Lesson 1 - Help Your Bartender By Knowing How To Order Your Drink
I've been a professional bartender for over 30 years. No, that's not me in the picture. I'm much older and no where near that handsome. I am now retired and happily playing golf or fly fishing all day. This post is designed to give you a few facts and definitions, gleaned from my time behind bars about the proper way to order a cocktail so that you will get exactly what you want. A well made cocktail offers a little something you just can't get anywhere else and an experienced, friendly bartender is always helpful in navigating the social mine field. After all, bars and lounges would be far less fun without equal numbers of both men and women and sometimes we all need a little help to get the ball rolling. So, please, when you do drink, do so responsibly and use a designated driver to make sure everyone gets home safely.
Ordering a drink "neat" is the correct way to order if you want your whiskey without ice or any sort of mixer. You'll get anywhere from 1.25 to 2.00 ounces (depending on the generosity of your bartender) in what's known as a "rocks" glass. The rocks glass fits nicely into your hand so you'll look cool and professional as you sip your small batch bourbon or single malt scotch. It's acceptable to order the drink chilled by having it stirred with ice before straining it into the rocks glass. This is typically done only with the white liquors such as gin, rum or vodka but, hey, it's your drink - if you want your bourbon or scotch chilled it would be my pleasure.
On The Rocks
Ordering a drink "on the rocks" is essentially asking for your whiskey neat but served over ice. Don't let anyone ever tell you that whiskey should not be drunk over ice. That's BS. As the ice melts it lowers the alcohol ratio of your drink and allows you to drink longer without getting drunk. It also mitigates the alcohol "burn" from higher proof liquors. Add a twist or a wedge of lemon or lime if you prefer. It's your drink, you paid for it, don't let anyone tell you how you should drink it. My own personal preference when I'm out is a good bourbon on the rocks and I dare anyone to tell me I'm drinking it wrong.
Ordering a drink "up" is the correct way to order if you want your whiskey chilled and served in a martini glass. You'll typically get 1.5 to 2 ounces of liquor, more in some establishments that use oversized up glasses. There is a difference between ordering a drink straight (see shot or neat above) and up. Anyone who orders a drink "straight up" is simply telling me they don't know how to order a proper cocktail. Examples of "up" drinks include cosmopolitans, manhattans, the classic gin martini and/or any of the thousands of drinks that pass for a "martini" these days.
A "highball" is any drink that contains one or more types of alcohol and some sort of mixer such as cola, juice, seltzer, etc. It is typically served in a tall glass with a garnish of some sort, usually a lemon twist or wedge of lime. A bay breeze, rum & coke, cape cod, and fuzzy navel (just to name a few examples) are all considered highballs.
Unlike a shot, "shooters" are essentially mixed drinks containing multiple liquors and mixers shaken over ice and poured into shot glasses then downed in one fell swoop. Shooters are usually a social thing meant to be drunk together with others in a group. When done as a social construct they can be quite a lot of fun and act as a lubricant to get things started within the group. As a bartender however, I'll look slightly askew at a single guy downing shooters by himself.
Collins or Sour
A "collins" or "sour" is any drink containing soda water, sugar and lemon/lime juice. The most famous examples of which is a Tom Collins or a Whiskey Sour. Most bars use, in lieu of fresh juice, what's known as "sour mix" which is a pre-made mix of sugar, lemon and lime juice, and either real or replica egg whites (the egg whites are what gives the drink it's "foamy" head when shaken). At most bars I worked at, we made our own sour mix using nothing but fresh ingredients. A lot of bars, however, use commercially available mixes some of which taste fine while others can be quite sweet. The collins or sour cocktail is served in a "collins" glass which is typically narrower and taller than a highball glass. The collins glass is also used to serve a number of non blended tropical drinks such as a mai tai or a singapore sling.
The daiquiri is a family of drinks that include rum as the main liquor as well as fresh fruit, sugar and lime juice. While they were originally served unblended and chilled in an "up" glass, today they are often mixed with ice in blenders to fully incorporate the fruit and smooth out all the ingredients into a slushy frozen concoction guaranteed to invoke feelings of a tropical beach and ocean. They are typically served in a "daiquiri" glass which come in a wide variety of styles and vary from location to location.
When drinking whiskey, it's always a good idea to order your drink with a "water back." What does this mean? It simply means you'll get a glass of water alongside your drink. The water will keep you hydrated (unlike the alcohol you're about to consume), it will mitigate the effect of alcohol up to a point, and it will allow you to consume less alcohol (each sip of water is one less sip of alcohol) within a specific time frame. If your drink is too strong, pour a little water into it to cut the alcohol level. This is exactly what distilleries do to cut the alcohol proof before bottling. Don't let anyone tell you that adding water to a drink is a "sin." It's not. In fact, adding a bit water to whiskey "opens" the whiskey up in much the same way that allowing a red wine to "breathe" enhances it's taste. The only true sin is getting so drunk you embarrass yourself and the people you're with. I always looked at the customer who ordered a water back as a true sign of a gentleman or lady who knew how to act in a bar.
Shaken or Stirred?
Since "up" drinks are most often chilled before pouring, which is the best for you? I like my martinis' shaken as the vigorous shaking chills the alcohol to a much lower temperature and lightly mixes the residual ice (water) with the alcohol giving me a smoother, more enjoyable cocktail. Others, and this is perfectly acceptable, feel that by vigorously shaking the drink, the alcohol becomes "bruised" and some of it's original flavoring may be lost. Also, some people just don't like their drinks that cold. In this case, your bartender will gently stir your drink with the ice inside the blending cup before straining it into your glass. In any event, if you ask for your martini "very cold" chances are you will get it, and apologies to Ian Fleming and James Bond, "shaken, not stirred."
A drink garnish can be anything from a slice or wedge of lime, a twist of lemon, a cherry, orange or even a paper umbrella. Garnishes are usually not served with shots or neat drinks. Acceptable garnishes for martinis are olives, cocktail onions or a twist of lemon peel and cherries for a manhattan. Other than that, anything goes. If there is something you do, or don't, want included with your drink simply say so to your bartender. Most well equipped bars have garnishes prepared to include lemons, limes, cherries, onions, olives and whipped cream. Unless you're in a tiki bar, however, you'll probably be on your own to find a paper umbrella.
So, there you have it. I hope you found this post helpful and informative.
So, there you have it. I hope you found this post helpful and informative.