When you open a drink menu at a restaurant or bar and see unique, innovative cocktails—like a brown sugar grapefruit bourbon smash or a rosemary black pepper cosmopolitan—you’re probably looking at the work of a mixologist.
Mixologists are the chemists of the cocktail world—they study ingredients, flavor pairings, spirits, and techniques, and then use their knowledge to craft innovative (and delicious) mixed drinks. If you’re interested in mixology as a career path, use this guide to explore job options, salary expectations, and how to learn the craft.
What Is a Mixologist?
Someone who has a comprehensive knowledge of mixed drinks, spirits, flavor pairings, and techniques and uses that information to craft unique and innovative cocktails is considered a mixologist.
Mixologist vs Bartender: What’s the Difference?
In some establishments, the terms “mixologist” and “bartender” are used interchangeably—but there are a few significant differences between the two roles.
A bartender works behind a bar and interacts with guests, generally serving standard drinks, like beer, wine, and classic cocktails, like a gin and tonic or vodka cranberry.
Mixologists may also work behind a bar but focus on developing new cocktails for the bar’s menu, reimagining existing drinks with a creative spin, or crafting personalized mixed drinks based on a patron’s individual tastes. To be able to do this, mixologists must keep up with the evolving field of bartending, ingredients and flavor pairings, and new and traditional techniques for creating cocktails.
How to Become a Mixologist
The path to becoming a mixologist looks different for everyone and may involve taking online classes, enrolling in bartending school, or working your way up from an entry-level bar position.
Taking in-person or online classes is a great way to learn the basics of mixology. For the most comprehensive education, consider enrolling in a local bartending school, where you can learn the basics of glassware and bartending equipment, different types of liquors, recipes for standard cocktails, and drink presentations.
With that solid foundation, you will be ready for mixologist classes, which provide much more detailed instruction around flavor pairings, innovative ingredients, and how to create syrups, tinctures, and bitters to make your drinks stand out.
If you don’t take mixologist classes, there are many ways to use real-world experience to enter the field. Often, you have to start at the bottom by getting a job as a barback (who does all of the manual labor and cleaning behind the bar, but no actual drink mixing) or a hostess at a restaurant with a bar. Over time, you’ll have opportunities to observe and learn from the bar staff, practice pouring drinks, and start experimenting with mixology—and eventually, you can work your way into a mixologist position.
To expedite your experience, aim to find a mixologist mentor who will take you under their wing and help you learn the basics of bartending. Then, practice what you learn at home. Get familiar with flavors, techniques, and types of liquors. As you learn—and display that expertise within your current role—your mentor will grow to feel more comfortable allowing you behind the bar to put your skills to use.
Discover Online Classes in Bartending
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Mixologist Salary: What to Expect
Just like a bartender or restaurant server, mixologists’ salaries often heavily depend on tips. According to Glassdoor, the average mixologist earns a base pay of about $37,000 per year, with an additional $22,000 in tips and bonuses—for a total of $59,000 per year.
While there are no technical requirements for becoming a master mixologist, the title generally refers to someone who has invested years into studying and practicing mixology. Master mixologists may also compete in—and win—cocktail competitions, which can further prove their expertise and boost their professional value.
With those credentials, master mixologists tend to earn a higher salary than novice mixologists. Glassdoor reports that on average, master mixologists earn a base pay of $54,000 with an additional $16,000 in tips and bonuses, for a total of about $70,000 per year.
Depending on the job, a mixologist job description could include anything from sourcing ingredients for seasonal cocktails to teaching new bartenders classic cocktail-making techniques. To help you figure out your ideal role, here are a few common types of mixologist jobs.
One of the most standard mixologist jobs involves working in the same general capacity as a bartender. In most cases, this means working in a bar or restaurant setting and serving guests, with a heavy focus on craft cocktails. While you would likely perform some of the same services as a bartender—cleaning glasses, serving beer and wine, interacting with guests—you will still get the opportunity to create unique, personalized drinks.
A step up from a bartending role, a head or lead mixologist spends less time interacting with patrons and more time creating and managing the bar experience. A head mixologist may create seasonal drinks, order and track inventory, and train bar staff on how to make new mixed drinks. Head mixologists have more control over the general creative direction of the bar’s offerings.
When bars and restaurants want to liven up their cocktail menu, they often bring in mixologists as consultants. As a consultant, you can provide invaluable advice to these establishments, helping them create a well-balanced menu of interesting and inviting cocktails—while also keeping efficiency in mind. Cocktails that are too complicated to make or involve too many ingredients can be unprofitable. As a consultant, it’s your job to help bridge that gap and provide the establishment with the right mix of drink options.
Mixologists can also work as educators for other bartenders and up-and-coming mixologists. A restaurant or bar could, for instance, hire you to teach the staff how to consistently make a few signature cocktails. Or, maybe you teach your own classes—in person or online—to help rising or hobbyist mixologists learn the intricacies of the craft. Some hotels and resorts also hire mixologists to offer short, experiential classes to their guests, who spend an hour or two making and enjoying a couple of unique cocktails.
Get Paid to Craft Cocktails
Getting paid to make cocktails kind of sounds like a dream—but it doesn’t have to be! With the right experience and education, you can make mixology a career. Cheers to that!
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