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 Tending Bar: Shots & Layered Drinks

Find popular layered drink recipes here.

Once you know how to pour shaken cocktails, most shots become quite easy - you simply shake the alcohol and strain into a shot glass. Layering alcohols on top of one another, however, is much more difficult.

Building layered drinks requires a steady hand, patience, and a peaceful environment where you won't be bumped and the table won't vibrate. The recommended equipment for layering drinks is a bar-spoon and a pousse cafe mug or pony glass, but you can also layer drinks in a shot glass or any other narrow glassware. Additionally, you are best off if you also have a serving pitcher in addition to your glassware.

When layering a drink, be sure to always pour in order from heaviest to lightest. We list several alcohols in order of weight here.

Layering a drink is easiest if you measure each successive liquor into a measuring glass, and then use the measuring glass to pour the liquor along your bar spoon and into the serving glass. The bar spoons twisted handle will allow you to slow the progress of the alcohol from the measuring glass to the serving glass and minimize the amount that your two ingredients will mix. The goal is to pour the successive ingredients so gently that they don't break the surface tension maintained by the previous ingredient, which should mean that the two liquids won't mix at all. There are two ways to use a bar spoon, and we explain both here.

Take your bar spoon and flip it both horizontally and vertically from the way that you would normally hold a spoon so that the bowl of the spoon is in your hand opposing your index finger. Nestle the twisted portion of the spoon over the pouring lip of your measuring glass, and place the end of the spoon against the inside of the pousse café glass. Holding the concave spoon portion of the bar-spoon will make it harder to use it to eat your Cheerios, but should give you more control over the speed of the pour and the orientation of the bar spoon. If the alcohol is not already pouring along the length of the spoon, slowly increase the angle of the spoon and measuring glass until the alcohol begins to trickle down the length of the spoon into the drink.

If this is done slowly enough, your second layer of alcohol should have trickled onto the top of the first and should float lightly on top. If the drink you're making has more layers, continue to use the measuring glass and slowly pour the drink. As you gain experience, you will be able to speed up the process a bit, but you'll never be able to build layered drinks quickly.

The other way to use your bar spoon is to push the flat back of the bowl against the inside of the serving glass, but to otherwise use the spoon in the same way, slowly pouring the liquid down the handle and now onto the bowl. The idea is that the alcohol will slide and spread out on the back of the spoon and, more spread out, will not strike the lower layer of alcohol as quickly. Although this method proves more difficult as you have less control over the spoon, it also offers a faster way to pour these challenging drinks.

Next steps:

This article is the seventh article in a ten article series designed to transform people new to drink mixing into competent bartenders. Click for the next article in the series, Flaming Drinks.

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