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Bartender or Mixologist? Which one is it? What's the difference?
Posted on March 30th, 2011


Times are changing. Old concepts evolve and new words appear constantly. There used to be a time when a Martini was obviously a mix of vodka and vermouth, shaken and not stirred (right Mr Bond?) and anyone tending the bar was called a bartender. Now nearly any straight up drink you can put in a Martini glass is labelled a Martini and the person who mixes it claims to be a mixologist. Confusing, isn’t it? Well, it gets even worse knowing that most mixologists will frown at you in disdain if you address them as “bartenders”, the same way some bartenders will have to fight the urge of throwing you out of their bar if you dare call them “mixologists”. So what is the difference between the two and why does it trigger such strong reactions?

Theoretically, a bartender and a mixologist should be one and the same. A mixologist is someone who studies or possesses the skill of preparing mixed drinks and the same definition applies to bartenders: they all are (or should be) able to perfectly mix any cocktail so we can assume that they also carefully learned the way of doing so. Incidentally, in the state of Washington all bartenders must get a Class 12 Mixologist Permit, proving they can draw alcohol from a tap and mix alcoholic drinks, which make them both bartenders and mixologists. Thus the question remains: what does set them apart?

While bartenders are focusing on cocktails recipes and how to make them, mixologists are studying everything related to cocktails in great detail. They know everything about the history of cocktails, every famous bar, every bartender’s name, every recipe and how it was created. They have mastered all the classic and neo-classic cocktails, even infusions, from any era. They aim at creating better drinks by using their in-depth knowledge of liquors, liqueurs and other ingredients. They are often hired as advisors by prestigious bars looking for a cocktail menu or signature cocktails. Most of them don’t actually work at a bar.

Mixing liquors and ingredients to prepare cocktails is far from being the only activity of a bartender during his or her shift. They must also take orders, check ID’s, serve wine and bottled or draft beer, collect money, clean glasses and utensils, stock bar and occasionally deal with inebriated patrons. They are more than mere mixologists as they have to make people feel comfortable and welcomed, interact with them, show some interest in their lives and entertain them.

Both mixologists and bartenders are essential to the beverage industry. Thanks to their knowledge and experiments, mixologists make sure that the cocktails of today are in tune with their time. Thanks to their mixing skills and social skills, bartenders make sure that the cocktails of any time are in tune with their customers.

-Written by Party Bartenders contributing beverage blogger Isabelle Grenier. Party Bartenders provides bartenders for private parties & hosted bar and cash bar services for special events in Dallas/Fort Worth and surrounding areas. Please call us @ 817-458-8382 for more information.

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