Flair bartending, or - as it has also been called - freestyle bartending, comes in many different forms. So, to answer this properly, we first need to unpick the question.
According to the dictionary, to do something with flair (in general) is to act with style or originality, so flair bartending is essentially preparing and serving drinks with panache.
Of course, upon hearing the term “flair bartending”, most people immediately picture bartenders throwing multiple bottles or cocktail shakers in the air with the precision and reflexes to rival those of a Formula One racing driver. This is what we call exhibition or show flair. This is the extreme end of the flair bartending spectrum, but, to answer our title question in full, we have to examine the other types of flair bartending.
One of my favourite things to do when I am giving a presentation is to ask everyone to put one hand in the air and lower it when they relate to what I’m saying. I then ask questions like: “Who has ever thrown and caught a shaker or glass behind their back?” Some people lower their hands. I move on to other questions such as:
“Who has balanced a bottle on the back of their hand?”
“Have you performed a long/high pour?”
“Who has thrown something in the rubbish bin from a distance?”
“Have you tossed bottles or equipment from one bartender to another to speed up processes?”
“Who has thrown a cocktail and tried to make it look stylish?”
Eventually, everyone will lower their hand because they will have all tried one of these things. It is natural for bartenders to want to add their own style and originality to techniques and this essentially makes them flair bartenders.
The bartenders who take it to the next level, practicing new ideas, moves, or sequences, move up to working or craft flair.
Working flair is where flair bartending started back in the 80’s. It is the tricks and movements you see a more practiced bartender perform whilst working behind a bar. These could involve: throwing and catching glassware or bottles; flipping bottles directly into a pour; pouring from bottles in a stylish way; pouring multiple cocktails at the same time; and so on… Working flair should not slow down service but draw attention to the bar and entertain guests whilst they watch their drinks being made.
More recently, the term craft flair has emerged and refers to a more ‘stylish’ form of working flair. You will rarely see bartenders using craft flair throw bottles but you will see them finding smooth ways to liven up their techniques. For example, how they add ice to their shakers, twist a jigger in their fingers, spin a bar spoon, or throw a cocktail…
So, let us return to the original question “what is flair bartending?”
“Flair bartending is the manipulation of bar tools and ingredients in a stylish way to produce amazing cocktails. Flair bartending should elevate a bartender's technique and create a sense of excitement to enhance the guest’s drinking experience.”
Remember: everyone is a flair bartender, they just don’t know it yet.
Fancy turning your hand to some flair tricks? Try our working flair course...