Mixology vs Bartending: What’s the Difference and Does it Matter?

Today Is: Sunday, Sep 24

Mixologist vs Bartender

The nuances of bartending may completely escape the normal customer chugging down a beer or sipping cocktails. However, for those on the other side of the bar counter, the differences between a Mixologist and a Bartender can be as wide as the Mississippi.

While these terms are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to two distinct professions in the world of hospitality and beverage service.

The difference between a bartender and a mixologist

A bartender is usually interacting directly with customers while a mixologist usually does a lot of their magic behind the scenes, though they might sometimes take on a bartending role.

A bartender is someone who serves drinks at a bar or restaurant. Their responsibilities typically include taking orders, mixing and pouring drinks, serving beer and wine, and in-house cocktails, sometimes with a great flourish that can awe us, mere mortals. Bartenders need to have a good understanding of various types of alcohol, mixers, and garnishes and a solid understanding of the basics of bartending techniques, like shaking, stirring, and straining.

Mixologists focus more on crafting new cocktails or putting their own signature twists on existing ones. To come up with new cocktail creations requires a combination of creativity, experimentation, and knowledge of flavor combinations and techniques.

Some iconic drinks like “Hanky Panky” – a mixture of gin, vermouth, and the “secret ingredient” Fernet Branca were a concoction from Ada Coleman in 1903, the head bartender at The Savoy, London – one of only two women who have held this position in the iconic hotel. In those days, the term mixologist had not yet made its entrance.

Closer home, Dale DeGroff – the King of Cocktails – made the “Cosmo” the definitive take on modern cocktails. Its popularity soared after Madonna was photographed drinking it in the Rainbow Room at the Rockefeller Center in the 1990s.

A mixologist then is also a bartender but one who specializes in creating and mixing cocktails. Mixologists are usually highly skilled at combining various spirits, juices, syrups, bitters, and other ingredients to create complex and unique drinks. They must also have a strong knowledge of the history and culture of various types of cocktails and the ingredients that go into them. Mixologists often work in high-end bars, nightclubs, or restaurants that place a premium on creative and innovative cocktail menus.

In short, while both bartenders and mixologists work in the field of beverage service, mixologists are specialized bartenders who focus on creating and mixing cocktails with more complexity and creativity. In contrast, bartenders typically focus on serving beer, wine, and simpler drinks.

Some common methods mixologists use to create new cocktails


1. Flavor pairing

Mixologists may experiment with new flavor pairings, combining ingredients that complement or contrast with each other in interesting ways. They may draw inspiration from different cuisines, spices, fruits, and herbs to come up with unique combinations. For instance, a Spicy Margarita is a new take on a classic margarita made with tequila, lime juice, and triple sec, but with the addition of muddled jalapeño peppers to add a spicy kick.

2. Ingredient substitution

Mixologists may also experiment with substituting traditional cocktail ingredients with less common or unexpected ones. For example, using infused liquors, unusual syrups, or homemade bitters can add complexity and depth to a drink.

One classic example of a mixologist coming up with a new recipe by substituting ingredients is the creation of the “Corpse Reviver No. 2” cocktail. This classic cocktail dates back to the early 20th century and was originally created as a hangover cure and is made from equal parts gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, and lemon juice, with a dash of absinthe.

However, during Prohibition in the United States, some ingredients such as absinthe and Lillet Blanc were difficult to obtain, leading mixologists to experiment with substitutions.

One notable substitution was the use of Cocchi Americano as a substitute for Lillet Blanc. Cocchi Americano is a similar type of aperitif wine that has a bitter and herbal flavor profile similar to Lillet Blanc. The resulting cocktail became known as the “Corpse Reviver No. 2 Variation” and has since become a popular variation of the original recipe.

3. Technique innovation

Mixologists may also experiment with different techniques for mixing, shaking, stirring, or garnishing cocktails. For example, using a smoking gun to infuse cocktails with different flavors or techniques like fat-washing or barrel-aging can create unique and complex flavors.

4. Collaboration

Too many cooks do not always spoil the broth or the drink in this case, because mixologists also collaborate with other industry professionals, such as chefs and sommeliers, to create new drinks. This can lead to exciting and unexpected flavor combinations and new techniques.

Have you tried the Pencillin Cocktail? It is a great example of collaboration creating something brilliant – The “Penicillin” cocktail, was created by a group of bartenders in New York City.

Here is a bit of history (proving why mixologists need to know the history of every cocktail). In 2005, a bartender named Sam Ross was working at a cocktail bar called Milk & Honey when he came up with the idea for a new cocktail that combined scotch, lemon, honey, and ginger. He shared the recipe with his colleagues, including a bartender named Don Lee, who suggested adding a float of Islay scotch on top of the drink to give it a smoky finish.

The recipe continued to evolve as the bartenders shared it with their colleagues and friends in the industry. Eventually, the recipe was perfected, and today, Penicillin is considered a modern classic cocktail and is served at bars around the world.

Finally, the proof of the cocktail is in the drinking and mixologists often rely on customer feedback to refine and improve their creations to perfect innovative and exciting drinks that appeal to a wide range of customers.

Popular Cocktails in Each State of America

Mix and Twist: How to Train to Be a Mixologist

There is no formal education required to become a mixologist, though a prerequisite to serving alcohol is a bartending license. There are also cocktail certifications that you should look into getting to start you off on the road to becoming a mixologist. These courses can be found at bartending schools, community colleges, and even culinary schools. There are also advanced courses for bartenders in Molecular Mixology to learn cocktail chemistry and the scientific techniques involved.

If you are starting out, first get a bartending license or servers license from a reputable source that is approved by the State Department of Revenue or a similar authorized body.

The requirements for a bartending license, also known as a “liquor license”, vary by state and local jurisdiction in the United States.

TN liquor laws state that in Tennessee, bartenders and other alcohol servers are required to obtain a state-issued server permit before they can legally serve alcohol. To get your ABC license, ABC Permits offers the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) approved,

AIM to Serve Program developed by experts. The bartending school offers skill-based training through interactive ABC online and ABC Permits classroom training. We have multiple class dates and times in a variety of cities.

Here are the basic rules for obtaining a server permit in Tennessee

  • Applicants must be at least 18 years old to obtain a server permit in Tennessee.
  • Applicants must complete an approved responsible alcohol service training program, such as the TIPS program, or ServSafe Alcohol program, or the award-winning Aim To Serve program taught by Alcohol Intervention and Management LLC. The Aim to Serve program is voted by the serving industry as the “go to” alcohol training program in Tennessee.
  • After completing the training program, applicants must pass a written exam on responsible alcohol service and Tennessee liquor laws.
  • Applicants must submit an application through the RLPS ( Regulatory Licensing and Permitting System) and pay a $20 fee to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The application process is only online now as of 2018.
  • Server permits are valid for five years and must be renewed before they expire. You must reapply through the RLPS system, and retake the approved Alcohol Training program through the Aim To Serve program for the fastest and easiest process to recertify for your server permit in Tennessee

It’s important to note that TN liquor laws are quite strict and violations can result in fines, suspension, or revocation. Contact us at ABC Permits to get started on getting your server permit.

Chris Phillips

Cofounder of Aim To Serve, a training company for the hospitality industry.. Founded 20 years ago, AIM To Serve is a leader in responsible alcohol training and continues to create content that is relative to the challenges in the service and sales of alcohol. We educate restaurants, bars, and hotels on responsible service of alcohol.

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