Like all professions in the world, the bartender has bar terms and terminology that every good bartender must know in order to do their job well. If you are not “in the know” in bar lingo, you will have trouble accepting orders from customers who are “in the know.” Customers who have been on the bar circuit for a while and have their favorite drinks usually order them in a specific way.

If someone asks for a “dirty martini, rocks”, they are not asking for a martini in a dirty glass with some pebbles; he wants a martini with some olive juice, served over ice. And if a customer asks for a “straight whiskey”, he is not saying that it is great that his bar carries whiskey, but that he is ordering a shot of whiskey without ice.

Learning the bar lingo is not too difficult, especially if the bar terminology is put to the test behind the bar from time to time. For the purposes of this article, we’re just going to list the most popular and widely used bar terms – things you really need to know but may not be able to figure out on your own.

Back: a ‘back’ is when a drink is accompanied by a small glass of mix (such as coke or water). For example, “Vodka rocks, water back”

Build: When you ‘build’ a drink, you prepare the drink, starting with the ice and then continuing to ‘build’ by adding the alcohol, mixes, toppings, etc.

Call drink: A call drink is when the customer calls the specific name of the alcohol and the mixture. For example, “Tanqueray Tonic” or “Bacardi Coke”

Hunter – A hunter, in rod terms, is anything used to ‘chase’ another alcohol, generally used to mask the taste or alleviate the force of what is being chased.

Dirty – Dirty is simply adding olive juice to a drink, usually a martini.

Float: To float something is to put a layer of lighter alcohol on top of heavier alcohol.

Free Pour – pouring drinks without using any kind of measuring device, such as a shot glass, a jigger or a measuring spout.

Frost: some pubs use ice cold beer mugs; These are cups that are dipped in water, drained, and then stored in the freezer or refrigerator to create a frosting on the outside of the glass.

Garnish, anything added to a drink to enhance the presentation, commonly includes cherries, lime wedges, lemon wedges, olives, etc.

Jigger – A measuring device that is shaped like an hourglass that has two different measurements on each side. It is used to measure the amount of alcohol consumed in beverages.

Clean – neat simply means no ice – sometimes called Straight Up

Premium – A premium brand is a higher priced brand of liquor, also called a top shelf

Rim: Rimmed a glass means creating a border around the edge of the glass with anything from salt to sugar to candy. A common rimmed cocktail is a Bloody Mary or Margarita.

Rocks: anything on rocks means on ice.

Twist: Adding a twist refers to grating the zest of a lemon in a twist and inserting it into the drink.

Well Drink – Unlike the call drink mentioned above, a Well Drink is any drink that uses the bar’s “house” brand of liquor. The “normal” liquor that is used when the customer does not mention any brand.

Although we’ve listed a fair amount of bar lingo here, this list is by no means exhaustive. There are many more bar terms you may hear as a bartender, but they are not heard as often as the ones mentioned above. I hope this bar terminology helps you on your way to bar greatness!


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