How to Order a Drink Like a Pro

The Spirit's Guide to Bartender Terminology


Bad cocktail experiences often begin with a failure to communicate. When it comes to ordering -- or creating -- an amazing cocktail, it's best to be at least a little versed in basic bar terms. Especially if you're in the habit of ordering obscure drinks, you'll increase your chance of getting what you love by knowing how to describe what you want.

Do you prefer your Manhattan up, or your Rob Roy perfect? Your martini shaken or stirred? Knowing the basic mechanics of cocktail creation is your first step towards receiving a drink you'll enjoy (and staying on good terms with your favorite bartender).
A drink -- either alcoholic or non -- to be consumed directly after a shot. This can also be referred to as a back.

To layer one type of liquor (or other ingredient) on top of another; the separation occurs due to the different densities of the liquids.

A decorative piece of fruit or other solid ingredient not incorporated into the drink.

A liquor served solo in the glass, with no ice or other interfering ingredients.

On the Rocks

A single spirit or a cocktail served over ice.

Similar to "on the rocks": a liquor or mix of liquors served over ice cubes.

A perfect Manhattan (or Rob Roy, for that matter) contains equal parts of sweet and dry vermouth (instead of selecting one or the other.)

In a mixed drink, where the ingredients are combined in a cocktail shaker, typically over ice. Leads to a frothy, well-integrated final product.

Typically a fruit juice -- lemon or lime -- added to a spirit as a mixer.

A small amount of any mixer (soda, say) added to a completed drink.

Integrating spirits and mixers without the extreme, ice-breaking agitation of the cocktail shaker.

Straight Up
A spirit with no ice. Used interchangeably with "neat."

A slice -- or curl -- of lemon peel run along the edge of the glass, and often left as garnish.

Shaken or otherwise prepared with ice, but strained (now cold) into an ice-less glass.

Non-alcoholic. Also known as a "mocktail."

A "well" drink is a mixed drink made with generic, or simply unspecified, spirits.

Mentioned in this article


  • Very misleading, yet very informative. While I'm sure you did not invent this "perfect" notion and in fact are only clarifying, to which you have done a great job, I need to ask: why would anyone order a perfect anything? That's like putting a humidifier and a dehumidifier in the same room and letting them fight it out. First of all, I have always felt that the amount of vermouth is a very personal touch and should be measured in a teaspoon or in drops, not a fraction of an ounce. And secondly, adding "perfect" to the name implies quality, not the adulteration by adding ingredients not in the classic recipe. I had a client who preferred his martinis so dry he insisted the vermouth bottle be waved over the top, or, put in the humidifier. Kudos to Spirit, a very informative website.

    Jun 18, 2010 at 7:50 AM

  • Snooth User: koslo
    296314 36

    Speaking of "dry", that is a word that should be on the top of this list. So many people, including some bartneders do not know what dry means. Several times I have ordered a "Extra Dry Martini" and gotten something that was swimming in Vermouth. I when I complained to the bartender, they told me that is what I ordered, a martini with extra (meaning more) dry vermouth.

    Too many people think that dry refers to the type of vermouth used.

    Jun 18, 2010 at 8:28 AM

  • Snooth User: jadenney
    342514 2

    I think this was a great intro to someone who has no bar experience.
    A "perfect" Manhattan is exactly what the recipe shows, it has been around for at least 70 years, probably way longer. Perfect doesn't describe a state of perfection, that is just its name. Likewise, Dry, it has a hundred different meanings when it comes to wines and drinks. If you order a Dry Martini then either the bartender know you well or you have to tell them exactly what you want. Even ordering a Martini can be a challenge since if all you say is that you want a martini you should get 4 parts Gin to one part dry Vermouth. Go into a bar now and if you want gin instead of vodka, you have to order it specifically. Martini is now just a generic part of a name which only indicates that the drink is served in a martini glass. A seafood bar I know offers 21 "Special" martinis. How many have gin? Zero. How many have rum? 4. Go figure.

    Jun 18, 2010 at 9:29 AM

  • Snooth User: solomania9
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    6331 2,963

    Wow - well done. My (irrational?) fear of coming across as a complete idiot while ordering a drink is now significantly less intense. Thank heavens for The Spirit ;-P

    Jun 18, 2010 at 10:17 AM

  • Snooth User: Carly Wray
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    196958 864

    @ Rolf, I totally agree ... it's funny that a subjective term like "perfect" has come to mean a certain mixture of ingredients that plenty of people wouldn't consider ideal! I prefer dry Manhattans, myself.

    Jun 18, 2010 at 11:04 AM

  • Snooth User: dane s
    498189 14

    I've worked in bars as well as restaurants for years, this recipe is anything but "Very misleading, yet very informative." it is straight forward and exactly what a Perfect Manhattan is. The word a "perfect" when referring to cocktails just means it has 1/2oz sweet and 1/2oz dry vermouth.

    Now for an extra-dry Manhattan or Martini I'd normally just rinse the glass with a few dashes of dry vermouth, and tipping it out after you have covered the glass. Leaves it with a nice finish as the vermouth still comes through on the palate but the vodka/bourbon/gin/whatever is still the main character of the drink.

    Jun 18, 2010 at 11:04 AM

  • Snooth User: Carly Wray
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    196958 864

    nice, that's an awesome tip, re: rinsing the glass with dry vermouth. thanks.

    Jun 18, 2010 at 11:15 AM

  • also, minor quibble...i would never use blended whisky here. American always and prefer Rye.

    Jun 19, 2010 at 8:46 AM

  • I encourage all of you to actually taste dry vermouths side by side. Dolin varies greatly from Noilly Prat and M & R...sweet vermouth also. Carpano Antica is a powerhouse of a sweet vermouth and depending on what type of Whisky for Manhattans or Gin for Martinis you are using could overwhelm your drink. Putting dry and sweet together just works and everyone should taste a "perfect" cocktail.

    Jun 19, 2010 at 8:51 AM

  • Snooth User: La Lonza
    143212 53

    The definition for "straight up" seems to be a bit off... "Neat" indeed refers to a spirit from the bottle, no fuss, no muss, but "straight up" is more often used for cocktails rather than solo spirits, to refer to cocktails that are shaken or stirred over ice to chill them, but then strained so there is no ice in the final product. You might have that Perfect Manhattan either on the rocks or straight up, but you couldn't have it neat. Likewise, I could order a dram of bourbon neat (directly from the bottle) or if for some reason I wanted it especially cold, I could get it straight up (chilled on ice then strained)...

    Jun 25, 2010 at 12:04 PM

  • How about three more terms? A silver cocktails means one with egg white, a golden cocktail means one with egg yolk, and a royal cocktail means one with the whole egg.

    Jun 28, 2010 at 7:01 PM

  • Snooth User: chriscap9
    585659 12

    @Rolf and Carlie... the term "perfect" has meant equal parts sweet and dry vermouths for longer than we've been on this planet... that's the way it is deal with it

    Oct 03, 2010 at 2:33 AM

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