Learn the lingo! Bar terms you should know

World Best Bar

May 09, 2020

Learn the lingo! Bar terms you should know
Like any speciality, if you really want to get into it, you’re going to have to learn the language. Whether that’s html code for developers, flowery marketing lexicon in sales, surprisingly romantic trading phrases (should we take a bull run to the moon, lads?) or, in the case of cocktails, bar jargon.

Here’s the A-Z (okay, A-V with a couple other letters missing…) of bar terms that you should become familiar with if you want to get into cocktail bartending – either professionally or at home. Study up!


Alcohol by volume is the standard measure of how much alcohol (ethanol) is contained in a given volume. If you have a 750ml bottle of rum with an ABV of 40% then over a third of that bottle is pure ethanol – the higher the percentage, the stronger the drink.


A back is a small glass (usually a shot) of something that accompanies a drink. That ‘something’ could be anything from water to pickle juice. Whisky is often served with a ‘back’ of water so the customer can dilute the drink to their taste.

Boston Shaker 

A two-piece cocktail shaker, made up of a glass and a metal tin. Most cocktails usually require a Boston shaker unless they’re built in the glass.


A description of how to prepare a drink. Starting with ice, you ‘build’ the drink by adding the other ingredients into the glass or shaker. 


Similar to a back, a chaser is a small measure of a mild drink that’s consumed after a shot to calm the effect of the shot itself.


An alcoholic drink made with a spirit mixed with other ingredients, such as fruit juice and soda.


Used to describe the olive brine that’s added to a Dirty Martini. A Filthy Martini will have an olive muddled into the drink during preparation.


Another martini term used to describe the amount of desired vermouth. The drier the martini, the less vermouth. An extra dry martini is prepared by swirling a drop of vermouth around the glass, which is then discarded before the martini is poured in.


Setting a drink on fire. This only works with high ABV drinks, usually Sambuca. If you try this at home, mind your eyebrows don’t catch fire, and watch out for burnt lips!


To float something on top of a drink. To do this, the liquids must be of different weights – this is determined by the sugar content. The more sugary the liquid, the heavier it’ll be, so make sure to float the less sugary liquid on top! To float a liquid, place the back of a bar spoon (or teaspoon) on the drink’s surface then pour the desired float slowly down the back of the spoon.

Free Pour

To make a drink without using level lines or a jigger. 


An hourglass-shaped measuring tool used for making cocktails. A jigger will usually measure 25ml one side and 50ml on the other (depending on a country’s standard measures). More detailed jiggers will indicate 5, 10, 15 and 25ml on one side and 30 and 50ml on the other.


Layering a drink is done in the same way as a float but with more, well, layers. Just remember, the heavier alcohol (with a higher sugar content) should go in first and up from there!


A mixer is a non-alcoholic drink that usually accompanies a single or double spirit measure. This can be soda water, tonic, coke, bitter lemon… you get the drift.


To crush ingredients, usually with a special tool called a muddler. The Mojito requires the maker to muddle sugar, lime and mint leaves at the bottom of a glass to extract essential oils and flavours before building the rest of the drink.


Means no ice and no mixers. You can ask for a whisky or any other spirit you want neat and it’ll be poured straight from the bottle into your glass.

On the rocks

Describes a drink on ice, the ice being the ‘rocks’. 


Not such a common phrase but useful to know. Rolling a drink refers to a cocktail that’s built then poured repeatedly in and out of the shaker. This gently but thoroughly mixes the drink without diluting or cooling it down too much.


After building a drink in a shaker, add ice and place the metal tumbler on top of the Boston glass. Shake until you achieve the desired consistency and temperature. 

Shake and strain/double strain 

After shaking a drink, you’ll either use a single or double strain (an additional fine mesh strainer underneath) to pour the drink into a glass. Drinks served without ice usually require a double strain for consistency.


Refers to a citrus peel (usually lemon, lime or orange) that’s twisted to express (release the oils) in the rind before being used as a garnish.


A drink that is chilled with ice (either shaken or stirred) and strained into a glass without ice. Often used interchangeably with straight up.


A cocktail that’s made without any alcohol. Popular examples of a virgin cocktail are a Virgin Mary and a Virgin Mojito – made without vodka and rum respectively.

Et voilà! A glossary of bar terms that will allow you to hold court with the best of them.

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