As a bartender, there are thousands of terms that you may come across on a daily basis. Combine that with a loud environment and under-the-influence customers and you’ve got a recipe for confusion.
That’s why, memorizing a handful of key bartending terms will give you a headstart into your bartending career so you don’t start off on the wrong foot.
Below, we have broken up the bartending terminology into two sections.
Section one will contain bartending lingo that are “must knows.”
Section two contains other useful but not as necessary terms that bartenders should be aware of.
Let’s get started…
Must Know Bartending Terms
Up vs. Neat vs. On the Rocks
If there is a set of bartending terms that gets more bartending newcomers tripped up than any others it is the difference between Straight Up, Neat, and On the Rocks.
Here is a quick explanation:
- Neat: A shot served room temperature without any additives
- Up: A cocktail chilled and served in a cocktail glass without ice.
- On the Rocks: A cocktail or spirit served on ice
Well vs. Call
A well drink (or rail drink) is a cocktail using a lower quality spirit. It’s name comes from the well/rail that is immediately behind the bar and is in easy reach of the bartender. Well liquor usually consists of no-name brands that are used when a customer doesn’t name a spirit for their drink (for example a “Gin and Tonic”).
A call on the other hand is a drink in which the customer “calls” out the liquor that they would like included in their cocktail. Call drinks typically consist of higher quality (top shelf) liquors. For example, a patron may call out that they want a “Jack and Coke.”
Pony vs Shot vs Jigger
A pony, shot, and jigger are all references to different amounts of alcohol. Generally:
- A pony shot (aka “pony”) is 1 fluid ounce
- A shot is an informal term referring to a small amount of alcohol. Shot glasses range from 1 oz – 1.5 oz, but are generally 1.5 oz
- A jigger is a precise measurement meaning 1.5 oz of alcohol
Other Bartending Terms
ABV (AKA proof)
Short for ‘Alcohol by Volume,” ABV is a standard measure describing how much alcohol is in a certain liquor.
A bar spoon is a piece of bartending equipment that is used when needing to stir a drink rather than shake it. It is also sometimes used when layering(see below) a drink. A bar spoon is generally made of stainless steel and has a long handle in order to reach the very bottom of a glass.
Bitters (which aren’t always bitter) are a handy tool in every bar. Generally sold in a small bottle, they are used to add flavor to cocktails. They are made by infusing a spirit with aromatics and botanicals such as, spices, tree bark, roots, seeds, and fruits. You can consider bitters like seasoning for your drink. The most famous and ones that you will most likely see behind a bar are Angostura and Peychaud’s.
Chaser (AKA back)
A chaser is generally a small drink that is taken immediately after taking a shot to help wash it down. Common chasers include beer, soda, or even pickle juice and bloody mary mix.
Making a drink dirty refers to the act of adding something other than the essential ingredients to a drink to slightly change the taste or color. The most common reference of dirty refers to adding olive juice to a martini.
Dry is very simply the opposite of sweet. It’s primarily describes the “mouthfeel” of a drink that is lacking sugar. Dry, may also refer to the addition of a dry vermouth to a drink.
Expressing is the act of adding a peel of a citrus to a drink by squeezing the rind so that the oils of the fruit spray on top of the drink. It’s used to add extra flavor to the drink while also giving the drink a nice aroma. Common citrus for expressing includes oranges and lemons. Bartenders will often rub the peel around the rim of the glass before adding it to the cocktail.
A jigger is one of the most handy tools for a bartender. Shaped like an hourglass, it’s used to make sure that you pour the correct amount of ingredients into every drink. The standard jigger measures 1.5oz on one side and 1oz on the other.
Also known as stacking, layering a drink is where a bartender adds ingredients of different densities to give the drink a layered look.
Drink mixers are very simple. They are essentially any non-alcohol ingredient added to a mixed drink to change or enhance the flavor.
To muddle a drink is to use a specialized tool (a muddler) to press ingredients against the sides of a glass before adding liquid ingredients. Muddling allows ingredients to blend together with the alcohol more consistently.
To add a twist to a drink is to take a piece of citrus zest and add to a cocktail as a garnish. The default is usually lemon peel. They are usually added for decoration or to add flavor (see ‘expressing’ above)
Simply, a virgin drink is an exact version of a cocktail, but without the alcohol added. You may also hear the term ‘mocktails’ or “near beer” when referring to beer without alcohol.
86’d (AKA eighty-sixed)
A slang term that refers to when an item is no longer available on the menu. It could refer to a certain ingredient liquor brand, but it mostly refers to an exact cocktail.
Ethan Hansen says
I found it interesting how you mentioned how a well drink is a cocktail using a lower quality spirit. My son has been looking to get into bartending, but he never knew the difference between a well drink and a call drink. I will be sure to pass this information on to him so he can have the best bartending experience possible!