This past fall I took the B.A.R., Beverage Alcohol Resource, five-day course in New York. The course has two levels- "Ready" and "Certified", with the only difference in the number of drinks one has to make within a certain time on the practical bartending exam. The course ran for about 12 hours each day for the first four days, with nearly a full day of testing on the last day. It was a real butt-kicker.
People seemed to come away with different impressions of the course, but what stuck out most to me was what you need to know not just to pass the class, but to say that you're at an expert level in the industry. It's a lot. You need to know:
- The science and history of fermentation and distillation from the dawn of time
- The history, ingredients, geography, and practical and legal production rules for every major category of spirits
- The entire history of bartending and individual history and timelines of dozens of important cocktails
- How to blind taste and identify spirits, quality of distillation, barrel type and age, and other production parameters, down to individual brands and bottlings
- How to balance drinks, mix drinks, make them fast and of the highest quality possible while providing top quality customer service
- How to create new drinks and tweak existing ones based on different mixological strategies
- How to blind taste and critique cocktails
I took 76 pages of notes in those four days, after having read and studied the textbook, attended dozens on lectures by the instructors, read zillions of books, and passed the BAR Smarts course before the course. We sampled a few hundred spirits blind, I practiced bartending until my shoulder ached from shaking, and still tried to find time to study each night before passing out.
I decided to attempt the BAR Ready certification, thinking that I knew so much about the history and production rules of spirits that I wouldn't have to even study for that part of the test. (Boy was I wrong about that.) Luckily if you don't make all your drinks in time to be BAR Ready you can still pass BAR Certified. And I did, which is awesome.
My takeaway from the course is not just the new information and skill set gained during the week, but knowing what it takes to stay on top of things going forward: A great and constant amount of work tasting, testing, practicing, learning, and reviewing what you think you already know.