If you’ve ever set foot in a bar, you’ll have heard certain terms thrown around by customers and bartenders alike. Phrases such as “on the rocks”, “straight up”, and “a dash” are fairly well known by most. Yet there are plenty of mixology terms that bartenders and hobbyists in cocktail mixing should know.
Why Learn Mixology Terms?
As mixologists or professional bartenders, we need to be able to follow recipes and instructions quickly and easily, so we can deliver our guest their thirst-quenching, delicious drink.
Often, these instructions will use mixology terms to describe measurements, ingredients, or options for making a drink based on your guest’s preference. For example, if they prefer only a small amount of mixer.
Those of us who are really ambitious, may want to make our mark in the bartending and mixology world. We may enter competitions or join mixology clubs nearby so we can mix (pun intended) with like-minded drink artists. If we do this, we need to know our mixology lingo, or else risk looking like an amateur.
Of course, if you’re just started a new bartending job you’ll also need to be familiar with all of the words and phrases customers may use to ask for their drink of choice.
So, with this in mind, we’ve pulled together every single bartender and mixology term we can think of so you have a handy go-to dictionary.
If you’re new to mixology and cocktail-making, you can use this list rather than endlessly Googling, ‘what does [enter mixology term here] mean?’.
Common Bartending & Mixology Terms
- Alcohol - the ingredient in a mixed drink that gets you drunk, technically known as Ethyl Alcohol. Alcohol is made when yeast ferments the sugars in grains, fruits and vegetables.
- Bitters - a selection of liquor and herb mixers used for cocktails and mixed drinks alike to add additional flavour.
- Condiment - in the mixology world, condiments are added to mixed drinks as salt and pepper would be to a chef’s meal. Typical condiments include fruit, hot sauce, syrup, and bitters.
- Cordial - in the US, cordial is used interchangeably with the word liqueur, meaning it is a sweetened distilled alcoholic drink. However, in the UK cordial is used for any particularly sweet non-alcoholic drink which can form part of a mixed drink i.e. Vodka and Lime Cordial.
- Garnish - usually an edible item, such as fruit, which is added to a mixed drink mainly for appearance.
- Grenadine - a sweet syrup made from pomegranates.
- Gomme - A different take on the typical sugar syrup, Gomme syrup includes the ingredient gum arabic which prevents the sugar from crystallizing.
- Infusion - adding an ingredient to a drink for a set period of time to allow the flavours of that ingredient to infuse into the drink, before removing the ingredient before serving.
- Liqueur - a distilled alcoholic drink that is usually sweet and provides flavour to a drink using oils and extracts. See also ‘Cordial’.
- Liquor - an alcoholic drink made of grains or other plants that are fermented into a potent drink such as brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, and whiskey. Liquor itself is usually not sweet unlike liqueur.
- Mash - When crushed malt or grains and water is transformed into fermentable sugar. Alcohol is distilled from the fermented mash.
- Mezcal - Often confused with tequila but the two are different. Mezcal is a Mexican spirit made from the Agave plant. Tequila is a form of mezcal.
- Premium - Liquor that has been manufactured to high standards i.e. distilled multiple times to provide a better quality product.
- Rail drinks/well drinks - popular spirits and mixers, typically low-cost, that are kept on an easily accessible rail behind the bar for ease of use by the bartender.
- Schnapps - A type of alcohol flavored with fruit and spices.
- Seltzer - similar to soda water except seltzer does not include minerals.
- Spirit - Used interchangeably with the word liquor to describe any alcohol that is unsweetened.
- Sugar syrup - Like it says in the name, this is a syrup made from dissolving sugar in water.
- Top shelf - usually used to refer to premium liquor options that are often kept on display on the top shelf of a bar rather than on the rail.
- Wedge - a chunk of fruit added to a drink, usually as a garnish.
- Wheel - a circular cut of fruit added to a drink, also usually as a garnish.
- Aging - when distilled spirits or wine are stored in wooden barrels for prolonged periods of time in order to remove unwanted flavours and add an essence of wood.
- Blend - to use an electronic blender to mix ingredients until they are smooth.
- Burnt - when a small dash of scotch is added to a mixed drink.
- Chill - adding ice and water to a glass and allowing it to sit for a few minutes whilst mixing a drink.
- Cooler - mixed drinks with fairly low alcohol content and usually come premixed in bottles, such as a Vodka Cooler.
- Dirty - when olive brine is added to a mixed drink, usually a Martini.
- Distilled - fermented products are heated to separate the alcohol from the water, which purifies the final product. Generally, liquor distilled multiple times is more pure and therefore better quality.
- Express- to squeeze the rind of a fruit peel so the oils are teased to the top, adding flavour and scent to a cocktail.
- Flame - when flammable liquor is set alight prior to drinking, such as a ‘Flaming Sambuca’.
- Flairing - when preparing drinks with crowd-pleasing tricks and showmanship, for example by spinning and throwing bottles.
- Float - the art of layering a drink by preventing two liquids from mixing. First a heavy ingredient is used, then a lighter liquid is poured over an upside-down bar spoon so it floats on top.
- Free pour - to pour liquor without using a measurement tool.
- Frost - a glass that’s been dipped in water and frozen so it is frosted.
- Layered - the technique of creating drinks with layers of ingredients which do not mix, such as a float.
- Mist - liquor served over crushed ice.
- Mixology - the art and science of preparing mixed drinks.
- Mocktail - a non-alcoholic cocktail.
- Muddling - the technique of mashing fruit or herbs using a bar muddler so that their flavours are released into the drink.
- Open them up - usually used to refer to bourbons, to ‘open them up’ means to add water or ice to relax the flavours after being in a barrel.
- Rim - to coat the rim of a cocktail glass in sugar or salt.
- Rinse - as you’d expect, this means to rinse out a glass before preparing a drink, however, to ‘rinse’ you use a small amount of alcohol.
- Shake - to use a cocktail shaker to mix ingredients by shaking. See the types of shaker under ‘Tools’ below.
- Stir - to mix ingredients by stirring with a spoon.
- Strain - the process of removing any small objects or particles from a served drink by pouring into the glass via a strainer (see ‘Tools’). You can also double strain using two different types of strainer at the same time.
- Twist - adding citrus flavour to a drink using the peel of a fruit as a garnish, often lime, lemon or orange.
- Wet/Dry - usually used to refer to a style of Martini. A Wet Martini contains more vermouth, while a Dry Martini contains less.
- Virgin - a mixed drink that does not contain alcohol.
- ABV - Alcohol by volume; the term used to describe the percentage of alcohol within a spirit or fermented drink.
- Back - similar to a ‘chaser’, a back is a drink ordered to immediately drink after another, such as a shooter.
- Dash - a very small amount of an ingredient with no set measurement.
- Dram - to take a small sip or drink of alcohol.
- Fifth - one fifth of a gallon or 750ml of a liquor bottle.
- Measure - the standard amounts by which we pour and serve alcohol.
- Optic - a tool used to hold and release set measurements of liquor, as opposed to pouring by hand, which can speed up the preparation process and ensure accuracy.
- Pony - a one-ounce shot of alcohol, also known as a ‘pony shot’.
- Proof - the American standard for measuring the alcohol content in a distilled spirit or liqueur. The proof of alcohol is twice the amount of the alcohol percentage.
- Shot/shooter - a small serving of alcohol intended to be drunk in a single gulp.
- Splash - more than a dash but less than half an ounce of an ingredient, usually used to refer to the mixer i.e. a splash of tonic water.
- Bar spoon - a long-handled spoon, usually twisted for extra grip, used to stir mixed drinks.
- Drip tray - the tray that sits beneath tap dispensers on a bar to collect and drain wasted liquid.
- Citrus squeezer - a tool used to quickly squeeze fruit and release juices.
- Garnish tray - a convenient bar tool used to store and dispense condiments and garnish.
- Ice dump - the tray used to store ice on the bar.
- Jigger/double jigger - a measuring device, which is shaped like an hourglass, and it is used to make sure that the right amounts of alcohol are added to every cocktail.
- Lowball glass - short and wide glasses that hold 4 to 10 oz of liquid. It’s also known as a ‘rocks glass’ as it is used for drinks with only a few ingredients and served over ice.
- Muddler - a tool used to mash fruit, herbs and sugar to release flavours.
- Shaker- a tool used to combine and mix ingredients by shaking. There are three main types of mixology shaker; the Boston shaker, Cobbler shaker and the French shaker.
- Shot/shooter glass - a small glass designed to contain a single or double measure of alcohol.
- Speed liquor pourer - a metal nozzle that is inserted into a liquor bottle to help with pouring speed and measurement accuracy.
- Speed rail - a tool used by bartenders to store the most popular liquor bottles for fast drinks preparation.
- Strainer - a tool used to prevent unwanted ingredients or particles entering a mixed drink and to ensure the liquid is smooth to drink.
- Tap - when a liquid is dispensed from a permanent fixture on the bar rather than directly from the bottle.
- Tongs - a tool used to pick up and carry ingredients such as ice and fruit as opposed to using hands.
- Long drink - an alcoholic drink served in a tall glass which is typically less strong than a short drink.
- On ice - to keep a drink chilled by surrounding it with ice.
- On the rocks - an alcohol drink served with cubed ice.
- Neat - another term for liquor served without any mixer or ice, usually at room temperature.
- Nightcap - a drink taken shortly before bed in the hope of achieving a better night’s sleep.
- Short drink - an alcoholic drink served in a small glass which is typically stronger as a result.
- Sour - a family of mixed drinks that typically include lemon or lime juice.
- Straight - a liquor served without any mixer nor ice.
- Straight up/up - a drink that is chilled by shaking or stirring and then poured into a long-stemmed glass.
- Angel’s Share - the part of a spirit that naturally evaporates while aging in a barrel.
- Aperitif - generally a drink that is consumed before dinner which is seen as an aid for the aperitif.
- Call drink - to order a drink by specifying the exact brand of liquor you would like.
- Chaser - to follow one drink immediately with another, usually following a shot or shooter.
- Digestif - a drink that is consumed after dinner to aid with digestion and settle the stomach.
- Prohibition - from 1920 to 1933 the production importation, transportation and sale of alcoholic drinks was illegal. This period of time is known as the Prohibition Era.
- Well drink - to order a drink by specifying the liquor type but not the brand, which usually means you are served ‘house’ or the most popular spirits.
Have we missed any mixology terms you’ve come across while practising your skills or visiting a bar? Shout them out in the comments below and we can add them to this list!