How to Speak Bartender

Because we are immersed in the world of cocktails, we like spending time in bars. In fact, we have to spend time in bars. It's a critical part of our R&D and our sales and marketing strategy. 

One of the most fun things to do when sitting at a bar is to listen for some of the bar-specific lingo that's tossed around. It's the unique way bartenders, servers, and barbacks communicate with each other. Of course, many industries have their own lingua franca—Hollywood movie sets, diners, and operating rooms, to name just a few, but the language of the bar is especially fun for cocktail enthusiasts like us (and hopefully you!). 

Many terms, such as "dry," "chaser," "on the rocks," and "virgin," are commonly used by most of the drink-ordering public—there's nothing terribly intriguing about those words. We thought it would be fun to give you a list of some of the lesser-known terms that are commonly used by bartenders and mixologists, so you can understand a little more about how your next drink is made. Here's our listing of 40 of our favorite bartending terms.

  1. 86’d: This refers to an item that is no longer available at the bar or an order that's been cancelled. Example: "86 that flavorless vodka and bring me some Batch 22!"
  2. Angel’s Share: This refers to the amount of alcohol that evaporates during the aging process.
  3. Back: This is a glass of something milder (like water, cola, or pickle juice) that accompanies a stiff drink. Picklebacks are one of the most commonly requested.
  4. Bartender's handshake: A gift from one bartender to another, usually in the form of a free shot.
  5. Boomerang: A drink sent, usually via a trustworthy customer, from a bartender at one bar to a bartender at another.
  6. Burn the ice: Pouring hot water into an ice bin to melt the ice; usually because a glass has broken over the ice bin.
  7. Buy back: First rule of making friends with your bartender: Don't be a jerk. As if you need a good reason to be not a jerk, here's a good one: Your bartender just might shower some appreciation on you in the form of a complimentary drink, or a buy back. Don't ever ask for one, though, because if you do, you're being a jerk.
  8. Burnt : Martinis made with Scotch.
  9. Build: This typically means making a drink by starting with ice before adding additional ingredients, like alcohol, mixers, seasoningsand garnishes. Bartenders are traditionally trained to build a cocktail with the least expensive ingredients first (which usually means alcohol last) so, if there's a mistake in the prep, it's less likely to waste the good stuff.
  10. Bruised: This refers to a drink that has been shaken too long and has a shabby appearance.
  11. Box: To pour a drink in and out of a shaker, usually just once, without shaking the shaker.
  12. Call drink: A drink ordered with both the specific liquor name and the specific mixer name, e.g., Jack and Coke, Tanqueray and tonic.
  13. Crusta: A drink served in a glass lined with lemon and orange peel.
  14. Daisy: This is an oversized sour-type drink typically made with gin or rum. It's served over crushed ice and sweetened with some flavor of fruit syrup.
  15. Dirty: Addition of an ingredient to change the color and or flavor of the main alcohol component, such as the addition of olive juice to make a Dirty Martini.
  16. Dry shake: To shake a drink vigorously and without ice. Commonly used for cocktails that incorporate egg whites, such as sours.
  17. Drain pour: Term for a terrible beer or beverage—one so bad, it isn’t even worth finishing. With a drain pour, there's no choice but to pour the remainder of the drink down the drain. Hardcore beer geeks often take a perverse pride in the beers they actually consider to be “drain pours.
  18. Dusties: This term refers to good bottles of booze that, for some reason, were never purchased, thus ending up covered with dust. Behind the bar, dusties could refer to certain oddball liqueurs that no customer ever orders and no cocktail ever necessitates. [Also see “turds.”]
  19. Feather: This technique is usually done by floating a short measure of booze onto the top of a drink so that the first sip tastes strong. Feathering is designed to make someone think there’s more booze in a drink than there actually is.
  20. Flame: This one is just what it sounds like: Setting a drink on fire before serving. Usually done with shots.
  21. Finger: A unit of measurement that is no longer in wide use, due to the great variety of finger widths and sizes. Back in the days of the Wild West, this was the common unit for measuring alcohol in a glass.
  22. Fix: Similar to a Daisy, this is a drink that consists of crushed ice and is made in a goblet. A mule is a common example.
  23. Float: When a bartender builds a drink so one brand of alcohol is resting atop another brand of alcohol in a shooter glass. Sometimes, the float creates a pleasing visual, like the different colored layers in a Duck Fart.
  24. Free Pour: Unfortunately, this does not mean a bartender is giving you a drink at no charge. This refers to making drinks without using a measured pour spout or jigger to measure.
  25. Hazmat: A whiskey that is barrel-proof and extremely alcoholic. Even though it may be hot on the palate, it can still be quite tasty (George T. Stagg, for instance). Most specifically, "Hazmat" refers to bourbons over 140-proof, which is the threshold for liquors legally allowed on airplanes.
  26. Lowball: This is a drink made up of water, soda, spirit, and ice typically served in a small glass.
  27. Lace: Lacing is a technique where the last ingredient added to a cocktail is typically poured on top of the drink.
  28. Lock-in: A longstanding industry tradition where staff and certain well-regarded regulars may remain and drink inside the locked bar after closing time, without other customers present. If you are a non-employee who is allowed to remain during lock-in to drink with the staff, congratulations! You have reached the highest level of bar-industry customer appreciation!
  29. Nip: This is a quarter of a bottle. 
  30. Pony: This is a shot that is equal to 1 ounce. 
  31. Rolling: The process of blending ingredients by repeatedly pouring from one vessel to another.
  32. Spill: This is the term bartenders use when a drink doesn't make it to the guest. The cause can be anything, but most often it is because the drink is made incorrectly or was actually spilled. Regardless of the circumstance, it's typically input in the bar POS system as a "spill."
  33. Snapping: What you should never do with your fingers to signal a bartender. If you do, the bar staff may refer to you (amongst themselves) as a "snapper."
  34. Spec: Essentially a cocktail recipe. If one bartender needs help remembering the recipe for a cocktail he or she might call out to another bartender, ‘What’s the spec on the X cocktail?’ The other bartender might respond, ‘Two, one, half, quarter, quarter, and Ango’ (Angostura bitters).
  35. Staff Meeting: An impromptu round of shots taken by the staff during a shift.
  36. Supercall: This refers to premium alcohols that are aged and super-flavored. 
  37. Tot: A small amount of liquor, usually less than a quarter ounce, that is part of a cocktail recipe. 
  38. Turds: Also known as “shelf turds.” Similar to dusties, turds are beers or bottles that sit on shelves unpurchased for a long time, thus “turding up” the place. Turds can be great bottles or beers that are overproduced or underexposed, so nobody knows to ask for them.
  39. Up: The method for serving a drink chilled by shaking or stirring with ice but strained and served in a glass without ice.
  40. Wet: A drink with more of the mixer and less of the alcohol than is usually required by the standard recipe.