Monday, August 23, 2010

Lesson 6: Base Liquor Part 1

Hello guys and girls! Welcome back to Free Online Bartending School!

In today's lesson, I would like to go over the base liquor. These are the liquor in your speed rack, and you will be using them very frequently. So to be a good bartender, it is good to know what each one of these liquor looks like, tastes like, and how it mixes with other liquors.

In my previous lesson about the Speed Rack, I've introduced the mnemonic:

"Very Sexy Girl Bartenders with Tight Trousers make Radical Bartender."

And that this is an abbreviation for the following:
  • Vodka
  • Scotch
  • Gin
  • Bourbon
  • Tequila
  • Triple Sec
  • Rum
  • Brandy
  • Dry Vermouth
  • Sweet Vermouth
It is good to know the characteristics of each of these liquors above since you will be working with these liquors throughout your bartending career. Since these liquor tends to mix well with other liquors, liqueurs, and mixes, so I like to call them the base liquor.

I do recommend that you do go out and actually try out each of the liquors above to see what they actually tastes like. A real small sip will be sufficient to understand each of their characteristics that we will cover below. It's always good to go out and figure things out for yourself so that you can internalize your knowledge.


Vodka is usually made from potato, and is clear in color. Compared to all other liquors, vodka tends to have the least flavor and smell. I can go as far as to say that it is almost flavorless and odorless. Of course, it does have that alcohol smell since nothing else interferes with it.

Due to these reasons, vodka is very easy to mix. Since it basically has no flavor, the mix that you put in it will prevail over the liquor. Here are some representative drinks made with a vodka.

Screwdriver: Orange Juice and Vodka
Cape Cod: Cranberry Juice and Vodka
Greyhound: Grapefruit Juice and Vodka
Bloody Mary: Bloody Mary Mix and Vodka
Vodka Tonic: Tonic Water and Vodka

(You don't have to memorize which ingredients go into what yet. That will be covered at a later lesson.)
As you can see, you basically mix vodka with a mix/juice to create a classic cocktail. These drinks tend to be very popular, and its probably because people like the overall taste of the dominant juice (cranberry juice), and do not taste much of the alcohol in it.

People also like the crisp flavor of the vodka, so vodka martinis have become very popular recently. This is especially true today since we now have very good quality vodka readily available. Vodka such as Grey Goose is very smooth and is very easy to drink. Before, vodka used to be poorly made, and was very harsh to drink - similar to drinking rubbing alcohol. I think recently, vodka martinis have become more popular than the original gin martinis due to the reason that there are quality vodka around.

Representative brands of vodka in the United States are:
  • Smirnoff
  • Grey Goose
  • Bevedere
  • Absolut
  • Ketel One
  • Stolichnaya
There are many more brands, but I think the above have been around a while and is widely known. Due to the popularity of vodka in the United States, you will continue to see new brands of vodka pop up each year. If you are able to do so, I would suggest you go out and try out each of the vodka above to see its taste differences. The differences are subtle, but you should be able to pick up on the small taste notes each vodka brings to the table. Easy way to try it all is to buy those small bottles you see when you fly on an airplane.

In addition to the regular vodka, there are flavored vodka available. I think Absolut has done a good job marketing the flavored vodka, and is probably best known for it. Flavored vodka usually have fragrances and flavors infused in it, and have many varieties to it. They are pretty new additions into the bartending scene, and I see exciting new cocktails everyday using these infused vodka.


Scotch in its simplest form is whiskey made in Scotland.

You've probably heard of single malt scotch. This will likely conjure up images of rich, Wall Street types drinking it with a cigar.

There is single malt scotch and blended scotch. Scotch is usually an expensive liquor since it has to be aged to get that color, and make it taste good. It has a distinguishing flavor to it, and does not tend to mix well with juices or sodas. Also, due to its cost, it is better to enjoy scotch on its own rather than to dilute its flavor which took years to develop.

Most of the times scotch is prepared:

Neat: A shot without ice or anything

Straight Up: Though bartenders and customers use this term differently, it is meant as mixed up with ice and strained. However, in a scotch situation, the customer may mean he wants it "neat" so be sure to check with them.

On the rocks: With ice

With water: Scotch and water

Scotch is a drink that is best to be enjoyed on its own.

However, for cheaper blended scotch, you can mix it with coke to do kind of like a coke and whiskey. I do however discourage this practice.

Notable brands of scotch in the United States are:
  • Jonnie Walker
  • Cuty Sark
  • J&B
  • Chivas Regal
  • Bowmore
  • Glenfiddich
  • Glenmorangie
  • Glenlivet
  • Oban
And actually many more. There are many many producers of scotch whiskey that connoisseurs like to enjoy.


Gin is a liquor made from a variety of combination of spices, with juniper berry being the most noted flavor in it. Gin has a very herbal flavor to it, and it is a bit of an acquired taste for some. Also due to its
herbal flavor, it is relatively difficult to mix.

Due to this reason along with others, Gin has been losing popularity to vodka in the present bartending scene.

I personally am a big fan of gin, and am a bit disappointed to see that there are not as many choices when it comes to buying gin compared to vodka.

Representative gin drinks include:

Gin and Tonic: Tonic water and gin
Gin and Juice: Orange juice and gin
Gimlet: Gin and lime juice (Rose's)
Gin Rickey: Gin, lime juice (Rose's), and soda water
Martini: Gin, Dry vermouth, and olives

There are many other gin cocktails, but they tend to be lesser known, and only a real cocktail buff will come up to you and order it.

Some notable brands of gin in the United States are:
  • Beefeater
  • Bombay Sapphire
  • Tanqueray
  • Gordon's
There are a few others, but as mentioned, gin in general lack the variations of brands enjoyed by other liquors.

Okay, I think this post is getting a bit long, so I'm going to make this into a three part series so that I can cover each one in detail.

Till next time, good luck studying, and Cheers!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Most vodkas on the market are actually grain – namely wheat – based, not potato. In fact none of the representative brands you list are potato vodkas they are all made from grains. Potato vodkas include Chopin and Luksusowa....


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