Skip To Content

    We Asked A Bartender To Explain All Those Fancy Bar Terms

    A "dry" martini actually means it has less dry vermouth in it.

    Ellie Sunakawa / BuzzFeed

    Let's be real: Most of our cocktail knowledge starts and stops at mojitos and well drinks.

    1. What's the difference between SHAKEN and STIRRED drinks?

    Eon Productions

    "If you have cream, egg whites, or fresh citrus in the cocktail, you’re going to want to shake it. If it’s just alcohol and maybe a little bit of sugar, you’re gonna want to stir it.

    I would compare shaken vs. stirred cocktails to lemonade vs. hot coffee. Shaking a cocktail creates a little bit of foam, making a brighter, bubbly, and more refreshing drink. A daiquiri (a shaken drink), for example, is to a bartender what a lemonade is to a mailman on a hot summer day."

    2. What are COCKTAIL BITTERS?

    Chelsea Nesvig Follow / Via

    "Bitters are like a bartender's spice rack. They add different flavors to a cocktail. There are two main kinds: dashable bitters and amari. Dashable bitters are like your salt and pepper, made by combining a strong liquor with different herbs. Amari are bitter liquors drunk as aperitifs and digestifs before and after a meal."

    3. What does it mean to MUDDLE ingredients?

    Akturt / Getty Images / Via

    "Muddling is when you take a pestlelike stick and use it to massage herbs, vegetables, fruits, or spices and release their oils, prior to mixing them into a drink. This helps get the flavor of fresh ingredients into the cocktail. Like when I make a Moscow Mule, I'll take some ginger and muddle it to get fresh ginger juice in there. This makes my version of the cocktail spicier than if I were to use just ginger beer."

    4. What's the difference between a WET and a DRY martini?

    Jonathan Cohen / Via

    "Contrary to popular belief, a dry martini will have less dry vermouth in it. When you order a martini dry, you're asking to hold back on the vermouth. Winston Churchill is famous for his dry martini, which basically called for straight-up gin and a quick 'look' at a bottle of dry vermouth from across the room."

    5. What is a DIRTY martini?

    Randee / Via

    "This refers to the addition of olive brine — the juice you get in olive jars. I’ve had people come up to the bar and be like, 'I want my martini porn star dirty.' So in that case, I'll add like one ounce of olive brine."

    6. What's the difference between SODA WATER and SELTZER?

    Lauren King / Getty Images / Via

    "Soda water is just water that has carbonation, minerals, and maybe a little sodium in it. Seltzer is like soda water too — without the mineral ingredients. Most bars will carry just one of the two waters."

    7. What's the difference between TONIC WATER and SPRITE?

    Debbie R / Via Flickr: freakgirl

    "Tonic has quinine, a bitter, herbal flavor derived from a bark, and is a little sweet. And Sprite is just straight-up high fructose corn syrup mixed into water."

    8. WTF does it mean to EXPRESS an orange peel?

    Itsjohnday / Getty Images / Via

    "Expressing an orange peel is squeezing the rind so all the oils kind of shoot out to the top. It adds a little extra flavor over your cocktail. I usually wipe a lemon peel around the edge of the rim and on the stem so you can smell the citrus oil while you drink. (Because a good cocktail should not only taste good, it should smell good.)"

    9. What does it mean to order a drink NEAT?

    Peter H?gstr?m / Getty Images / Via

    "All this means is you're ordering a liquor by itself, with no ice and no water. The bartender will literally just pick up a bottle and pour the liquor into a short glass."

    10. What about ON THE ROCKS?

    Kevin O'Mara / Via

    "A cocktail poured over ice."

    11. OK, so then what does ordering a drink UP (or STRAIGHT UP) mean?

    Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP / Getty Images

    "Some people say 'straight up,' which isn't really a term. It's just 'up,' and it refers to a drink that's chilled by shaking or stirring it and is then poured into a stemmed glass."

    12. What does it mean to OPEN UP a drink?

    Andy  / Via

    "Some bourbons needs ice or water to enhance and 'open them up.' For example, some bourbons are aged for a long time in barrels, and water or cold temperature will relax them a bit."

    13. I'm always too embarassed to ask, but what's the difference between SCOTCH, BOURBON, and RYE?

    Rob Ireton / Via

    “These all belong in the whiskey family,” Centeno says. “But each one has key differences that are actually defined by law."

    — Scotch must be produced in Scotland and is made predominantly from malted barley.

    Bourbon must be produced in the United States, from a grain mixture that’s at least 51% corn mash, then aged in charred oak containers.

    Rye must be produced in the United States, from a grain mixture that’s at least 51% rye, then aged in charred oak containers. (There’s also Canadian rye, which has no legal requirements beyond the fact that it has to be produced in Canada. But, the rye you see at bars is likely American rye.)

    14. What does it mean to FLOAT liquor?

    santypan / Getty Images / Via

    "Floating is when you top off a drink with another alcohol, and you don’t want it to go inside the cocktail — you want it to stay on top. It's basically like adding a layer of a liquor."

    15. What about RINSING a glass?

    Emily / Via

    "Rinsing is the act of swirling alcohol in a glass — just to get the aroma of it and not so much its flavor — and then discarding that alcohol. You usually do it when you want to add an aromatic effect without overwhelming the drink. So, an 'in and out' martini is a good example of that technique. When someone orders an 'in and out' martini, it means they want you to just take the vermouth and rinse the glass with it, filling the glass mostly with gin."

    16. What is a HIGHBALL?

    Amylaughinghouse / Getty Images / Via

    "A highball is a drink typically served in a Collins glass, made with a spirit and a nonalcoholic mixer. A gin and tonic, or a scotch soda are good examples," Centeno says. IMO, this is basically a fancy term for the basic two-ingredient cocktails we most frequently order at bars.

    17. What are some basic cocktails I should know?

    "Five cocktails everyone should know are the daiquiri, Negroni, Old-Fashioned, gin martini, and the new modern classic: the penicillin. Made with scotch, ginger, honey, and lemon, this was invented in NYC in the last 10 years, and any bar (that knows better) will know how to make it."

    The Old-Fashioned

    Martiapunts / Getty Images / Via

    You can make this with either rye or bourbon, but go easy on the sugar cubes and garnishes. Recipe here.

    The Negroni

    Fastsnail / Getty Images / Via

    This bold red-orange drink is known for its bitterness. Recipe here.

    The Daiquiri

    bhofack2 / Getty Images / Via

    Hemingway is famous for making his daiquiris with maraschino liquor and grapefruit. Recipe (for the classic version) here.

    The Gin Martini

    Ramon Grosso / Getty Images / Via

    Literally just gin and dry vermouth go into one of the most well-known drinks in the world. Recipe here.

    The Penicillin

    Like all the best cocktails, this scotch, honey-ginger, and lemon juice concoction is designed to cure all your life's woes (hence the name). Recipe here.