If you're looking to upskill, add style & increase tip potential, look no further than flair bartending.
A behind-the-back toss of a shaker, a flick of the wrist with an ice scoop, a catch of a bottle on a forearm. These are just a few of the moves used by flair bartenders to add a little excitement to alcohol service. In this article, we’ll look at what exactly bartending with flair is, what you'll need, and five moves you can master.
What is Flair Bartending?
Flair bartending – sometimes known as flairtending or extreme bartending – is a skilled practice, combining alcohol service and entertainment. It involves preparing and serving drinks with stylized moves that require balance and concentration, all to delight onlooking guests or customers.
There are two types of flair bartending. The first refers to moves you can use every day, called “working,” and the second is “exhibition” and it is used in competition. The difference between the two types has to do with the level of difficulty and risk in the moves being performed.
Flair Bartending – Early Days and Today
According to the World Flair Association, flair bartending is thought to have originated in the 19th century by a man named Jerry ‘The Professor’ Thomas, who poured fiery streams of boiling water and flaming whisky to create the first custom drink. Then, in the 1980s, a man called John Bandy, employee of the company T.G.I. Fridays, decided to liven things up and began experimenting with tools and tricks to increase the entertainment factor when serving his customers.
Flair bartending then found itself in the spotlight in the 1988 movie Cocktail, featuring a 20-something Tom Cruise in one of his first roles, performing all manner of tricks behind a bar. John Bandy, now known as “the Grandfather of Flair”, choreographed and taught Cruise and the other actors in the film.
Today, flair bartending is widely popular and there are associations all over the world dedicated to the practice. As mentioned, an aspiring flair bartender can master this artform for their everyday work, or go on to compete against others in their field.
What You’ll Need
To become a successful flair bartender, there are a few things you’ll need. First of all you need the right equipment. The most common equipment for flair bartenders are juggling bottles and a Boston shaker – a sturdier, weighted style of cocktail shaker. If you’re just starting out, you may want to invest in practice bottles, which are lighter than regular glass bottles and easier to work with. In addition, you can leverage some of the equipment you likely already have, including spoons, jiggers, napkins and more.
In addition to the equipment, you’ll need patience. Mastering flair bartending will take time, and many bottles will fall. As you’re starting out, it’s important to ease in, and tackle tricks step-by-step to develop the movement and balance required to build up your expertise and confidence.
5 Beginner Bartending Tricks
We’ve compiled a list of five popular flair bartending tricks for beginners. Remember: slow and steady as you begin!
1. The Ice TossSince ice is often the first step of mixing a drink, why not add a little flair right away? For this trick, you’ll throw an ice cube from behind your back, over your shoulder to then catch it in your glass or tin. Start with an empty glass and grab an ice cube with tongs or a scoop (definitely not your bare hands). Place your hand behind your back, hovering below the opposite hip, and toss the ice upward. You might have to take a slight step back or forward as the ice is in the air to position the glass or tin for the catch.
2. The Tin SpinQuick but fancy, the tin spin involves holding a shaker tin on its side, then flicking your wrist in a quick movement, almost like you’re throwing a frisbee, to spin it on your palm. The key to mastering this trick is to keep your thumb flat so the tin can complete a full rotation without getting stuck before you catch it. You’ll also want to make sure you roll the tin on the ball of your palm, as opposed to your fingers or the heel of your palm.
3. The Arm RollSleek and smooth, the arm roll is a great way to start a routine. The concept is a two-step move that begins by holding a shaker tin horizontally with the back of your hand facing up. The first step is to toss the tin into the air with a flick of your wrist to create a rotation during the toss. Then, extend your arm (palm still facing down) so that the tin lands on your hand when it comes back down. Because it’s already rolling, thanks to the stellar toss, it will roll down your forearm. Once the tin hits your elbow, make sure your other hand is at the ready to catch it.
4. The Three-Shot PourThis move involves stacking three tins and pouring them simultaneously. It’s an efficient and eye-catching way to pour multiple drinks. Start by lining up three rocks glasses. Then, fill each of the tins with the required amount of liquid and enough ice so that when you stack them, the rims will line up with the centers of each glass when you tilt the stack to pour. Without tilting the shakers enough that the liquid comes out, you can check the distance of each tin and either add more ice or adjust the spacing of the glasses to ensure they line up. Then, put your strainer on the top tin and tilt the stack so that the liquid pours into each glass. Once you’ve mastered three, you can always add more.
5. The Thumb RollThis last move is great for sequence transition – that is, when you’re moving from one trick to the next and you want to keep people engaged in your movement. A thumb roll involves pushing the tin with your thumb so that it rolls around your thumb before you catch it with the same hand. To complete the move, push the tin outwards with your thumb and let it rotate while keeping your thumb against it. It’s a quick and easy move to master.
Learning the techniques of flair bartending is really enjoyable and an excellent way to expand your knowledge and skills – an important step in becoming an effective bartender. Once you’ve mastered these basics, you can advance to more skilled moves like stalls and juggling.
To learn more about becoming a bartender, check out our complete bartender how-to guide. For more information on Userve’s alcohol server courses, visit our course page by clicking below.