methanol than ethanol before dying!

Another is Xylitol which changes this sugar by hydrogenating the sugar of wood before adding yeast! This sugar is commonly seen in gums to replace sugar and has many reported teeth benefits!  

Understanding the Ingredients

In order to understand distillation you first need to understand how consumer made alcohol is made. The three necessary ingredients for this are sugar, yeast and time.

Sugars are a great storage unit of energy that nature needs to work. They are naturally occurring in all plants and fruits through a process known as photosynthesis. Everything needs energy to survive. While humans might have poop as our waste ingredient, some enzymes survive by eating sugar and pooping alcohol and carbon dioxide! These enzymes are known as yeast.

Yeast are small little bacteria that exist naturally in the air. They contain an enzyme known as zymase which is the enzyme needed to create alcohol! To further understand how common alcohol, unless you somehow killed off all the bacteria in the air, it would be absolutely impossible to stop alcohol production from occurring.

As a result, many alcohols are made naturally with very little lab work! Two great examples of this occurring is barley and grapes.

In the case of grapes, the skin typically has carried over yeast from a period of time of being exposed to nature. These little bacterias are airborne and then latch onto the skin of the grape.  So wine makers typically stomp on the wine in order to break down the skin and merge it with the juice of the grape so that it ferments more evenly and the bacteria grows stronger than ever. Even without the mashing process, they are literally eating the skin of the grape and pooping out alcohol slowly—just at a very small scale and at a slower time frame!

In the case of barley, the process just a little more complicated! Water is added to the grains to germinate the barley, then it is quickly right when the grain generates the highest concentration of enzymes. This process is known as malting.

The reason malting is a desired process in alcohol production is because malting barley cultivates a ton of enzymes known as amylase. Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates and turns it into sugar. This enzyme breaks down the starches into sugars and attracts yeast cells from all over to feed on the sugars of the barley.

While these are both naturally occurring ways of making alcohol, don’t mistake natures powerful force for lack of innovation! If you don’t want to make a malted barley whiskey or a red wine distilled beverage, factories in universities across the country have cultivated thousands upon thousands fantastic strains of unique yeast that brewers are able to add in separately. This is why you can find lots of amazing spirits without malted barley!

How Fermentation Works


Once you have your ingredients ready, you need to start the process of fermentation. This is generally as simple as putting these two ingredients together and throwing them in a vat for a few weeks!

However, brewers and winemakers are constantly aware of a multitude of different variables which can and will change the end product!

A short list of the variables that every brewer and winery thinks of:

What type of container will you use? (white oak barrels, copper, stainless steel vat, or something else)

Each of these provide a different flavor profile, with oak barrels having very unique flavor complexities in each one! However, this is not always desired in an attempt to get a consistent product! Other woods might be very hard to work with or might not provide a flavor that is very good! However, many people have experimented with many types of containers and woods! Some of them create really unique and wondrous flavors!

Is the vat going to be open or closed?  

An open vat adds for a unique complexity to the fermented beverage and allows for easier maintenance. A closed vat will help control outside elements and is not at risk of spoilage.

What temperature is it fermenting at?

If it’s too hot or cold the yeast won’t work activate properly. If it’s way too hot, a lot of it will evaporate before becoming alcohol and you won’t have any product left to sell!

Do you want want the product to be bubbly?

If so you will have to do a secondary fermentation and wait for weeks to months so that the CO2 won’t escape the new product. Do you want to add additional flavors to your beer like fruit? Then you might even need to do a third fermentation!

How long to ferment?

The longer you ferment the less yeast you have to use! However, this has diminishing results over time and may just take space. After a long enough period of time, the yeast will die from a lack of sugar. If you wait too long, the flavor of the non-alcohol ingredients can also disappear or rot!

Getting Rid Of Impurities


To be clear, this step isn’t always necessary and getting it right is one of the most complicated and difficult parts about fermented beverages. In wine, it's a constantly subject with tons of manpower going into the research of what is the best way of getting rid of impurities while also preserving or improving taste.

Without the filtration process, you may see a lot of gunk that you may see in the bottom of many wine bottles or beer bottles. Moreover, you may sometimes purchase wine that still has a bit bubbles because they didn’t remove all of the yeast cells!

Suspension Method:

The suspension method is where a substance known as fining ingredient are added to ingredients. These ingredients bind to the chemicals that aren’t liquid and make them big! The way they do this is because opposites attract at the molecular level. For example, by using a negatively charged agent like Bentonite, or Silicon Dioxide, you will attract the positively charged substances (typically proteins).

Moreover, yeast, while alive has a strong negative charge. By using a positively charged ion like isinglass, albumen you will get rid of unwanted yeast that may spoil the beverage.

Enzymatic Method:

To get rid of excess wine skin or other fibrous materials, pectinase is sometimes added. Other enzymes can be used to make a similar effect if unwanted complex particle enters the product.

Centrifuge Method:

A centrifuge is occasionally used to separate the solids. A centrifuge works by using the forces gravity obtained by spinning a compound at a very high speed, in turn separating things by there specific weight. This will typically force all the solids to one layer, and all the liquid can be captured through a filter.

These are not all the methods of clarifying. One of the most traditional of removing impurities is through a process known as distillation! Read more in Part Two of What is Alcohol!

Want a customized Cocktail Event? Visit www.avicocktailevents.com


How Aqua Vitae Institute Student Mike Landis Won His First Cocktail Competition And A Trip To Vegas!

I'm taking part in a bartending competition here in Lancaster on June 17th and would love your input on a drink I have designed for the competition.  I'm sorry this request is last minute, as I need to submit my ingredient list by tomorrow Wednesday June 6th.  If you have time, I would love any suggestions.  I'm satisfied with the drink, but still feel it needs work.

Name: Not Determined

Glass: Collins

Mixing Method: Build and short shake before soda is added

Recipe: 2 oz. Faber Rum
.75 oz. mango raspberry shrub
.75 lime juice
3-4 oz. club soda

Garnish: mint sprig

             Shrub:  1:1:1 water, cane sugar, fruit (1/2 mango, 1/2 raspberry)
                          Bring to simmer, cool, strain
                          Add apple cider vinegar - 1/3 the amount of fruit/simple syrup 


I've been using the hot process in practice, but plan on using the cold process for competition.

Through a series of questions, I introduced him to a checklist that competition drinks need to have.  I told him that if he followed all of these principles, he has a very good chance of winning.  A lot of competitive bartending is knowing what to worry about.  


Every drink that went "viral" from a mojito, to a cosmo, to an aviation, has had something visual that sets it apart from other drinks.  It can be the copper mug of a Moscow mule, shredded and layered mint on top of an egg white like in this drink:



A cocktail has to be simple for another bartender to recreate.  Clear directions, easily sourced ingredients, and simple processes are key here.  Complex cocktails usually don't win, because they are hard to reproduce.


A cocktail needs a story, something significant about what it is, where it's made, something unique about it that inspired you.  For example, Faber is made in Quakertown, and you can say that Quakertown has an Amish market.  You wanted to incorporate the spirit of Quakertown into the cocktail by using a traditional shrub.  


Keep in mind that competitions don't exist in a vacuum.  They are sponsored by brands, and you can show that you care and understand the brand by using their products and avoiding competing brands for your recipe.  Think of the liquor brands like the great houses from Game of Thrones.  You wouldn't walk into a Stark sponsored joust with a Lannister lance.  If you don't like the brand for whatever reason, I would skip that particular competition.  Is your drinks connection to the brand negative (competing product), neutral (using only the products listed), or positive (utilizing another spirit or cordial the aligned with that particular brand, or telling a story that dovetails with the brand's values).


Is this going to be a competition that's judged by a crowd, by a panel, or both?  In the case of crowds, I would err on the side of caution when using astringency.  If a cocktail is too bitter or sour for your audience, or if they're not used to that particular source of astringency, it can reflect poorly on your score.  The judge might love Fernet Branca, but the crowd may be unfamiliar with it.

Working The Crowd.JPG


The event titled Fill Up My Cup was held June 16 in Lancaster, PA, and included six bartenders from great Lancaster restaurants and country clubs.  My cocktail, The Sweet and Sour Mule, won the majority vote of over 150 participants.  The drink essentially is a Jamaican mule with a raspberry shrub.

I just wanted to thank you for your quick response and helpful suggestions!   I did change the name to The Sweet and Sour Mule - which appealed to the local crowd, as sweet-n-sour foods are quite popular here.  Additionally, Bartending Mastery's Chapter 17 section, Fundamental of Drink Design, proved quite helpful in directing me as I developed my first cocktail. 

Finally, I cannot wait to return to Aqua Vitae Institute to complete my exams; I hope to finish by the end of July.  I been bartending seven days a week for a stretch - but I can't complain, as it rarely feels like work!

Since returning to bartending two years ago,  I have been interested in entering competitions.  So when this local competition presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity.  I'm still a little in shock over the win, though I really believed in myself and this cocktail.  The experience has been amazing, allowing me a chance to interact with other industry folks and cocktail enthusiasts.  The award, a trip to Las Vegas, isn't bad either!

Thank you so much for your help.  Here are a few pics from that day.  

Mike Landis

PS... My beautiful girlfriend and helper is Shannon Woolman

Congratulations Mike and have fun in Vegas!

How To Make Up A Bartending Class At Aqua Vitae Institute


In the last 6 months, we've had students from other countries, bar owners, retiring detectives, Ivy League double majors, yoga teachers, college students working three jobs to help pay for school, and everyone in between.

Frequently, we run into situations where the regular 1-5 or 6-10 bartending class just doesn't work for that particular student.  We've even had students who could only come in on one specific day, like a Tuesday, and had to complete the program that way.

If you've ever worked in a very competitive industry, like finance or restaurants, you might know what it's like to work so many hours and feel like it's a real challenge to learn something new, and bring more opportunity into your life.  At Aqua Vitae it is so so important to us that everyone who wants to change their life by learning to bartender is able to, regardless of how tough their scheduling situation first appears, and believe me, we've certainly had some challenges.

Here are three ways to make up a class:


The library and wine tasting room at Aqua Vitae is kept quiet on purpose.  We never blast music here.  It is meant as a quiet place for students to study and hone their skills, and if a student is attending a class they've already had, they can watch a video of a class they need to make up right in the library while other students are getting a lecture. 

After that, they'll go over the lesson briefly with the instructor while the other students take their break, and they'll demonstrate that they understood the knowledge and drinks involved.  And then they'll practice in teams with other students who have had the lesson they were making up, and integrate with the rest of the class.


Instructor office hours are on Friday from 12pm until 3pm, and students can request a time to talk to their instructor about job placement, work on specific skills like stirring, advanced mixology, ingredient creation etc., but the most common use of office hours is to make up any class the student has missed while they are taking the program.  The student will have a one on one class with the instructor, and then they will demonstrate the knowledge they've learned.


Click here to visit our Aqua Vitae schedule.  Day Classes are from 1pm-5pm, and Evening Classes are from 6pm-10pm.  The school opens at 10am for practice.  Saturday classes are from 10am-2pm, and from 2pm-6pm.  Students can always come in, once they're enrolled into the school, and attend any class on the schedule.

A Bartenders Guide to Making Maraschino Cherries

A Brief History of Maraschino Cherries and our Favorite Preserved Cherries

A Short History of These Cherries

For hundreds of years, the only notable candied cherries were made by Croatia and there monopoly of Marasca Cherry Trees. Due to their expense, they were considered a luxury good reserved for the wealthy. However, they were also extremely popular. American counterfeiters from all over came trying to cash in on this industry by using coal tar “aniline”, “full of sugar”, and almond flavoring.  They very rarely had any quality control, but would just add more chemicals in order to replicate their richer European competitors. In 1912, the FDA issued Food Inspection Decision 141, an order stating that Maraschino Cherries had to be made from Marasca cherries and preserved in a Marasca syrup, to prevent the quality.

But it didn’t. And in 1939 a Maraschino cherry was any canned cherry that was “dyed red, impregnated with sugar and flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor.”

The counterfeits were wildly successful and whole industries were created to imitate the Marasca cherries. However, there were serious issues. The cherries weren’t as firm. They also didn't preserve shape or look consistent. And of course, the production of cherries weren’t codified as well as it could be.

To improve on the concerns of consumers eating the counterfeits, Ernest Wiegand, a professor in Oregon University, devoted his life in order to make the perfect Maraschino cherry. In 1925 when Ernest Wiegand found a way of keeping firm cherries while making the candied cherries affordable for everyone.

This new version of a Maraschino cherry process started with a Rainier or another yellow tinted cherry. Then those cherries were traditionally brined for forty-five days in a solution of preservatives and would lose most of their red coloring becoming yellow. The point of the brining process was so that they could maintain their texture for years.

While this brining process is the traditional way that gave rise to the popularity of Maraschino cherries, there has been some modernization to them as well. In 1969, a paper was released about the merits of using Sulfur Dioxide as a preservative due to its antimicrobial properties. This process, mixed with calcium salts, bleached cherries white, took days instead of weeks, and created a more consistent product. 

Some Preserved Cherries on the Market That We Love:

1. Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

Bartenders praise Luxardo Cherries, but if you asked a hundred bartenders what makes Luxardo Cherries special, most would say they have no idea, just that they are good and a standard of quality.

Luxardo Maraschino cherries are one of the oldest and most brands of preserved cherries on the market today. During World War 2, Croatia was devastated by Nazis and the Luxardo family took a sapling seed in order to keep these trees in Italy. For hundreds of years, they’ve continued to make some of the most delicious Maraschino cherries, and for many, will be the only way to revisit one the greatest delicacies of the late 19th and early 20th century.

The key difference between Luxardo Maraschino Cherries and everyone else is that their brand focuses on having a consistently firm “crunchy” texture that is unique to everything else on the market.  This is due to the fact they are picked as soon as they are ripened, and then quickly candied. After the candying process, they are coated in Maraschino syrup, a syrup which is typically darker and more viscous than most of what is out there on the market, and packaged into a jar. As a result of this production method, these cherries have a ton of crunch! They’re also very expensive with each cherry retailing for around 40 cents a piece.

It doesn't help that we go through a jar of these every week either!

2. Tillen Farm Bada Bing Cherries

Tillen Farm Bada Bing cherries are the perfect cherry for your friend who is on a diet and one of our go to recommendations for those who want to add a little bit of sweetness without breaking their bank of calories. These cherries are a little bit sweet, but not super sweet. They have no artificial dyes and are pitted with the stem on. These amazing cherries have a fresh taste, aren't expensive, and last for around a month. While they are low in sugar, they also still have a huge flavor behind them. 

3. Amarena Fabbri Cherries

Amarena cherries are an amazing alternative to the more expensive Maraschino. They are a little less sweet and less crispy than their Maraschino counterparts, but they are very unique in their own right. These cherries are delicious and the brands Toschi and Fabbri can be found for half the price of their Luxardo counterparts while still having a similar flavor.



Our Three Bitter Picks for Summer 2017

This year is flyyyying by. Since we’re halfway through Summer, I really wanted to share with you some of the most amazing things that we’ve discovered at our school.

If you’ve never been, we’re obsessed with mixers at Aqua Vitae Institute. We have our own homemade shrubs and bitters strewn all over our third floor bar!

However, we just can’t get enough of them and every month we commit ourselves to adding one more! If you’re tired of Angostura and Peychauds (still some of our favorite bitters in the market), here are three of our top recommendations for bitters to try for the summer!

1. Bitter Cube Jamaican #2

This delicious bitters is full of acidity and fruit flavors. It’s also very non-traditional compared to others on the list. Like many other grapefruit bitters, these still whack a mighty punch of flavor but are also very light and more forgiving than other bitters. However, this one separates itself from its competitors because of the unique hibiscus and island spice tones that just make other bitters feel stale.

Great to try with for Daiquiris and Margaritas



2. Woodford Reserve Bourbon Bitters

Not to be confused with there popular Cherry bitters, these are our preferred choice. The moment you put this in your mouth these bitters pack a huge punch of cinnamon the moment. But what makes them great is the aftertaste. Whereas most bitters have a very muddled, confusing aftertaste, these bitters just don’t want to leave your tongue and while the kick of cinnamon disappears its slowly replaced with the salivating taste of gentian.

Great to try with the Old Fashioned.


3. Bittermen’s Burlesque Bitters



The flavors from Bittermen’s might not be as powerful as Angostura, or Peychauds, and they also seem to spin right off your tongue almost as soon as you finish, but you get something else in return. You get one of the unique flavors in a bitter that you can add to a cocktail. The burlesque bitters are supposed to be hibiscus-like, but the moment I put them in my mouth I had no idea what it was I was actually tasting. It was just something I enjoyed. A lot.

Great to try with dry cocktails, like a Martini or a champagne cocktail.

How To Hire the Best Bartenders in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware

How To Hire the Best Bartenders

AVI's guide to our Job Placement Services

Hire A Bartender

The first and most common way is to simply fill out our hire a bartender job request form.

After you fill out the form, our job placement coordinator will get in contact with you and go through with you a short verbal questionnaire to see how we can best serve your needs.

Besides that, here are some other ways we can help you hire bartenders!

        1. Request access to post on our Alumni page

Our Bartending Alumni page is home to hundreds of bartenders, including many bar managers! Our alumni are spread out across the tri-state area, so even if you’re requesting a bartender fifty miles away from our school, there’s a good chance we can still serve you! A simple post on our alumni page will give you access to some of the best bartenders in the city and it’s completely free of charge! If you'd like to request access to our Alumni page, you can fill out the request form here and ask about it!

        2. Scheduling A Bartending Job Lecture

Interested in hiring multiple bartenders, but don’t want to shift through thousands of resumes? You can schedule a lecture at Aqua Vitae Institute and tell our students all about your bar and the history behind it! Our free Bartending Job lectures will not only prime your perspective hires with the information they need to serve their guests, but it will also give you face to face contact with would-be bartenders!

       3. Request Graduates for Guest Bartending

Aqua Vitae Institute has run many successful Guest Bartending terms with bars all over the city! Guest Bartending is fairly simple. For a few hours, a graduate will get behind your bar. Typically, guests bartenders are paid through tips and only tips. If you’re a bar owner or manager and are interested in taking a bartender under your wing for a full day, let us know. While guest bartending is typically paid through tips only, we do request that a manager or another bartender spend twenty or so minutes setting up.

We’ve found that spending at least a few minutes before the shift starts to help the guest bartender through the workings of the bar they’re at helps prevent a lot of confusion going forward! If you are impressed, you may also be able to hire the bartender!



Baker Blanding, from Brown Forman on Herradura Tequila!

Learn about Herradura and what makes it unique in the market from Brown Forman's very own Baker Blanding!

The 5 Best Ways To Find Cocktail Competitions

It’s not very hard to find bartending competitions and cocktail competitions. Here are our five suggestions we tell our students if they want to be competitive bartenders!

The first and easiest way for a beginner bartender to break into the bartending competition scene is to check out Liquor.com. They have constant updates and streamline the sign up process a great deal. There’s also a good deal of back and forth communication between the brand hosting the competition and yourself, so it’s fairly easy to keep track of all the rules!

A second way, is to join a local meetup or group of bartenders. Many times these groups will create grassroot contests between them and if the campaign gets big enough, it’s very possible for liquor companies to pay attention to them. These competitions, while not necessarily prestigious, tend to be a good opportunity to break nerves in a casual setting. Also, since it’s not focused on pleasing a brand, but rather pleasing their community, they tend to be a lot of fun for all attendees!

A third option is to join a bartending school. Some bartending schools like our own, are great places for getting information about these local communities and organizers. They can connect you directly with them if they hear something. Many times, speakers from brands or with industry know-how will come in and give lectures about future events that students can apply for or tips on how to be selected for an appearance at one.

A fourth option is to join the USBG, or United States Bartending Guild. Many brands will host small “USBG” exclusive competitions in local communities. These tend to be centralized competitions!

A fifth way, is to be so good at bartending and branding, that brand ambassadors will actively approach you to compete for a contest that they’ll be hosting. While this way has the least amount of red tape, you’ll have to be pretty good at networking to get to this point! By being a damn good bartender, using a combination of the above four points and by engaging with industry contacts, there's no doubt that you will get to this last one!


Our Five Favorite Cocktai Kingdom Exclusive Items!

If you like any of the bar equipment in our third floor bar and want to purchase it yourself, this is the page for you! We've recently partnered with Cocktail Kingdom, the source for much of our high end equipment, to offer our students special industry rates! For more information go to our students discount page here!

#5 Haru Stemmed Mixing Glass

Haru Kingdom.jpeg

Incredibly beautiful and one of my favorite of the cocktail kingdom reserve line, love the Japanese design-Haru means spring!

Purchase here: http://www.cocktailkingdom.com/reserve/haru-stemmed-mixing-glass

#4 Atomizer 50mL

One of the most elegant and simple atomizers on the market.

One of the most elegant and simple atomizers on the market.

Purchase here: http://www.cocktailkingdom.com/atomizer-50ml

#3 David Wondrich Muddler

David Wondrich Collection Muddler that has a hefty and powerful look.

David Wondrich Collection Muddler that has a hefty and powerful look.

Purchase here: http://www.cocktailkingdom.com/wondrich/wondrick-cato-muddler

#2 David Wondrich Punch Bowl

David Wondrich Collection Punchbowl that pays homage to the classical tradition.  The inscription comes from Cicero and means:  Let us eat, drink, enjoy life, after death there is no pleasure - Marcus Tullius Cicero

David Wondrich Collection Punchbowl that pays homage to the classical tradition.  The inscription comes from Cicero and means:

Let us eat, drink, enjoy life, after death there is no pleasure - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Purchase here: http://www.cocktailkingdom.com/wondrich/punch-bowl

#1 Beachbaum Berry's Copper Plated Bar Spoon

Jeff Beachbum Berry's copper skull bar spoon.  The longer length and warm copper colors make it a versatile and elegant solution to much of your needs

Jeff Beachbum Berry's copper skull bar spoon.  The longer length and warm copper colors make it a versatile and elegant solution to much of your needs

Bartending in the Age of Donald Trump


by Ori Geshury

President Donald Trump is everywhere these days and it’s not hard to see why. From the unprecedented campaign, to the most vigorous first weeks of an American Presidency in recent memory, there’s certainly a lot of change going on.  And whether you support him and his policies, disagree completely with everything he stands for and are a safety pin wearing member of the resistance, consider him to be a persuasive genius, or remarkably crass and dangerously ignorant, one this is absolutely certain: You are talking about him and there are huge implications happening across the world--especially for bartenders or people who wish to be bartenders.

We have people at our school that voted and who didn’t vote, who supported Clinton and supported Trump.  I’m not writing to voice an opinion on whether what’s happening is good or bad from a political standpoint, I’m a bartender and I don’t feel qualified to do so.  However, I do want to look at the way Donald Trump is impacting bartending, future job prospects, and how education is affected.

The first part of this article is going to focus on the current dangers you should be aware of that are happening to jobs, bartending or not.  Keep in mind that Donald Trump is not completely responsible for all these factors, they are the result of economic and political trends that have been boiling under the surface for decades.  If reading all of these makes you feel like the walls are closing in, and there is some serious trouble ahead, you’re not alone.  That’s the sentiment shared by the many prospective students we meet and talk to every single day.  I want to share them, not to scare you, but to give you an idea of that challenges that are out there so you can face them head on, and develop a plan to overcome them.

The second part of this article is going to focus on how for so many people, Bartending, and a career in beverage, can be a solution that seems tailor made for problems we seem to all be experiencing. 



Regardless of whether or not you support Trump’s threats to tax Mexican and Chinese products, it’s important to realize that it can greatly impact the purchasing power of the American consumer for years.  This is because our economy is so intertwined with other countries, that it’s impossible that taxes on their goods will not raise the cost of living for all Americans-at least in the short term.


Globalization and computerization are threatening more entry level jobs than at any time in American history since the 1970s when we saw the gradual erosion of our manufacturing.  I’ve never seen so many articles on so many different news sources, that all say the same thing: The job market is going to drastically change, and the technology for this to happen is already available. 

Many of our students drive for Uber and Lyft, and we get our fair share of truck drivers as well, and they all are worried about driverless cars, because the technology is already there for safer, more cost effective transportation.  Columbia Professor Hod Lipson has written an amazing book on the subject and his interview with Tucker Carlson is worth a watch.

In addition to that are the more sophisticated robots used in manufacturing, McKinsey and Company, whom we had the pleasure of hosting an event for, even did some fascinating work explaining that up to 59% of manufacturing work is vulnerable to automation over the next ten years.  You can watch a fascinating PBS piece on this here.

And the more vulnerable ones are the one’s lowest on the totem pole.  This week we enrolled two students that all worked in the service industry, one from McDonald’s and one from Chili’s.  And their jobs are threatened by policies that McDonald’s and Chili’s have introduced in response to raising the minimum wage.

In light of these findings, it shouldn’t be surprising to read the results of an Oxford study that almost half of US jobs are vulnerable to computerized automation.  


I’m 33, and of all the changes that have happened in my lifetime, I really can’t think of any as dramatic as how the cost of college is really creating different classes in our society.  It’s getting more and more expensive relative to the rate of inflation and shows no signs of slowing down.  When I was a kid my mom was able to pay for my private school and my dad’s grad school, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in cash without taking out any loans.  We were new to this country and were unable to get credit.  When I was 18, going to Drexel was pricey, but manageable with loans and working retail and summer jobs. 

It’s so different now.  I see single mothers stagnate and take extra classes at community college because completing their Bachelor’s degree seems so out of reach.  I talk to students from schools that were traditionally affordable, like Temple and Drexel where the plurality of our students come from, and see people in their early 20s well into six figures of debt.  A famous Bloomberg report shows just how high college tuitions have grown in the since 1978, 1225%!!!


We don’t need to look at Trump’s zeal to repeal and replace Obamacare or his threats to defund PBS to know that conservatives traditionally like smaller government, and less support for health care, educational infrastructure, and social services.  The truth is that all Republican administrations invest less in financial, educational, and social support than Democratic ones.  These differences are part and parcel of the lines of contention between the two parties.

I’m mentioning this because of how it relates to my last point.  Under a Republican Administration, if you lose your job or get hurt, you will have less support from the state to help you succeed.  With the rise of automation, and the cost of higher education, this can create a perfect storm that wrecks our notions of economic and social mobility for Americans entering the workforce.


While a chemist would certainly agree that alcohol is a solution, I want to explain what I mean


It’s relatively easy in a major city to be able to make $20-30 an hour as a bartender.  We know dozens of graduates from Aqua Vitae that make over 80k a year.  Jim Meehan talks about this in his groundbreaking presentation about the rise of the career craft cocktail bartender and the importance of health.  He says that bartenders should worry about health because many of them finish college and find that their income opportunities are greater for doing a job they love, than a soulless corporate job their degrees have qualified them for.  He cites a 60k a year figure in New York City, which I would say is even conservative for that area. 


I remember a student of ours in the 90s who worked at the Pyramid Club specifically to get access to the lawyers and firms she wanted to apply for upon finishing law school.  My mom was able to support the family by giving her business cards away at the convention center and decorating people’s houses.  Since then, we’ve had hundreds of personal trainers, hairdressers, musicians, actors, dancers, writers etc. leverage their ability to bartend into developing and maintaining business connections and even romantic relationships.

One topic that isn’t explored enough is how positive reinforcement (getting a higher tip) for charisma, great technique, and persuasion can change someone’s ability to deal with people over months and years.  When I was writing the bar psychology portion of the textbook and researching authors like Cialdini, and the famous Cornell restaurant study  where a woman wearing a flower in her hair made 17% more tips, and teaching them to our students, I found that bartenders who had been in the industry for a year or so did most of these things automatically. 

It’s not hard to see why, people can lie and smile and laugh, but if they come to see you and tip you well it’s a clear sign of appreciation that cannot be faked.  This allows bartenders to more accurately judge how their attitudes and habits affect other people than the rest of us, which give them an advantage in every other area of their life.

There’s something else going on here too.  In the movie Crazy Stupid Love, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carrell do most of their dating in one swanky bar.  Watch the clip and imagine you are a bartender in a bar like this.  In a year you’d see not just hundreds but thousands of first dates, business meetings, interactions between human beings that go well and go poorly. 

What do you think would happen to your ability to form relationships, and nail an interview for any job you wanted?

(Side note: The Old Fashioned scene in Crazy Stupid Love is one of the few examples of cocktails in movies that really works.)


If you’ve ever seen the movie Cocktail you’ve got a pretty good idea of how bartending worked in the 90s and early 00s.  While there were some great bartenders out there, and David Wondrich was writing for esquire as a voice in the wilderness very early on, there just wasn’t too much innovation going on.  The best bartenders lifted weights, flipped bottles, worked fast, and eventually started their own bars.  Luis Bermudez, our old head instructor and former Head Bartender at Cuba Libre, exemplifies the absolute pinnacle of success here.  He got into bartending after the Navy, won best Bartender in Philadelphia in a competition at the legendary 90s nightclub/palace Egypt, started a bar with Diego from top 40 radio station Q102, became a firefighter, and now owns properties all over Philadelphia, Miami, and Costa Rica. 

But the differences now are incredible.  Never before have there been so many opportunities for bartenders to advance, bar management, brand ambassadorship, competitions, lectures, writing reporters on HARO.  The options for bartenders who want to advance without shelling our half a million dollars and risking everything to open a bar are tremendous.

Luciano Spensierato, who took classes with us when he came over from Italy, and whom we helped get a job at Xfinity Live when they did job fairs before they opened, and currently helms the exceptional bar program at Gran Caffe L’Aquila, is an example of how a bartender can increase his standing.  Jeff Bowell, who moved to Las Vegas, helped open Revel in Atlantic City, and now NOTO in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, is another good example.


I recently read a great article by sfgate on why people go to bars.  San Francisco is considered a first tier city in the bar and restaurant industry, with its higher income residents, emphasis on locally sourcing fresh ingredients, and care in presentation, you’d think the experience of food and drink would be at the forefront of the article, instead the author writes:

"to work, talk, cheat, chat, smoke, investigate, read, stare, eat, fight, study, use free Wi-Fi, listen to music, be the old dude at the bar, ask for directions, meet a friend, make a friend, borrow money, have fun, and sometimes because there is just nothing else to do."

This really goes to the heart of what I’m trying to explain.  We can’t turn into computers, and we don’t have much control of political and economic change.  But we can leverage our own humanity, build our own network of friends and allies, and create opportunities for us to make money now and later, all by embracing a job that let’s us do all of these things simultaneously: Bartending.   

Because of all these reasons, a part time job or career in Bartending has never been more attractive.  However, I do want to end with one more thing:


Unlike traditional education, that balloons in price year after year, you can study at Aqua Vitae Institute for under a thousand dollars. By the end of it you will feel confident enough to work behind any bar.

If you’ve gotten to the end of this article, it’s certain that you’re at least a little bit curious about how we can help you reach your goals through bartending.  I really encourage you to reach out to us here!

Related: Bartending School information

How Do Restaurants and Bars Find Great Bartenders

How To Hire Bartenders and Service Staff

While high tech recruiting firms an average of $16,000 for a hire, a restaurants and bar ability to be able such an amount for talent is extremely rare. Instead, most restaurants choose to do hiring independently. This usually means placing a "now hiring" ad on the door for onlookers to see--and hopefully apply.

Besides the now hiring ad, the most common way restaurants find bartenders is through a referral or word of mouth. This is when someone puts in a good work, says they know whats expected and will fit into the culture of the bar almost immediately.

Online has also become a very powerful tool for finding bartenders. Many bar owners that post online bartending job ads are in an immediate need for a person fast, or they need to hire a large amount of people. Partially because most bartenders aren't tech savvy, but also because of tradition, many if not all job postings remain on Craigslist. However, this isn't set in stone and does vary greatly based on city.

Recently in Philadelphia, there has been some pretty great competition to Craigslist. One of the more popular ones, especially in Philadelphia, is known as Culinaryagents. This website has given a huge revamp and focused on connecting hospitality professionals around the world to finding a job. The users of this website tend to be younger, but are very eager to learn and excel in their field.

Just because these are solutions that are common, doesn't mean it's safe to say that every city in the world will work the same. In fact, you might be losing on a huge pool of applicants if you aren't proactive with what you do! If you ever get stuck, the solution is to network with others! Talk with other restaurateurs across the country and asking them if they know anyone good looking for a job. You can also ask, if it's a small city, where they post jobs and how they hire, trying to copy there example.

All over the country, there are thousands of network events, many are free, which are hosted by universities like Drexel's philly chef conference or the ncbshow. If there isn't any, you can always start your own on a website like meetup!

Aqua Vitae Institute can also connect to a network of hundreds graduates for free of charge by just filling out the hire a bartender form here. If you have preferences like height, personality type, beer experts or flair bartenders, we can vet our people and match with those we think might be a decent fit for the bar's image for you ahead of time and streamline the process greatly.

If you would like more indepth strategies to finding staff or need help retaining staff, Aqua Vitae Institute also offers a Bar Leadership Course. Contact us for more information!

Related: Bartending School and Cocktail Classes


Why does Ouzo and Absinthe turn cloudy when water is added?

The Louche Effect is the name given when water is added to Ouzo and Abisnthe that turns the liquid into white. The science behind it is actually quite normal and tends to happen when adding essential oils to water. Effectively, what happens is that the water is reacting with a “hydrophobic” chemical in the reaction. Thujone, for example, the main flavoring in Absinthe is oil based and hydrophobic. Ouzo, as well, is made from Anise and fennel oil.

This effect was first described by Wilhelm Ostwald in 1896 and is known as the Ostwald Ripening effect. In simple terms,

The Ostwald Ripening effect occurs when an added ingredient creates a reaction that no longer puts the initial compound in equilibrium either due to the PH level changing, temperature changing and the number of common ions changing (the ability for the alcohol to bond with the oil). As alcohol and water share relatively the same PH level, the biggest changes in the Louche effect occur from temperature colder absinthe will cloud up faster than warm absent. Next, as more water is added, the Louche effect will become increasingly clear.

Further Reading:

  1. М.Лифшиц, В.Слёзов // ЖЭТФ 35, 479 (1958); I.M. Lifshitz; V.V. Slyozov (1961). "The Kinetics of Precipitation from Supersaturated Solid Solutions". Journal of Physics and Chemistry of Solids. 19 (1–2): 35–50.
  2. Voorhees, Peter W. "The theory of Ostwald ripening." Journal of Statistical Physics 38.1-2 (1985): 231-252.
  3. How Solutes affect ionic compounds

Related: Learn to be a great bartender at Aqua Vitae Institute's Bartending School

The 5 Most Inspiring Bartending Instagrams

By Ori Geshury

Garnish and presentation is something that bartenders have strong feelings about.  Just like we try to find the best value spirits that allow us to make high quality drinks at a reasonable markup, we're always looking for ways to up the presentation of our drinks while making them at volume.  

Bobby Huegel wrote a great post asking for recommendations on different instagrams to inspire the staff at Houston's The Anvil, to re-examine their garnish game.  I was familiar with a  few, but they surprised me with their variety and creativity.

Here are some of my favorites:

1) Tenzin is the Fred Astaire of cocktail presentation.  By sticking to the basics and introducing playful and whimsical elements, they make you smile.  And they are so easy to imitate and learn from, there is nothing especially complex about them. 

Of all the accounts I followed, there are iconic images that kept sticking in my mind: The kimchee layered on top of block ice, the umbrella in the winking santa mug, the single maple leaf.  The Japanese soda served trash can style in a Tiki Mug.  A wellspring of simplicity, inspiration, and fun.

2) Stir and Strain There's a voluptuousness to these pictures, with their abundance of cream, baked goods, and slight messiness, that makes you hungry and thirsty on an elemental level, which is what we often forget that great food and drink photography is designed to do: Erase the boundaries of space, time, and freshness and speak directly to the stomach through the ether of the internet.  It's playful and casual, opulent and elegant, and especially recommended for dessert lovers.

3) The Punch Room In stark contrast to the softness of Stir and Strain, the hard, clean, sharp drinks and furniture of Charlotte's Punch Room are contrasted by the southern warmth of sunshine and rich leather, and candlelight and streaked marble.  Garnishes are minimalistic but feature some of the most artfully laid out punch bowls I have ever seen.  The handle is well deserved.

4) Express and Discard When Paul MacDonald was featured as a Zagat favorite instagram account, my first thoughts weren't to congratulate him, they were to congratulate Zagat for their eye for talent.  Paul has been a perennial fixture at Philly's top cocktail bars, from Farmer's Cabinet to A. Bar, and now to the recently reopened Friday Saturday Sunday.  It would be cliche to call his reserve and simplicity Zen, but there something austere in it.  The apple and pear fans, dehydrated citrus, peels paired into m's and w's, frame the cocktails and prepare the drinker for the depth of flavor they're about to experience. 

5) Jacopo Falleni For superhumanly playful, unselfconscious extraverted cocktails, nobody can hold a candle to the great Italian bartenders.  Jacopo's instagram, with fast cars, pasta, suits, and smiles makes even the garnishes feel garnished.  Though this insta might offend the more "sensible" craft cocktail mavens, it's impossible to deny the breadth of his talents: Limes carved into footballs, immaculate pumpkin fleur de lis, and cocktails that are simple, unrefined, and crowd pleasing.

Ask Aqua Vitae Institute Part 1

By Ori Geshury

I'm having some trouble with my first bartending job.  It's at one of the most popular fine dining bars in Center City Philadelphia and I'm working with some great people. I get along really well with the owners and the senior bartenders but I'm having trouble with one of the junior bartenders.  He insists I make drinks differently from the way I've been taught by the senior staff, limits my customer interaction, orders me around more than the senior staff, and generally gives me a tough time.  I'm trying to think of the best way to resolve the situation.  Should I confront him about it?  Should I go to management?  Should I just grin and bear it?


Even the best bartenders have to work in a team.  If it's a great bar, they'll always start you off at the bottom of the totem pole because there is a lot of information to learn.  Some of that information is written and that's the easy stuff.  But most of what you have to learn isn't written down.  It's how the team works together and their individual personalities, how they handle being under stress and in the weeds.  It's what bathrooms to use, it's the squeaky door that needs to be checked and oiled if need be everyday.  In short, it's the culture of the bar and every person in it. 

In this particular situation, it's a pretty simple answer.  You learn what the junior bartender does and do everything you can to support them in doing the best job possible.  If you have a question about a recipe, or a change in protocol from another bartender, you can ask them politely about it, but always defer to the bartender you are working with.  Some bars are looser than others, no matter how great the reputation is, but all bartenders will have quirks and wrinkles and habits that differentiate them. 

One of the worst things you can do is to go up the chain of command and complain.  New hires are evaluated for their ability to fit into the existing culture first and foremost.  Later, when you are an established and valued part of the staff, you can work on improving communication and cohesion. 

Related: Bartending School