Cocktail ordering lingo: 10 terms to master at the bar


Ordering a cocktail at a bar is more than just asking for a drink – it’s an art form. From classic concoctions to contemporary creations, the world of cocktails has its own language, and knowing how to navigate it can make your bar experience even more enjoyable. So, the next time you find yourself perched on a barstool, have these 10 essential cocktail ordering terms in your back pocket!

“On the Rocks”
If you prefer your drink served over ice, ask for it “on the rocks.” It’s a classic choice for sipping your favourite spirit with a touch of chill.

Fancy a hint of citrus aroma in your drink? Request a “twist” – a piece of citrus peel, usually from a lemon or orange, twisted over the cocktail’s surface to release its essential oils.

“Up” and “Neat”
When you order a cocktail “up,” it means you want it shaken or stirred with ice, then strained into a glass without ice. “Neat” takes it a step further – it’s a straight pour of the spirit without any ice, chilling, or mixing.


the term “wet” typically describes a drink that has a higher proportion of non-alcoholic ingredients, such as juices, syrups, or other mixers, compared to the alcoholic components. It’s usually used to refer to a style of Martini. A wet martini contains more vermouth, while a dry martini contains less. A “wet” cocktail also tends to be sweeter and less alcoholic in taste, making it milder and more approachable for those who prefer less potent drinks.


A “dirty” cocktail, like a martini, means a splash of olive brine is added, giving the drink a savoury and salty edge. This term can also refer to a cocktail made with a spirit and its mixers without straining out ice and sediment.

“Straight Up”
Similar to ordering a cocktail “up,” asking for a drink “straight up” means you want it shaken or stirred with ice, then strained into a glass without ice. It’s the go-to request for those who prefer their drinks chilled without dilution.


A “float” involves layering a small amount of a specific spirit or liqueur on top of the cocktail. It adds visual appeal and a unique flavour dimension to your drink.

Ordering a cocktail “dry” means you want less of a specific ingredient, typically a modifier like vermouth or liqueur, to create a drier taste profile.

“Shake” vs. “Stir”
Knowing whether it should be shaken or stirred can make a difference when ordering a cocktail. Generally, drinks with citrus juices, cream, eggs, or syrups should be shaken for proper emulsion and dilution. Stirring is preferred for cocktails made solely from spirits to maintain a smoother texture (think a Negroni).

Asking for a “back” alongside your cocktail is requesting a separate small glass of something non-alcoholic, like soda water. It’s meant to cleanse your palate between sips and enhance your tasting experience.

So, there you have it. The next time you’re out, speak the bartender’s language and savour your libations with newfound expertise.


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