A Bar Above is a website and video blog about bartending, creating great cocktails and the world of mixology. The blog was created in 2012 by Chris Tunstall, a San Francisco Bartender and Mixologist with more than 10 years of experience behind the bar. Follow this blog to get ultimate resource for Bartenders.
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Your skin is the largest organ in your body and one of the only organs your bar guests can see – take care of it!
No one wants to see bleeding knuckles, saggy eyes or cracked fingertips. And although guests should never see your bare feet, if your tootsies aren’t happy, you’re in for a very rough shift.
A Harsh Environment
The laymen wouldn’t understand, but you and I know that being a bartender is extremely hard on your skin. But painful skin on your hands and feet can be debilitating at worst, or at least really ruin your night.
So how do you take care of your skin? First of all, lotion on-shift is pretty much impossible. How many times have you applied lotion to your dry hands then tried to handle a wet glass or bottle? Once. Then it slipped from your fingers and you never did that again.
We’re on our feet a lot. Our hands are always damp with some fluid or another. We stay up late. We’re always on stage. And yet we still have to look gorgeous.
Thankfully, there are some tricks that can help you recover from common bartender skin problems – or prevent them altogether:
1 – Lotion Before and After
Bar skin care is as much about what you do when you aren’t working as when you are. As I said, lotion on your hands on the clock makes everything too slippery. You need your grip.
But if you show up to work with dry, chapped hands and you have to live with it. So you will have to plan ahead and take care of them on your own time.
Find a favorite lotion and keep it everywhere: in your locker, your purse or backpack, your car, in the manager’s office and at home. Put it on as soon as you’re done handling glassware.
Keep your hands properly lubed at all times away from the job.
What kind of lotion? I’m not here to shill any brands, but avoid anything with too much perfume. Get some serious stuff. I favor cocoa butter with petroleum jelly. A good lotion is worth the money.
2 – Seal Your Cuts
Curb the Damage
Ever have a bandage on a cut only to realize you don’t know where it went? (I hope the health inspector didn’t find it!)
Don’t trust bandages for minor knicks. They’ll never stick. Keep tubes of super glue in the first aid kit, behind the bar, in the kitchen and in the office. It’s great for sealing minor cuts and cracks.
If you’re not feeling so industrial, get liquid bandage, which is essentially medical-grade super glue. It sure smells like it and it comes with a brush for easy application.
Don’t get Cut in the First Place
I never get cut by sharp knives. Only the dull ones. I never cut myself on broken glass unless I don’t know it’s there. I rarely draw blood at all, but when I do it’s on something weird.
Crusty bread. Corrugated boxes. Plastic jars. But the worst hazard?
Ice. I’ve cut myself on ice cubes more than anything in a restaurant. Be careful dragging your knuckles while scooping ice. A bin full of ice is sharp and unforgiving.
3 – No Baggy Eyes
We work late, but we often stay up late after work too. Work hard, party hard and who can blame us?
So sometimes your face won’t look as fresh and perky as the day you interviewed. Particularly your eyes can give you away.
The only lotion I’ve ever been able to put right on my eyelids without irritation is pure aloe vera. I’ve even got it on my eyeball directly by accident. No burning. Just a little blurry.
Get the clear stuff with no additives at all. It should smell like almost nothing. Put it everywhere. It will wash off and you can’t work with it on your hands, but every other hour of the day you can bathe in it.
You can even eat it. (Not recommended.)
4 – Cloven Goat Thumb
I’m not sure what the technical term is, but that’s what I call it.
One of the most tiny but painful inconveniences I’ve had while working is cracked skin on my fingertips, especially my thumbs. It’s deep. It bleeds. It doesn’t want to heal. It’s very sensitive to heat, citrus, chemicals and pressure.
It hurts to touch anything.
I haven’t found an accurate description of the cause other than repeated hand washing, exposure to chemicals and changes in temperature.
I read it might be eczema or a vitamin deficiency. Those articles suggest wearing gloves or avoiding the harsh environment. Let’s be honest – that’s just not happening.
The aforementioned super glue or liquid bandage works well. I kept some in my car and painted my fingertips before driving to work.
The good news is, I started trimming my nails longer and more frequently and it doesn’t happen to me much anymore. I think exposing too much of the sensitive skin under the nail was inviting the cracks – but I’m no doctor. That’s just what’s worked for me.
5 – Harvest that Stubborn Corn
I have one spot on one foot that gradually regrows a callus. It’s where my right little toe connects to my foot. The corn presses against the joint, creating a painful hot spot.
But I have a weapon.
Corn removing pads available at the grocery store include two parts. A medicated disk covers the thick bony skin. An oval pad covers that disk to keep it in place and cushion the area.
The pad will stay on throughout your shift and probably fall off with your next shower. After one or two applications, the corn will either shrink or fall off, alleviating the pressure on your foot.
They come in packs of at least nine and I always keep some handy.
Stock Up Before the Last Minute
I hate running around before a shift. I like all my things in place. When my get-ready routine goes smoothly, the shift ahead of me does too.
So make sure you’re planning ahead and not scrambling around just before clocking in to find a pad for that wicked corn or super glue for a cleft thumb. Come early, lotion up, seal off your wounds and get to work.
Having happy skin, like all elements of our business, takes planning and the right tools. Skin care is a habit and a lifestyle. Keep your favorite items stocked everywhere so you can proudly display your most visible organ and enjoy your shift without painful hands and feet.
Eighty Six, also known as David Klenda, has worked the front of the house since George Bush's dad was president and OJ was famous for being a football player. He's been writing poetry and fiction longer than that. He'll write freelance about anything for a buck, but is so glad to be writing about something he knows and loves. Currently he is making a Spokane neighborhood dive a little more crafty.
Infusions have been a key technique for great bar programs for years. But using infusions to create flavorful drinks is centuries old – after all, tea is the OG infusion!
This week Chris is chatting with a true tea expert and founder of Spirit tea, Taylor Cowan. Listen in to learn a bit about the history of tea, how to make a great cuppa, and how to use it as another great ingredient for your bar program!
Click here to Subscribe on your Smartphone and never miss an Episode!
On your iPhone:
Look for the iPhone’s default “Podcasts App”. It may already be there, or you may need to download it. It looks like this:
In the app, click “Search” in the bottom-right corner and search for “Mixology Talk Podcast“
Click on the icon under the “Podcasts” section, and in the next screen click the purple “Subscribe” button.
Click on the “Search” icon and search for “Mixology Talk Podcast
Click “+” to add the show to your Playlist.
The Other Infusion: Tea Behind the Bar with Taylor Cowan - Mixology Talk Podcast - YouTube
In today’s Episode, it’s all about Tea!
Watch the interview (above) to learn all about:
What makes the difference between a great and not-so-great cup of tea
How the changing trends and markets are affecting tea worldwide
Taylor’s top three teas that everyone should try
Some tips for incorporating tea into your cocktails and bar program
So who is Taylor Cowan Anyway?
Taylor is a career tea educator and the co-founder of Spirit Tea, a specialty tea importer and wholesaler based in Chicago. Taylor splits his time each year between Nepal, Southwest China and the United States. A founding member of the new American Specialty Tea Alliance, he has previously been an instructor of Tea Chemistry and Intro to Tea modules at Barista Camp and will be teaching Foundation of Tea this Access. His current project is the cross-country educational series, the Spirit of Tea Tour, commencing here in Austin this Thursday.
This post may contain affiliate links. Check out this disclosure for more info. Thanks for your support!
The holidays are just around the corner and now begins the anxiety of trying to find the perfect gift for someone special. If that someone happens to love making well crafted cocktails at home, then this article has you covered. Also check out our list of gifts for bartenders for more ideas.
A big part of any hobby is having the right tools to truly enjoy it. With cocktails there are a few standards that you should have in your cabinet, but you can constantly be adding new tools to your liquor cabinet if you get serious about this hobby.
Disclaimer: The tools linked below are actually our very own! They are sold by our sister company, Top Shelf Bar Supply, run by A Bar Above co-founder Julia. So while we are totally biased, we go genuinely believe they are your best choice – because we designed / selected them ourselves. Ok, on to the list!
Cocktail Shaker – We recommend this cocktail shaker vs the cobbler style cocktail shaker because you can always separate the 2 pieces of metal that holds your glorious beverage. Other styles of shakers can get frozen together and getting the shaker open could take power tools.
Hawthorne Strainer – This is used in combination with the cocktail shaker and keeps the ice and pieces of fruit and herbs from getting into the final cocktail
Bar Spoons – The Bar Spoon is used to stir spirit forward drinks. And you can never have too many bar spoons!
Jigger (coming soon!) – If you want a good cocktail, then you need to be able to measure your ingredients properly. Getting a good jigger that is easy to read will make the process of making drinks more enjoyable for everyone.
If the person that you are giving the gift to doesn’t have a large selection of bar tools, then I highly recommend our 14 piece bar kit. It has everything they will need in order to get started making you some tasty craft cocktails. (And they aren’t cheapo tools, either!)
DIY Manhattan Kit
If you prefer to grab a few different items and put them together in a nice basket or box, then making your own Manhattan Kit would be a fun idea. Grab your favorite Bourbon or rye, a nice sweet vermouth, some bitters and cocktail cherries.
You can’t go wrong if you buy the following ingredients:
Carpano Antica sweet vermouth,
You can really expand this gift to fit your budget/needs. You can add glassware, bar tools (like those spoons I mentioned earlier), ice molds a mixing glass and fun coasters to take this gift to the next level. Throw it all in a nice basket or box and throw a ribbon on it. Done!
With the renaissance of craft cocktails over the last decade, there have been a lot of great new bitters that have been created to support the growing demand. Long gone are the days that you could only buy Angostura Bitters and maybe Peychaud’s if you looked really hard. Now there are more bitters companies then you can shake a cocktail at. (See what I did there?)
With bitters, you can never have enough variety. It’s called the “bartenders spice box” for a reason! Bitters also have the benefit of being shelf stable for a very long time. The companies below have a large selection of different bitters to choose from, but I encourage you to take a look at your local bottle shop for some help and inspiration. If that’s not convenient, you can also buy most online.
Along with the boom in bitters choices, there are a LOT of cocktail syrup companies to choose from nowadays – so many in fact that choosing one can be overwhelming. Just like with bitters, going to a local bottle shop could be a great idea if you plan on going this route. But again, most are available online too:
If your friend is into spirit forward drinks, then a mixing glass is a great gift. Sure you could use a pint glass, but this makes you look so much cooler. 🙂 If you plan on buying this, I highly recommend picking up the strainer that is typically used with it: the Julep Strainer.
A Barrel for Barrel-Aging
The humble barrel has so many possibilities for cocktail lovers. They can barrel age a Manhattan, Negroni or Boulevardier. They could even age your favorite white whiskey or bitters. For the more culinary minded recipient, they even make barrels that you can make your own “balsamic style” vinegars. Aim for a round a 2 liter barrel as the recipient will have to fill the barrel and that could be the most expensive part.
If you have no idea what to give the cocktail lover in your life, glassware is a great choice and this could be a great add on item for any gift in this list.
For someone who loves Speakeasy cocktails – I really like the selection of glassware from the History Company. They have some beautiful pieces, but they can also be extremely expensive ($40 for 2 glasses). Hopefully you can find some inspiration from them, then head to your local thrift shop and find something similar!
Bar & Cocktail Books
You can find just about anything that you want on the internet, but the author might not always have the best advice (like this article). If the recipient of your gift giving wants to know more about cocktails or just increase their recipe repertoire, what better way to learn than from some of the best bars and bartenders in the country?
Any of the books below would be a nice addition to any home bar library:
Jeffrey Morgenthaler has changed the way we drink in this country and influenced many bartenders all across the country/world. His Bar Book is not to be missed.
Jim Meehan is most famous for opening PDT, one of the original Speakeasy style bars. Check out his Meehan’s Bar Manual.
The Dead Rabbit has won just about every award there is to win in the craft cocktail scene and the Canon Cocktail Book
Last but definitely not least, Jamie Boudreaux is one of the early adopters of advanced techniques behind the bar, Canon in Seattle. If you have ever seen a cocktail topped with foam or fancy pearls “caviar” in your drinks, you can thank this man. Check out the Canon Cocktail Book.
This should be no surprise, but booze can be one of the more intimidating things to buy for a cocktail lover. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered! (Note: if this list looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same thing I recommended in my Bartender gift guide a few weeks ago. Whether you’re a bartender or not, these are great choices!)
There are 2 common categories of spirits that are often given as gifts: spirits that are meant to be sipped or put into a delicious cocktail and liqueurs that are fun to mix in drinks.
Spirits for Sipping or Mixing:
You could aim for the $50 price point and be pretty happy with a lot of spirits:
Tequila- Siete Lequas and Fortaleza are both brands that produce some beautiful tequilas that would make a great gift for a tequila lover.
Amaro – Amaro Montenegro, Amaro Lucano and Amaro Nonino are all very popular and delicious
Whiskey- Colonel E.H Taylor, Basil Hayden and 4 Roses Small Batch would all be great choices for the Bourbon category.
Rums – Plantation Rum pineapple infused rum, Santa Teresa 1796 and Clemente Rhum Agricole.
Gin – Plymouth, St. George Terroir Gin, Spirit Works Barrel Aged Gin. This last one is a bit unusual, but still delicious
Liqueurs are a fun way to expand the range of what a home bartender can offer. These liqueurs are the perfect guilty pleasure because they can sometimes be expensive and you usually don’t need a lot in a cocktail. If you want to put together a sample pack of a few different types, you can try to find 375 ml packagings instead of the more common 750 mls. The list below can be difficult to track down, but that also means the lucky recipient probably doesn’t have it in their liquor cabinet either. Once again check out your local bottle shop for some of these products.
Bitter Truth Creme De Violet
Spirit Works Sloe Gin
Chareau Aloe Liqueur
Belle de Brillet Pear Brandy
Large Format Containers:
Entertaining can be a lot of fun and a lot of work. Getting your place clean, organized and ready for guests can be an all day event, not to mention getting food prepped. If your a host, you want to mingle and make sure your guests are having a good time. Setting up a few premixed beverage stations will free the host up from having to bartend all night. Plus you have the added benefit of the host thinking of you every time they pull out your container.
This post may contain affiliate links. Check out this disclosure for more info. Thanks for your support!
Herbs found their way into the cocktail scene a long time ago. We have been using more and more fresh herbs in craft bars as it has evolved over the last decade, but I think we have just reached the tip of the iceberg as far as how common they are in drinks. Fresh herbs open a door to a huge number of flavor and aroma possibilities that just wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
If you’re considering broadening your mixology horizons (so to speak), why not consider growing some of your own herbs? I’ve drafted a list of herbs to consider if you’d like to start your very own mixology herb garden.
I had some of my own ideas on what to include in this list, but I also wanted to get advice from other bartenders as well. Facebook was a great resource for this and I was able to get a lot of great recommendations from people. Of course there were a few “medical grade” recommendations that did not get included in the list, but I’m actually surprised there weren’t more. Special thanks to everyone that helped with this article, especially Nick Burton of Stateofthesoil.com who recommend some unusual herbs and flowers (for another article I’m sure) that I have never heard of.
A few Disclaimers:
Many of these herbs are recognized as safe for human consumption, but please do your own research as far as health and safety concerns. Sometimes one part of a plant is safe but another part is not safe. Leaves, stems, roots and seeds can all have different levels of toxicity.
If you’re considering growing herbs for a bar / restaurant cocktail program, you should definitely speak with your local health inspector to make sure you know how to do so legally and safely.
I know spring is still quite a ways away to consider using this list, but if you are planning on building a rooftop garden or a cocktail garden, my spring project, there is a lot of planning that has to go into it. Sourcing specific seeds or plants can take a while and researching any health concerns could easily take months. So be sure to plan ahead!
With that, let’s get into the list!
No surprise here – this is probably the most used herb behind most bars. The mint julep and the mojito are probably the most common cocktails that feature a fresh herb as a principal flavor in the drink, but there are so many uses for mint behind the bar. That being said there are also many different types of mint that you can consider for a cocktail garden. Below are a few unusual varieties to consider if you want to add something more interesting to your bar program or home garden.
Most people are pretty familiar with basil as a cooking ingredient, but it also makes a delicious ingredient for cocktails as well. The dark opal and purple basil offer a beautiful dark color that could make a stunning garnish. Some varietals to try:
Spicy Globe Basil
Dark Opal Basil or purple basil
Oregano is typically associated with Greek food and also is a key ingredient in pizza sauce. It’s beautifully aromatic and could be a great addition in your next bloody mary.
Jim’s Best oregano
Mexican Bush Oregano
Like most of the herbs on this list, thyme is very flexible in cocktails. Use it as a garnish, in a syrup, shrub or infusion and let the subtle, slightly minty aroma make a nice accent to your next cocktail.
Orange Balsam Thyme
Common in sushi restaurants, the Red variety could be a great accent for anise flavored ingredients. The green variety brings a spicy cinnamon note that could work well in whiskey cocktails or anything that calls for Angostura Bitters.
While the translation for this loosely means skunk sweat, don’t let this scare you away from trying to use it in cocktails. This unusual ingredient could be a great to experimenting with juniper focused Gins, Amaro, Chartreuse, Strega and Genepy de Alpes.
Do you love cilantro but want even more intense flavor? Give Papalo a try. Evidently the taste has been described as imagining if Cilantro, lime and nasturtium had a beautiful herbal baby. All right I said that, but still makes you want to try it right? It works really well with epazote
Every time I see this herb, I imagine Kermit the frog hanging out on top of it strumming away on his guitar. The leaves and flower of this plant are both edible and pack a peppery punch.
Lovage is an herb that I have heard a lot about but have not had the opportunity to work with in cocktails yet. My understanding is that it tastes a lot like celery. This could be a lot of fun to use to add an additional aromatic note to celery bitters or a celery syrup/infusion.
This is a fun herb to play with in drinks because it is actually sweet and can replace some sweetener in your cocktail. It’s said to be 200 times sweeter than sugar so experiment with using it in cocktails.
Often found in tea, lemon verbena has a subtle lemon perfume. If you are looking to add another note to your lemon drop or add a beautiful garnish that reinforces the lemon juice in your cocktail, consider using lemon verbena
Thinking outside the Grocery Store
I know these herbs I’ve suggested vary a lot – from the “pretty common” to the “uhh, what’s that?” But if you have the ability to give them a try, there’s nothing like some obscure herbs to really get creative in your cocktail creations – even if it’s just experimenting for your own entertainment and education!
What are you growing? Did we miss any great herbs we should add to the list? Let me know in the comments!