Whether you are a seasoned professional or someone just getting interested in mixology, I highly encourage you to check out the BarSmarts™ program. Led by the famed team of partners of Beverage Alcohol Resource (BAR), LLC, Dale DeGroff, Doug Frost, Steve Olson, F. Paul Pacult, Andy Seymour and David Wondrich, BarSmarts™ was designed exclusively for Pernod Ricard USA and aims to deliver the most comprehensive spirits and mixology education available.
Summit Sips is Now Certified
I just completed the BarSmarts™ WIRED certification course and I thought I’d write a few words about this program. First of all, I have always been curious about bartender certification and I have a lot of respect for everyone in the trade that can successfully navigate a busy night behind the stick. Managing customers several bodies deep, staying on top of wait staff orders and keeping track of tabs and cash transactions—all while maintaining a watch on customer behavior and consumption—seems like a hectic environment to make a buck. It can be a lot to handle and comes with some serious legal and economic responsibility since the bar is often the primary revenue stream for both restaurants and drinking establishments.
Not long ago, A friend of mine completed a state-certified bartending program and felt that it was lacking in many ways. That program focused on speed, efficient technique and drink recipe memorization rather than history, product knowledge, and creativity. Although I recognize a business’s need to move product and to do so in a way that gets the job done quickly, safely and economically, I was more interested in understanding spirits, how products are made, how they compare, why one might cost more than another, the importance of fresh ingredients, how to balance flavor, and most importantly—how to build a delicious cocktail, be it a classic or a contemporary riff. This focus on quality and ingredients was much more important to me than learning how to accurately free-pour.
If you are lucky enough to live in a major metropolitan area where the BarSmarts™ team is giving live instruction, you may be able to request an invitation to their BarSmarts™ ADVANCED program. This course includes a live hands-on day and is by far the best way to learn, as it allows you to see, smell and taste your way through. For those of us in the Twin Cities (or anyone else who can’t make the trip to a live program), BarSmarts™ WIRED is the same material but with an online version of the live program, complete with well-written workbook modules, suggestions for tasting spirit “flights”, and a series of online videos. In addition to these materials, each registration includes a terrific set of tools, hand-selected by the instructors. If you are just starting to collect equipment, this may be the perfect starter kit. If you already have some basic tools, this kit is great for when you are on-the-go since it includes everything you need and a convenient tote bag. The WIRED registration fee was $45 and included the bar tools shipped. You could easily spend more than this on the tools and bag individually plus shipping, and all of the program knowledge you will obtain makes this a real bargain.
The WIRED program registration is only open for a couple of months periodically throughout the year. The next registration opens in July. The curriculum is divided into four modules, each building upon the last. Starting with the history of mixology and the basics of spirits and distillation and ending with technique and specific cocktails and their origins, you’ll have 30 days to complete your journey. While the WIRED course is designed to be completed online, you can download all of the materials and videos ahead of time so you don’t need to be connected to the internet the entire time. I put the workbook PDFs on my iPhone as well as the accompanying videos so I could work on this anywhere. At the end of each module, however, I needed to complete a quiz online. After completing all four modules you will use their unique Drink Builder website to create cocktails for the final. Once you have passed all four modules and the Drink Builder exam, your course is complete.
I really enjoyed the reading material, and although I missed the benefit of live interaction, I found that the videos were professional and to the point. I was surprised at all of the detail they were able to pack into a relatively small amount of material. This translates into value—you’re not wasting time on frivolous text, but rather exploring important details of each topic. I liked that I could move at my own pace as well as download everything to work offline. Having a month to complete the course is plenty of time. Anyone genuinely interested in the material will gobble up every tidbit of knowledge. The quizzes are fair and not difficult if you have read the material and watched all of the videos. Someone dedicated enough could conceivably zip through everything in just a few days, but spacing it out allows you to think about what you have learned and to review the details before each module quiz. I like how the modules are organized, and given that the instructors are some of the most respected personalities in the mixoloverse, I trust that the historical details are accurate.
Finally, the fact that registration includes a set of tools is just icing on the cake. It’s one thing to describe and even demonstrate the items you need, but to collect them for you send them directly to your home is, well, an unexpected bonus. The tote bag and everything that goes into it has become an evolving side project for me. I am already adding items to the bag such as little bottles of bitters and a cutting board, but for the most part, this is the portable tool set I needed to make cocktails on the go. Now, instead of bringing wine to a dinner party, I bring a cocktail—along with all of the tools I need to pull it off. In that way, BarSmarts™ just keeps on giving, bringing others to mixology by way of my mobile tool set!
Let me know if you decide to try BarSmarts™ this summer. You can sign up at www.barsmarts.com and they will email you when online registration is open. Let me know if you have questions about my experience with the program, or, if you have already taken the WIRED or ADVANCED courses, post your thoughts or comments below.
In case you wondered. . .
BarSmarts™ is a registered trademark of Pernod Ricard USA. All course materials, videos and details described here are intended as an objective review by paid and registered participant, Randy Hanson of SummitSips.com without solicitation, endorsement or request. That’s right—this was an honest review and I’m not getting anything at all for recommending BarSmarts™ WIRED. While I’m at it, I’d like to urge everyone to drink responsibly.