Cocktail language can seem intimidating for those new to the bar scene, but there’s no need to be nervous. We’ve decoded common bar buzzwords so you can feel confident ordering or mixing up your favorite cocktails. Use this cocktail lingo primer to impress your friends or to let your bartender know exactly how you like your drink.
A drink served “neat” is a simple pour of the spirit straight. This preparation (or lack thereof) is the purest way to experience a spirit since it’s sipped with zero added mixers, ice, garnishes, or water to affect the taste. “Neat” drinks are sipped and savored, usually from a rocks glass (with no ice), and are a favorite way to enjoy premium-level spirits, especially whiskeys.
Check out these great spirits for sipping neat:
Order your drink “up” if you want it chilled — but not served — with ice. “Up” drinks are prepared by shaking or stirring ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with ice until they are well chilled. Then, the mixture is poured through a cocktail strainer into a glass, usually a coupe or Martini glass, before serving. This allows the drink to be served chilled without being diluted by ice in the glass. Popular cocktails served “up” are Cosmopolitans and other types of Martinis.
Give your best shake with these chilled cocktails served up:
On the Rocks
“On the rocks” is another way of saying with ice cubes. A great example of this is when you order a Margarita “on the rocks” instead of frozen. This is how most basic mixed drinks are served since the melting ice doesn’t affect the overall drink too much. Vodka crans, whiskey and cola, and gin and tonics are served this way, usually in a rocks or highball glass, while spritzes are typically served “on the rocks” in wine glasses.
Here are some popular drinks served on the rocks:
With a Twist
For drinks “with a twist,” bartenders often peel off a section of an orange, lemon, lime, or other citrus fruit’s rind and literally twist it just above the glass to release the peel’s essential oils. Then, they add the peel to the cocktail. This adds an extra aromatic and faint citrus flavor to the cocktail. Cosmopolitans, Old Fashioneds, and Palomas are common drinks served “with a twist.” Twist drinks are served in a variety of glassware ranging from Martini and coupe glasses to rocks and highball glasses. It all depends on the drink.
To add a little citrus flare, try these cocktails that call for a twist:
Shaken vs. Stirred
A certain secret agent has made these two styles of cocktail preparation famous (although his preference for a Martini “shaken,” not “stirred,” has stirred up quite the debate among bar professionals). When a cocktail is “shaken,” it’s mixed in a shaker with ice and shaken vigorously until chilled. Shaking with ice partially dilutes the overall flavor of the cocktail, affects drink clarity, and can produce froth. “Stirred” cocktails are mixed more gently with a cocktail spoon, leaving the cocktail undiluted and appearing clearer in the glass after being poured. Most commonly, coupe or Martini glasses are used for shaken or stirred cocktails.
Here are some cocktails done up both ways for when you’re behind the bar:
Dry vs. Wet vs. Perfect Martini
Several iterations of the Martini exist — espresso, vodka, Manhattan, to name a few — but the O.G. Martini is simply a drink made of gin, dry vermouth, and a garnish — usually an olive, cocktail onion, or citrus twist. The difference between a “dry,” “wet,” and “perfect” Martini depends on the gin-to-vermouth ratio. A “dry” Martini calls for a 5:1 ratio of gin to dry vermouth, while a “wet” Martini includes a larger quantity of vermouth, mixed in a 2:1 ratio of gin to dry vermouth. The “perfect” Martini follows the same 2:1 ratio but splits the vermouth component to contain equal parts dry and sweet vermouth. The classic “V’” shaped Martini glass may be one of the most recognizable types of cocktail glassware behind the bar, though bartenders may also use a curvy coupe glass for serving Martinis.
Test out different types of Martinis with this collection of alternative Martini glasses:
One of the most popular ways to order a Martini is “dirty.” This simply means there’s olive brine added to the drink to up the savory salinity. “Dirty” Martinis are served in Martini glasses with an odd number of olives as a garnish. You can get creative by using olives stuffed with different kinds of goodies like blue cheese, garlic, or pimento.
Snag these standout Martini glasses for serving up dirty Martinis:
You know how you like your favorite cocktail served — now you know how to ask for it like a pro, so next time you can order your drink with confidence just the way you like it.
This article is sponsored by The Bar.
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