Have you ever been to a bar and hear a friend or colleague order a "whiskey straight up with a twist", or dropped some other fancy term that you didn’t understand? How about not knowing the right way to order a drink? Not to worry, because we bring you a handy list of bartending terms that will make your time at a bar much easier!
Where it All Started!
The first ever book related to alcohol and cocktails in the U.S. was written by a man named Jerry Thomas in 1862, called “The Bar-Tender’s Guide”. He is regarded as the “Father of American mixology”, and was reverently called “Professor” Jerry Thomas.
If you are a frequenter of bars and pubs, or at least and an alcohol enthusiast, then you might have come across common bartending terms like “Scotch Neat”, or “Dirty Martini”, or something like “Martini Straight Up”. You might have wondered then what the big difference was, but guess what, there is! When you’re at the bar ordering a drink, you must know how to order the drink you want. This includes what you want and how you want it. The business is fast-paced, and no one is waiting on you while you stand there thinking “I want some Martini, but without much Vermouth, with some olives, and some lemon twist, and …” You have to know precisely how to ask for your libation (yes, we were getting fancy!) the right way. And in the event that the bartender were to ask you how you wanted it, you must be able to understand what in the world he was trying to tell you!
So, we are here to make your life simpler, your outings more chilled out, and make you the coolest alcohol buddy in your circle! We bring you your very own guide through the different bartending terminologies, from the different types of liquor, to the way it is served, the quantity that is served, the equipment that bartenders use, and pretty much everything else we could think of!
A to E
■ 86: When an item is removed/dropped off from a menu, it is said to have been “86’d”. It gets its name after the address of Chumley’s Bar in Greenwich Village, where the term originated.
■ 110: If you’re applying for the bartender’s job, and your potential employers don’t want you, but also don’t want to let you about their decision, they scribble 110 on the resume. This is essentially, a “NO” that is missing the middle line. (Slick? Maybe not!).
■ A.B.V: This is an abbreviation for Alcohol by Volume. It is basically the percentage of alcohol contained in a drink, and is half the value of the drink’s Proof (which we explain later).
■ Absinthe: This green alcohol is notorious for various rumors regarding its aftereffects. It is considered to have a hallucinatory effect that accompanies the intoxication. Despite much proof of the same, it was banned in many countries owning to this (not really) (a) fact.
■ Ale: This is warm, top fermented version of beer, which gives it a higher sugar content.
■ Apéritif: This is a drink that is usually served with a meal, to trigger the taste palette.
■ B.A.C: This is an abbreviation for Blood Alcohol Content.
■ Back: Much like the chaser, a back is a small portion of a light beverage that comes with the drink.
■ Backbar: Have you seen the area of the bar, where all the liquor bottles and glass are stashed and displayed up against the wall? This is called the backbar.
■ Bang!: When you taste a triple flavor in a cocktail.
■ Bar Spoon: A long spoon that bartenders use to measure and pour spirit or other additives in your drink.
■ Bitters: Added as a mixer in many a drink, this is a herbal alcoholic essence that is extracted from a mixture of the Gentiana flower and other herbs.
■ Blend: A drink that is mixed in an electric blender.
■ Blended Malt: Refers to Scotch that is made from a mixture of a couple of different malts that is taken from different distilleries.
■ Boston Shaker: The glass which is used to build a drink and is later covered with a shaker to mix the drinks is known as the Boston Shaker.
■ Bourbon: This is a spirit distilled from corn. The corn content needs to be 51% in order for it to be considered a Bourbon in America.
■ Brandy: This is alcohol that is distilled from grapes (wine).
■ Bruise: When a drink is mixed with excessive ice, the resulting drink appears to be murky because of the excess melting of the ice. This is known as bruising.
■ Behind the Stick: This is a phrase used when you go around to the bar and do your own round of bartending. The “stick” in the phrase might be a reference to the Beer tap handles.
■ Box: A box is another name for “roll” or “rolling” a drink. See below for description.
■ Buck: A tall drink made with a spirit, ginger ale, and lemon juice.
■ Building a Drink: This is the act of making a drink, starting with the ice (if required) and subsequently adding each of the liquors and mixes, based on the recipe of the drink in question.
■ Burn the Well: Fully melting the ice is known as burning the well.
■ Buy Back: If you have been, or are a good customer (meaning you tip well!) or a regular at the bar, you might sometimes get a complimentary drink, on the house!
■ Call Drink: A call drink is one where the brand of the alcohol is defined, followed by the mixer. So if for example you wanted rum and coke, but you wanted a specific brand, you would order it as “Bacardi and Coke”. If you don’t specify a brand, you are generally served a well drink (explained below).
■ Cask Strength: Used mostly while testing whiskey, one that has been left in a cask for long contains 60 to 65 ABV.
■ Chargeback: Sometimes, due to intoxication, an unknowing mistake, or scamming by a bartender, there might be a dispute over the credit card transaction. This is known as chargeback.
■ Chaser: A chaser is a mixer that is generally consumed after taking a shooter, shot, or a neat drink. This could be a beer, water, soda, juice, or some light beverage.
■ Chill: A glass which is chilled with ice, washed out with some cold water and left for a minute. The drink is then poured into the glass.
■ Church Key: A funky key that is used to pry open beer caps, and was invented in 1898.
■ Cider: Fermented apple juice mixed with sugar and spices.
■ Cloudy: Excessive shaking of a martini causes the drink to look murky. This is known as a cloudy martini.
■ Cobbler: Drink poured over shaved or crushed ice in a tall glass.
■ Cocktail: If we were to ask what a cocktail was, most people would say that is a drink with a mixture of different liquors, mixers, or garnishes. But on a more technical note, a drink can be called a cocktail if it only contains the 4 major ingredients: sugar, bitters, water/soda/juice, and liquors. So while a Bloody Mary is a cocktail, a Vodka Soda isn’t.
■ Cognac: Brandy that is made and exported exclusively from the town of Cognac in France.
■ Collins: This is a cocktail that contains a sour mix and some soda and served in a tall glass.
■ Comps: This refers to a complimentary drink offered by the bartender.
■ Cooler: A mixture of soda, ginger ale, a lemon twist, and spirit that is served in a tall Collins glass. It could also be an alcoholic beverage with fruit essences or other flavors. Example Breezers, Wildberry Cooler, Smirnoff Ice.
■ Cordial: Liquor made with fruit pulp, herbs, berries, and juices.
■ Costing: This refers to the breakdown of the cost of each of the components of a drink, which is down to ensure proper pricing of the drink to maximize profits.
■ Cover: This refers to the total head count of the guests that are dining/being served drinks.
■ Crusta: Another cocktail that contains sour mix, in a glass that is lined with a continuous strip of an orange or lemon peel.
■ Cup: A cup is similar to a punch (which has alcohol!) and is served in small cups or glass, instead of in a punch bowl.
■ D.D: Abbreviation for Designated Driver.
■ Daisy: Another sour cocktail, this one usually contains rum or gin, which is sweetened with some fruit syrup and poured over crushed ice, and a straw to go with it.
■ Dash: ⅛ of a bar spoon, or a few drops of the spirit, if you will!
■ Deep: This is a measure of how crowded the bar is. If you were to say the bar is “2-deep” it means that there are 2 rows of customers in front of the bar, waiting to be served.
■ Digestif: This is a drink served after a meal, and is the sweeter counterpart of an apéritif.
■ Dirty: Have you ever wondered what the “dirty” is in a Dirty Martini? This is basically the addition of olive brine into the drink, which increases the bitterness.
■ Ditch: A drink mixed with water.
■ Doghouse: The lower portion of a bar where extra alcohol is stored is known as the doghouse.
■ Double: When you order for a double, say “Whiskey Double”, you essentially get twice the measure of the spirit, while the mixer content remains the same.
■ Drop: This is the total cash sales turned into the house at the end of a shift.
■ Dry: Want a Martini Dry? You will then be served a drink where the quantity of Vermouth is reduced. If you’re talking about wine, dry wines are less sweet. And if you’re talking about champagne, then it means the opposite, i.e., it tends to be sweeter than a normal champagne.
■ D.U.I.: Something you do not what to be caught doing. It stands for Driving Under the Influence. The B.A.C has to be between 0.5 and 0.8 (this varies with every state).
■ D.W.I.: An alternative for a D.U.I. The B.A.C limit is between .10 – .12 (varies again, with the state).
■ Easy: A bit of (whatever it is you’re ordering).
■ Eggnog: A favorite during the holiday season, this is a drink made with eggs that are beaten in with cream, milk and some liquor.
F to J
■ Finger: An informal measurement, finger is placed horizontally along the glass and the drink is poured down to its length.
■ Finish: The vapors of wine that linger after you swallow your drink is known as the finish.
■ Fix: A fix is like the daisy, and is served in a tall glass, over crushed ice.
■ Flame: Those shot glasses that bartenders sometimes light up? This is the flame shot. It is made by adding a high-proof alcohol on top of the drink and lighting it with a matchstick (never make the mistake of using a lighter!)
■ Flat: Lacking enough carbonation.
■ Flip: A flip is a drink containing eggs, wine/other spirit, and sugar.
■ Float: Similar to topping, layering, or lacing, this is alcohol that is poured on top of a ready drink by dripping it gently down the sides of the glass or over the inverted side of the spoon, without being stirred.
■ Frappé: When we think Frappé, we think coffee, but this is also a beverage that has a mixture of ingredients, served over crushed ice, and is usually fruity.
■ Free Pour: When a skilled bartender makes a drink without the use of a measuring device like the jigger or the spoon, it is known as a free pour.
■ Freddy: A slang for a Heineken.
■ Frost: Chilling the glass, rinsing it, and freezing it before pouring a drink is known as frost.
■ Froth: Foam made by shaking a drink that has an added agent. Usually egg whites are used, but chemical substances may also be incorporated.
■ Frottage: Non-consensual grinding by unruly customers on women in a bar.
■ Garnish: Salt, sugar, mint, citrus wedges, and other ingredients used to dress up the drink is known as the garnish.
■ Grat: When the tip is included in the check (to avoid hassles with drunk patrons, or bad tippers).
■ Grog: A grog is a rum-based drink that is mixed with water, fruit juice, and sugar and served in a tall glass or mug.
■ Hair of the Dog: Another name for the Pick-Me-Up (see below).
■ Head: This is the froth that forms usually on top of a draft beer (tap beer). A good amount of froth shows that you have a seasoned veteran pouring your drink.
■ Highball: This is spirit on the rocks that is served with soda, juice, or water in a tall glass. It can also refer to the 8-12 ounce glasses that are found at a bar.
■ I.B.U.: Abbreviation for International Bitterness Unit, which measures the amount of bitterness in a drink.
■ I.D/10-T: Stands for Idiot. (Bartenders can be evil, yeah!)
■ Jack and Jill: Whiskey shot and a beer.
■ Jigger: This is an equipment shaped like an hour glass, where both sides are used to measure alcohol. One side measures 1 ounce, while the other measures around 1.5 ounces.
■ Julep: A julep is a drink made with Bourbon, sugar, mint, and crushed ice.
K to O
■ Kirch: Spirit distilled from blackberries.
■ Lace: It refers to both the final ingredient of the drink, and also the act of topping a drink with a dash or two of some alcohol (which is not stirred in generally).
■ Lager: Cold fermented and bottom beers are known as lager.
■ Last Call: Your last chance to order a drink. Hurry!
■ Layer: Have you ever seen those fancy drinks that have two to three separate layers of different colors? This is known as layering and is done for visual appeal as well as to improve the taste of the cocktail, making you drink the beverage in the right mix and order.
■ Legs: When a connoisseur swirls his wine, he looks at the “legs”, as the wine settles down. This indicates the amount of alcohol in the wine.
■ Lightening: Unrefined whiskey. Often referred to as moonshine or white dog.
■ Lowball: This is a drink that has either soda, water, or juice, and a spirit, served in a small glass with ice (like the rock glass shown below). It can be a reference to the glass itself.
■ Magnum: A 1.5 liter bottle of spirit is known as a Magnum.
■ Malolactic Fermentation: In cooler regions, where the grapes are sour, the malic acid in the grapes in converted to lactic acid, before being turned to wine. This makes it rounder and smooth, and is normally mentioned on the bottle.
■ Mexican Style: A drink layered with Tequila floated on top.
■ Mist: A drink that is poured over crushed ice is known as a “mist”.
■ Mixer: The additives to the alcohol like syrups, soda, etc., is known as the mixer.
■ Mulls: Another Christmas favorite, mulls are either wines or beer that is mixed with spices and sweetened, while being heated. It is served hot.
■ Muddle: Drinks like Mojito contain crushed mint leaves and lemon, which need to be crushed to release the oils in them, thus adding flavor. This processing is called muddling, and is done using a muddler (as shown in the image).
■ Multiple: Any drink with Frangelico floated on top.
■ Neat: One of the commonest terms out there, when a person orders their drink “neat”, it is served at room temperature in a rocks glass, straight from the bottle, and doesn’t contain ice or any other additive.
■ Negus: This is similar to a mull, and is wine that is heated with spices and sugar.
■ Nip: A nip is a measurement of alcohol, and is usually a quarter of the full bottle (⅓ of a pint).
■ Nightcap: When you’re down and out of it, and you plan to call it a day, the final drink you have like a wine or other liquor, before you hit the sack is known as a nightcap! (So now you know what they meant in all those movies!)
■ Nose: The aroma of wine.
■ On the Rocks: Another common term, when you ask for your drink (generally scotch, gin, or whiskey) “on the rocks”, the spirit is poured neat in an old school glass, or a rock glass as shown in the image, over a couple of ice cubes.
P to T
■ Pick-Me-Up: When you are too drunk to deal with your surrounding and are looking for a wake-up call, you order a “pick-me-up”, which is generally a light beverage which negates or reduces the effects of excessive alcohol consumption.
■ Peaty: The smoky quality of scotch.
■ Perfect: A “perfect” drink is one which contains equal parts of both Dry and Sweet Vermouth.
■ Pony: A one ounce shot is known as a pony.
■ Pool: The act of everybody chipping in, in the tipping process, instead of every individual paying alone.
■ Porter: Beer made from a mixture of roasted barley and other ingredients.
■ P.O.S.: Stands for Point of Sale, which is a high-end electronic cash register that comes with accounting, clock in/out system, inventory, and reporting features.
■ Posset: The posset is what inspired the eggnog, and is made out of a heated concoction of ale/wine that is curdled with milk, eggs, and spices.
■ Pousse-café: A layered drink consisting on successive cordial layers, creating a rainbow-like effect.
■ Premium: Like the supercall, this refers to the high-end alcohol available at the bar.
■ Press: This is a mixture of any spirit with 7Up and soda.
■ Proof: It is the measurement of the strength of a spirit, and it is the double the value of its ABV.
■ Puff: A puff is an afternoon drink that is made with alcohol, milk, and soda poured over ice.
■ Rickey: This is a highball drink that is made with soda, half a lime, and some liquor and served in a tall glass. It may also be sweetened.
■ Rim: Those martini or highball glasses you see, whose rims have sugar or salt around it? This is called rimming, and acts as a garnish to the drink.
■ Roll: This refers to a method of mixing the drink, in which the ingredients are added to a glass, gently poured into another, and then refilled back in the first glass. This ensures that the drink is mixed, without being made overly cloudy or letting the ice get too crushed.
■ Round: Several drinks that are ordered by a group of people, which is usually repeated a couple of times. “Another round of the same, please!”
■ Rye: Fermented spirit that is then distilled from Rye grains; needs to contain 51% Rye to be called one in America.
■ Sake: Japanese rice wine.
■ Sangaree: Not to be confused with a Sangria, this is a sweetened wine or spirit that is garnished with nutmeg and served in a tall glass.
■ Sangria: A wine-based drink that is mixed with orange juice, triple sec, and some fruit.
■ Screaming: To add Vodka.
■ Shandy: Beer with Sprite or 7Up.
■ Shooter: A shooter could either be a layered drink or a neat shot of alcohol that is meant to be consumed in a single gulp.
■ Shot: Most of you know this one for sure! A shot is one serving of any spirit (about one and a half ounces approx.) that is served in a small glass (known as the shot glass), and is generally neat. The aim is to gulp the contents down quickly in a single move.
■ Shrapnel: Tips left for the bartender that contain loose change. (Cheap tipper!)
■ Shrub: A shrub is a type of drink that contains spirit, fruit juice, and sugar that is sealed in a cask or barrel and left to age, and is later bottled.
■ Sidecar: A drink made with lemon juice, brandy, and orange liqueur.
■ Simple Syrup: Syrup make with equal parts of sugar and boiling water.
■ Single Malt: Scotch that is made using only one malt from one distillery.
■ Sink: Letting a liquor sink to the bottom, done while layering.
■ Skim: Steal money from the top of the cash register.
■ Skinny: When the sour mix or other high-calorie mixer is left out from the concoction, the drink is called “skinny”.
■ Sling: Served in a tall glass, both hot or cold, this drink contains lemon juice, soda water, and sugar, that is either mixed with whiskey, gin, or brandy.
■ Smash: Similar to a Julep, in this drink the Bourbon can be substituted with any other spirit.
■ Snit: 3 fl. ounces of a spirit.
■ Sour: This type of drink contains lemon/lime juice, sugar, and some liquor.
■ Sour Mash: While producing a spirit, sometimes the fermented grains that contain water and yeast is taken from a previous batch and added to the new one to improve consistency.
■ Sour Mix: Drinks that are sour contain, no drum rolls there―the sour mix. This is made with simple syrup, a frothing agent, and some lemon juice, mixed together.
■ Supercall: Similar to a call drink, this refers to the high-quality, premium liquor that is usually found on the top shelves at a bar. This can be the very strong alcohol, the highly aged ones, or the exotic-flavored ones.
■ Speed Rack/Rail: This is a stainless steel rack leveled usually at the bartender’s thigh, or next to the ice well. This rack contains the liquor that is commonly used, like whiskey, rum, gin, tonic, and vodka, amongst others, as well as a liquor and other ingredients they use to make their signature drinks.
■ Splash: ¼-½ ounce of a spirit.
■ Spotter/Shopper: To make sure the bar is being run properly, sometimes waiters/managers/bartenders (current or former) are hired to pose as “customers”, who then provide the management with their personal evaluation of the services provided.
■ Spring Strainer: This is used to strain the cocktails. See image above.
■ Stone: Any drink with orange juice mixed in.
■ Straight/Straight-Up/Up: If you order your “straight-up” then the bartender stirs your drink with some ice, but strains the ice out and serves it in a chilled glass, mostly the stemware cocktail glasses.
■ Super Premium: Even better than the Premium.
■ Swizzle: This is an arum-based drink that contains cracked ice and served in a highball glass. A swizzle stick is quickly twirled in the drink to form frost, which is where the cocktail gets its name from.
■ Syllbub: This is made with wine that is mixed with spices and either cream or milk.
■ Tab: It is a credit system/open check started when you start ordering drinks. The bartender holds on to your credit card, and you can pay the full amount once you’re done.
■ Tannins: The bitter taste found in grapes that gives it a dry flavor comes from astringent biomolecules known as tannins.
■ Toddy: This is sweetened alcohol that is mixed with hot water and spices, and served in a highball glass.
■ Top: Number of people who can be seated at a particular table. Thus “4-top” means a four-seater.
■ Top-Shelf: The premium alcohol that the bar has to offer.
■ Topless: Martini with an unsalted rim.
■ Tot: This is a measurement term that means, a small amount of alcohol, so you say, “Just a tot of brandy in my drink, please!”
■ Training Wheels: Sides consumed after taking a shot, like salt, lime, juice, etc.
■ Twist: It is the continuous peel of either an orange or lemon, used to add essence to the drink.
U to Z
■ Up Against the Wall: When you want some Galiano liquor (sweet liquor with distinctive essence of Anisette) poured in you drink, you say something like, “Vodka Up Against the Wall”.
■ Unleaded: Non-alcoholic.
■ Upsell: In order to increase sales, bartenders sometimes suggest drinks to guests that are from the top shelf; like the premium and super-premium stuff. This is called upsell.
■ Virgin: This is any cocktail or drink without the alcohol in it. Essentially, a non-alcoholic beverage.
■ Well Drink: We had mentioned a call drink earlier where you specify the brand name of the spirit. If you were to just order “Rum and cola” you will get the bottom shelf, low-end brands that are available at the bar. Basically, neither the alcohol brand, nor the mixer brand is mentioned.
■ Wet: When you want a higher quantity of Dry Vermouth in your drink, it is called, say a “Wet Martini”.
■ With a Bang: Floating Bacardi 151 on a ready drink.
■ With a Zing: Adding Peach Schnapps to a drink.
■ Wounded Soldier: An unfinished bottle of beer.
■ Zombie: A drink containing a mixture of different rums and citrus juices.
After this lesson, you are sure to be a hit at any club, pub, bar, or party hall! Cheers!