The drinks world is certainly not a simple place. When I first started learning some bartending basics I felt incredibly overwhelmed. But after months of teaching myself, and a summer working at a drinks website called PUNCH, I feel qualified enough to give you a rundown of the bartending basics that every college student should know. 

Essential Tools

If you've never made a real drink before, picking out what tools to stock your home bar with can be pretty intimidating. However, having the right tools on hand can make or break your drink. These bartending basic tools include:

A Shaker

beer, tea, espresso, coffee
Emma Glubiak

Investing in a stainless steel cocktail shaker is the first step towards being a legit adult when it comes to making drinks. There are two kind of shakers. The first is the cobbler shaker, which includes a barrel, a lid, and a strainer and is easy to find in pretty much any home ware store.

Then there is the Boston shaker, which is what many bartenders use and it comes with just a barrel and a mixing glass, so you have to buy a strainer separately. Personally, I find the Boston shaker more difficult to use, but many people prefer it.

Wine Opener and Bottle Opener

This is pretty self explanatory, but I'm constantly shocked by the amount of college guys I see opening bottles using the side of a table. Bottle openers are like a dollar, invest in one.

Jigger or Measuring Glass

This is essential if you want cocktails with correct ratios. Leave your days of pouring vodka into a cup directly from the handle behind you. A jigger usually comes with a half ounce measurer on one side and a two ounce measurer on the other.

Bar Spoon

If you are making a stirred drink, you need something to stir with. Enter the bar spoon. It's long and has a flat head, which makes it perfect for stirring drinks. I do confess, I have stirred drinks with a regular spoon before, but a bar spoon always yields better results.

A Muddler

There is no replacement for a muddler. It's a long stick with a flat round head that mashes fresh herbs and fruits to get optimal flavor out of them. As a lover of cocktails with fresh fruit, I can't imagine my kitchen without a muddler.

Drink Styles

As someone who turned 21 within the last year, I understand the stress of walking up to a bar and feeling like an idiot. Don't panic and order a vodka soda, I've got your back. If you learn these bartending basics you'll be a pro in no time. Here's a rundown of the most common types of drinks. 


A shaken cocktail is exactly what is sounds like: a cocktail that you make in your shaker. Drinks should be shaken if they contain cream, egg whites and citrus because if they aren't shaken the ingredients won't combine properly. If a drink calls for soda or anything with bubbles, add that last.

Victoria Guo

Drinks that are heavy on the booze like martinis and Old Fashioneds should be stirred rather than shaken so that aeration doesn't occur.


alcohol, strawberry, vodka, tequila, ice, juice, lime, cocktail, watermelon
Sammy Mintzer

Frozen drinks are blended with ice, so you'll need to invest in a blender if you are planning on whipping up a lot of these. Crushed ice blends best and will give you perfect frozen margaritas and frosé.

alcohol, tea, juice, liquor, cocktail, ice
Kristine Mahan

A built drink is a drink you can make right in the glass that you will drink it in. It doesn't need to be shaken or stirred and they often have very few ingredients.

Kinds of Glasses

Believe it or not, not every drink belongs in a solo cup. Different drinks are meant to be served in different glasses. While asking a beginner to stock up on every kind of glass is crazy, here are the four that you should definitely invest in. If you want more info on why the glasses are shaped differently, check out this explanation on why cocktail glasses are different sizes.

Rocks Glass

alcohol, ice, cocktail, juice
Shannon Daly

A rocks glass is the glass you see old guys drinking scotch from in the movies. It's the perfect glass for serving spirits neat or for cocktails like Negronis or Old-Fashioneds.


lime, lemon, ice, tequila, alcohol, liquor, juice, cocktail
Jesse Hayes

The coupe is truly a jack of all trades. It's meant for drinks like Manhattans, but you can also get away with serving martinis and champagne in this versatile glass.

Wine Glass

liquor, beverage, cheers, glass, wine, alcohol, red wine
Caroline Ingalls

At this point in your life, you really don't need a set of red and a set of white wine glasses. Invest in a set of stemless glasses that will work for either.


holding a cocktail, bloody mary, Cocktails, vegetable
Alexandra Redmond

This is a classic glass for a mixed drink that has a lot of non-alcoholic mixers. Think mojitos or Moscow mules.

Cocktails You Should Know

So now that you have all your supplies, how do you decide what cocktail to make? Out of the thousands of cocktail recipes in the world, these are the ones that every self-respecting drink lover should know.


martini, ice, cocktail, coffee

This classic drink with hundreds of riffs is a must-know. A typical recipe is:

3.5 ounces vodka or gin

1 ounce dry vermouth

A martini should always be stirred in a chilled glass. You can prepare any number of riffs on the martini in order to add flavors you enjoy. For example, this recipe includes pomegranate juice.


cocktail, lemon, citrus, sweet, juice
Felice Segall

A good Negroni is one of the best things in the world. The drink recipe is easy to remember because the ingredients have a 1 to 1 to 1 ratio.

Simply combine:

1 ounce gin

1 ounce Campari

1 ounce vermouth

In a rocks glass over ice, stir all three ingredients and garnish with an orange twist. Check out this Spoon contributor's version of a Negroni.

Gin and Tonic

A G&T is a classic cocktail that couldn't be simpler to make. The ingredients are:

2 ounces gin

3-4 ounces tonic water


Simply pour the gin and tonic in a Collins glass over ice and stir gently. Garnish with a lime wheel. Here are the strongest gins in the world for if you are looking to get extra crunk.


tequila, alcohol, juice, lime, ice, cocktail
Sarah Atallah

Save yourself some major dollar bills by making your margs at home. The ingredients are as follows:

1 ounce lime juice

1 1/2 ounce tequila

1 ounce triple sec

1/2 ounce simple syrup

Salt or Sugar

This margarita recipe is simple to make and you'll be whipping up margaritas in no time.

Whiskey Sour

ice, milk, cocktail, juice, cream, sweet
David Wu

The Whiskey Sour is another simple, yet classic cocktail you should add to your repertoire. Here's the easy recipe:

1 1/2 ounce whiskey

1 ounce lemon juice

3/4 ounce simple syrup

1 cherry

Add all the ingredients into your ice filled shaker. Shake them, then strain into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cherry. If you are a visual learner, check out this video shows you how to make a whiskey sour.

#SpoonTip: If you'd like to learn about more classic cocktails, check out this list of 21 cocktails to know before you turn 21.

If you ever have a question at a bar, don't be scared to ask the bartender. Unless it's a packed bar they will likely be more than willing to help you out. 

Hopefully these bartending basics will send you on your way to becoming a cocktail master. I only included the essentials on this list so definitely only use it as a starting place for your bartending learning experience.