What makes a great bartender? There are two axes here, says sku: technique and style. "Technique is just a question of have they mastered the basic techniques needed to make good drinks," says sku. "Style is more an issue of their school of bartending." As for skills, does the bartender know how to muddle mint without pulverizing it? Can he or she muddle sugar into a clear syrup? Or deal with egg whites? "Egg white should be integrated into the drink to create a nice foam with no sliminess," says sku.
Beyond that, it's a matter of style, and balance. "For me, a Vieux Carré (rye, brandy, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, bitters) is a good test, because it doesn't taste that great if it's not balanced correctly," says will47. sku thinks an Old Fashioned is a great test of a bartender. "A classic OF is sugar, water, bitters and rye with just a bit of orange rind muddled into it," says sku. "A bartender who does a 'fruit salad' version with muddled cherries and other fruit or adds soda would be someone using a less classic and more modern (or mid-century) interpretation. For me that would be a deal breaker, but, as I said, it depends what type of bartender you are looking for."
"I'll add: They have to only use fresh juices and ingredients, no mixes," says JMF. "They have to know when and how to stir versus shake. Clear cocktails are stirred. Cocktails with juice are shaken. They have to shake for at least 10-15 seconds; more is better. They have to stir for 30 seconds. For classic recipes, no shortcuts or substitutions."