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With over 40 years in the cocktail making business, world famous bartender Salvatore Calabrese shares his ‘top secret’ bartending tips…

From shaking to cocktail making, Salvatore Calabrese takes us through what he thinks are some of the best kept secrets in the bartending scene…

Tip 1: What Makes A Bartender Great?

Today young bartenders are learning about cocktails as I did - starting with a small number of classic recipes; using tried and tested techniques and equipment; walking before they run; and learning to appreciate flavor, balance and the complexity that can be achieved through the simplest combination of ingredients.

Sometimes young bartenders fail to appreciate the importance of being a great host - it’s one the most important things when converting a first time guest to a lifetime customer.

Occasionally too much emphasis is placed on mixology skills and bartenders forget that rapport with the customer is equally important. If there’s one thing you take from this it’s the importance of not losing sight of the customer in the mix of it all.

As a bartender, imagine the bar is your stage in a great theater. You are there to entertain and welcome your guests and make them feel special through your artistry and your hospitality - if you can achieve this they will return again and again.

Tip 2: The Classics vs The Weird And Wacky

We’ve entered the new, golden age of cocktails and drinkers have a newfound respect for the classics.

As well as the new innovative creations out there, we are also getting the opportunity to celebrate these classics and relive their glory days.

We’re starting to see bartenders delving into their ‘archives’ to search for lost and forgotten recipes and finding ways to bring them back to life.

There is an increased interest in vintage spirits and making cocktails using traditional methods and tools.

I specialize in using original techniques in my bars and I am thrilled to see bartenders using products that were ‘out of fashion’ and bringing them back to life.

Tip 3: Creating Your Own Modern Classic

What makes a great cocktail stand the test of time?

My top tip (or ‘the secret’ as I like to call it) is simplicity and quality ingredients.

It helps to think of your chosen spirit as a canvas for your work of art. A great cocktail doesn’t just please the eye; the drinking experience should be a journey for the palate. It is important to incorporate both look and taste to create a lasting classic.

The popularity of a cocktail will grow if you produce something that is easy to recreate - a cocktail that requires a degree in chemistry to make it is never going to go down in history as a new era classic.

And don’t forget…choosing the name.

Again, something simple and easily repeated works best. I have tried some amazing cocktails around the world but I couldn’t tell you what they were called because the name wasn’t memorable and obviously didn’t translate globally.

Tip 4: What About Ice?

You have to first think what makes good ice…

Why not go a get a piece of ice, place it in your hand and see how long it takes to melt?

Thick, chunky, solid ice — so cold your fingers stick to it — will take the longest time to melt and give bartenders ultimate control over the dilution and temperature of their drinks. In contrast, poor quality ice is easily chipped and feels wet to the touch, melts extremely quickly, overly dilutes drinks and gives little control over temperature.

Many of the best bars use solid blocks of ice and carve their own shapes, tailoring their ice cubes to different drinks and glassware.

However, it is important that bars using these methods maintain high levels of hygiene. If you see a bartender manipulating ice with his bare hands, then handling money and making a drink again without washing his hands, do you want that drink?

We have a duty of care to our guests and I would advise any bartender to use a cloth napkin to hold the ice and make sure to wash their hands before they physically touch ice. You wouldn’t want to see a chef handling raw chicken and then making you a salad would you? The same goes for bartenders. There is no excuse not to be clean and safe.

Tip 5: Shake It Like It’s Hot

First of all, ask yourself the question - why do we shake?

Well for me it’s for one of the following reasons: to combine ingredients, lower the temperature of a drink, dilute your ingredients or to create texture by introducing microscopic bubbles.

Different styles of shaking and different equipment affects the dilution and temperature of a finished drink — everything from the size, shape and material of a shaker to the quantity and shape of ice used, the length of time a cocktail is shaken for and the specific way in which it is shaken can make all the difference.

There are several different techniques but the basic idea is that the shaker is ‘whipped’ between specific points, rather than simply being shaken back and forth along the same axis.

This technique endeavors to closely control the way ice cubes travel inside the shaker so that each corner of each ice cube makes contact with each part of the shaker internally to ensure a precise chill and level of dilution.

The idea of a “dry” shake has also become popular for drinks that require egg white. This means that the cocktail is shaken twice—first without any ice (hence the term ‘dry’) to emulsify the drink and then again with ice to chill and dilute it.

For me, I feel this isn’t a necessary step if you want to simplify the process - one less shake means a little less mess. After all, without ice the shaker does not seal as well as it does with ice inside.

I have also seen bartenders shake a drink with a single, large piece of ice. Again, I think this is not necessary from my experience — the drink will not be aerated properly and there is less chill because there is less surface area on the ice.

My thoughts are let’s not re-invent the wheel…simply stick with good quality ice cubes!

Tip 6: Glassware 101

The glass is just as important as the liquid it contains.

As well as looking good, the shape, style, material, weight and balance of a glass can affect how we perceive a drink and the way its flavors fill our palates.

That is why it’s important to serve a particular drink in a particular glass. Choose your glass carefully; the emphasis should be on elegance, balance and a design appropriate to the drink being served in it.

Salvatore’s Favourite Serves…

Now that you’re up to scratch on his top tips, why not try out some of Salvatore’s recipes? Here are just a few of his classic serves.

The Old Fashioned



- 1 white sugar cube

- 4 dashes bitters

- 1 dash soda water

- 1 slice orange

- 1 cherry


Place the sugar cube in the base of an old-fashioned glass. Soak with the bitters and a dash of soda water, then crush the sugar with the back of a bar spoon. Add one third of the whisky and two ice cubes. Stir again then add more ice and another third of the whisky. Stir and add one more ice cube and the remaining bourbon. Decorate with half a slice of orange and a cherry.

Va Va Voom

- 1.25 oz SMIRNOFF® NO. 21 Vodka

- 0.25 oz passion fruit syrup

-1.25 oz apple juice

- 0.25 lime juice

- 4 fresh mint leaves

- 1 apple fan

- 1 sprig of mint


Pour all the ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Shake hard to break the mint and pour over crushed ice into a highball glass allowing the mint to come through. Garnish with apple fan and a sprig of mint. Serve with a straw.

Sunshine Martini

- 1.25 oz GORDON’S® Gin

- 0.25 oz orange liqueur

- 0.25 fresh lemon juice

- 1 bar spoon thin cut orange marmalade


Pour all the ingredients into a shake filled with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Shred some orange peel on the top of the drink as garnish and serve.

All drink recipes within this site contain no more than 0.6 fl. oz. (14 grams) of alcohol per serving, equivalent to one standard U.S. drink.

Salvatore Calbrese is not only one of the world’s leading bartenders he’s also a bartending consultant and the former president of the Bartender’s Guild in the UK. Keep up-to-date with him on social media @cocktailmaestro and Salvatore “The Maestro Calabrese” on Facebook.

SMIRNOFF, GORDON'S and JOHNNIE WALKER BLACK LABEL words and associated logos are trade marks (C) Diageo 2015.