The Booze Thesaurus

Here’s to elevate you to the upper echelon of cocktail ordering.

Jargon is technology. Language was created for communication, and sharing a set of vocabulary makes it all the more efficient. A drink order to a bartender needs to be a particularly quick and clear statement. If not, you’re going to look like an amateur, and you’re not going to get the drink you want. And the booze snobs will rub it in your face.

So learn these fundamentals of the bar lexicon. You’ll look like a smart, sophisticated drinker, and more importantly, your drink will be served the way you want it.

Aperitif: Alcoholic drink intended to stimulate the appetite, usually dry rather than sweet. Classic apéritifs include dry white wine or Champagne, cocktails that include vermouth or bitter spirits like Campari and wine-based liqueurs like Dubonnet or Lillet.

Bitters: An aromatic botanical or herbal infusion used to add flavor to cocktails and mixed drinks. These are sometimes alcoholic, sometimes not.

Back: A small, non-alcoholic drink, like water or soda. Sip it alongside a drink you ordered neat.

Bruised: A cocktail or martini is “bruised” when it’s been over-shaken, adding slivers of ice and oxygen bubbles to the drink that give it a murky or cloudy appearance. Among pros, bruising cocktails is considered the mark of an amateur.

Chaser: A small, tasty drink to take directly after shooting something straight.

Cocktail: People call any mixed drink a cocktail, but that’s not actually accurate. Sugar, water, spirits, bitters. Technically a cocktail needs those four elements. A vodka and soda is not a cocktail. A Manhattan is a cocktail.

Dirty: Includes a splash of olive brine that “dirties” clear spirits. The term is mostly used with reference to martinis, but any clear booze (vodka, gin, white rum or tequila) can be ordered dirty.

Dry: Very little or no vermouth in a martini. May also refer to less mixer in a mixed drink.

Finger: A very informal measurement. Put your finger horizontally on the side of the glass and pour your booze until it reaches the top of your finger. That’s one finger.

Highball: Any spirit served with ice and a mixer in a tall glass (typically a highball glass).

Lace: A half ounce of whatever you want on top. Or it may refer to the final ingredient of a drink that is pour on top and not stirred in.

Long: Means served in a tall glass. Generally mixed with juice or water.

Neat: A spirit served straight out of the bottle and into a glass, unmolested. No ice, water, nothin.’ “Lagavulin, neat.”

One and One: A liquor and mixer, neither of which are specific brands. (ie. Gin and Tonic, Rum and Cola).

Over: Means “on the rocks,” or poured over ice.

Rinse: A small amount of liquid that is used to coat the inside of the glass and give a hint of flavor. “She made an amazing Sazerac with an absinthe rinse.”

Rocks: Ice. On the rocks would be over ice.

Short: Served in a short, rocks glass. “I’ll take a negroni, short.”

Sling: A cocktail without bitters, so it’s just sugar, water, and spirits. Sweeter, generally.

Sour: A short drink consisting of liquor, lemon/lime juice, and sugar.

Spirit on Spirit: A drink that has only spirits—no juice or sugar added. Strong.

Squeeze: A piece of citrus (lime, lemon, orange) that is squeezed over then dropped in.

Stirred: A drink that is stirred, not shaken, and then strained.

Straight Up: Straight = Cold, without ice. Up = stemmed glass. Straight up = a drink that is shaken or stirred with ice, then strained in an empty stemmed glass. Often confused with “neat,” but not the same.

Sweet: Extra simple syrup in a drink or extra sweet vermouth in a Manhattan.

Top: A half ounce of whatever you want on top.

Topless: No salt on the rim of your margarita glass.

Tot: A small amount of spirit. “Just a tot of brandy, please.”

Twist: A citrus peel twisted over the drink, to express the oils, and then dropped in.

Unleaded: Non-alcoholic. Sans booze.

Up: Served in a stemmed glass.

Virgin: A mixed drink without alcohol.

Wet: Extra mixer or extra vermouth in a martini.


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