How to Study for Bartending School (Part 1)

As Director of Education at Aqua Vitae, I have seen students of all ages, backgrounds, and personalities take the program with us, and I’ve noticed that some students were much more successful at absorbing and presenting the material than others.  

Hard Work Isn’t As Important As You Think

When I was a bartending student at the age of eighteen, I thought that coming in early and making the same drink over and over again would result in passing the tests easily. This isn't true. I failed my first midterm and barely passed the speed test. In fact, I was so nervous that I asked my best friend, whom was taking classes with me, to leave. The end result? I barely passed. This series is about what I wish I knew back then. It's about not trying to focus on this "working hard" mentality we all get stuck in, but focusing on getting results.

When Instant Isn’t Fast Enough

We live in a world where practically any recipe, any type of beer, any specific technical answer, can be googled.  For the things that can’t be googled, there is always a staff member on hand who will know the answer.  But when you are dealing with a customer, or a potential employer, and they ask you a question about the wine list, or a specific cocktail, instant isn’t fast enough.  You have to have the knowledge, the core knowledge of bartending, at your fingertips.

That’s not to say that you have to know the recipe of every drink ever created, or that you have to be a Sommelier or Brewing Master, but it does mean that you have immediate, knee jerk fluency of the core building blocks of the profession.

In a job interview, if you are asked:

What do you know about the wines of Germany?

And you have to sit there and think about it for a minute or two, you’ve already lost the interview.  With a customer, you’ve lost the chance to demonstrate mastery of the craft, and ultimately, taken a big step back in building a relationship with them.

Focusing on Fluency vs. Knowledge

Because of this, it’s better to think about learning to bartend as learning a new language.  Knowing every word isn’t nearly as important as an immediate knowledge of the basics.  And the best way to develop that knowledge is to use the study guides and preparatory quizzes we provide, and turn them into good old fashioned 3x5 index cards.  You’ll want to make a pile of these short question and answer cards and get familiar, and fluent with the answers until they are automatic.

This strategy will work for general knowledge, but another step is required for internalizing drink recipes.  I’ll tackle that in the next post.