Oct. 28 2015 11:51 AM

All those terms on the cocktail menu that you pretend to understand but are too afraid to ask about

All those terms on the cocktail menu that you pretend to understand but are too afraid to ask about


A large plant indigenous to Mexico that looks like a cross between a giant pineapple and a cactus. The plant is actually a member of the lily family. There are hundreds of varieties of agave, both cultivated and wild.


The process of storing wine and spirits in wood barrels to remove harsh flavor notes and add specific characteristics found in the wood.


Almond and apricot-flavored liqueur, originally made in Italy, but now made in other countries as well.


A drink before the main meal to stimulate the palate. Can encompass anything from wine (flavored, aromatized and fortified wines) to cocktails and champagne.


An alcoholic beverage made from citrus and herbs that is typically used as a flavoring in cocktails.

Blended Scotch Whiskey

A blend of single malt Scotch whiskies and mixed grain whiskey. The whiskies are aged separately then blended and aged together for several months in casks.

Blended Straight Whiskey

A minimum of 20% straight whiskeys at 50% alc./vol., blended with neutral grain whiskey or light whiskey.

Blue Agave Tequila

One-hundred percent blue agave tequila is distilled from the fermented sugars of the Weber blue agave plant only, and must be bottled in Mexico. Like all tequila, 100% blue agave tequila can be aged or unaged. Agave plants are related to the lily family. They take eight to ten years to mature to the point where they can be used for tequila production, so the tequila made from 100% agave is more expensive to produce than mixed or blended tequila.


American whiskey made from a mash of between 51 percent to 75 percent corn (which includes a small amount of barley; either rye or wheat fills out the rest), usually aged two years in charred oak barrels.


Distilled spirit derived from fermented fruit.

Canadian whiskey

A whiskey made from water, yeast, corn, rye and barley grains. Canadian whiskey is distilled in accordance with the regulations governing the production of whiskey in Canada and is typified by its smooth taste.

Coffee liqueur

A sweet, coffee-flavored liqueur.


A type of brandy named after the French district of Cognac.

Cordial (or liqueur)

Sweet liqueurs flavored with fruits, herbs, botanicals and spices. Most cordials are under 35 percent alcohol.

Crème de cacao

Liqueur made from cocoa beans and bottled in two styles, dark and clear.

Crème de cassis

A liqueur made from black currant.

Crème de menthe

Mint-flavored liqueur made in two colors, green and clear (white). The green is traditionally served frapped over crushed ice, and the white (clear) is an ingredient in classics like the Grasshopper.


A liqueur first made from small bitter, Curaçao oranges, it comes in white, orange and blue — the color being the only difference. Curaçao matches well with rum, lime and juices.

Dark rum

These rums are typically pot distilled and made from molasses.


The smallest bar measurement, 1/32 oz.


An alcoholic drink served after dinner.

Common digestifs include brandy, sherry and port.

Dry (cocktail)

Indicates how much vermouth is in a cocktail. For example, a Dry Martini is prepared with less vermouth than a regular Martini.


A word sometimes used in the name of a drink to indicate the cocktail has been made with a carbonated beverage, such as club soda.


Drink served over snow or crushed ice.

Fruit Purée

Fruit broken down to liquid by a food processor. Restaurants often use flash-frozen fruit purees as the base for sorbet.


A decoration, usually a sliced piece of fruit, served with a drink.


A popular cocktail made from gin and lime juice.


Grain spirit flavored with botanicals, specifically genièvre or juniper, and other flavors, including coriander, lemon peel, fennel, cassia, anise, almond, ginger root, orange peel, angelica and others.

Ginger beer

A spicy soft drink, usually carbonated, made from ginger root. Originated in Jamaica.


Sweet, red syrup used in alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The original flavor base was pomegranate, but many brands use artificial flavor.


A process similar to making tea, but on a bigger scale. In beer and whiskey making, the grains and malted grains are soaked in hot water several times, often with increas ingly high temperatures, resulting in a sweet liquid called wort. Infusion is also used in the production of fruit liqueurs, where fruit and other flavors are steeped in brandy for any extended time. After infusion, the mixture is strained and sweetened with sugar syrup. The proof is lowered with water and the mixture is bottled.

Irish whiskey

A triple-distilled whiskey from Ireland.

Irish whiskey has a completely different character from Scotch whiskey, mostly because the malt is not kilned or toasted with peat, so there is no smoky quality in the flavor.


A small, two-sided measuring cup. Most jiggers have a half-ounce measure on one side and a two-ounce measure on the other.


A julep is a popular American drink that originated in the late eighteenth century and is still popular today. It was originally made with Cognac and peach brandies, but evolved into a bourbon drink mixed with fresh mint and sugar, served in a frosted silver cup over shaved ice.


Maintaining separate visible layers in a drink by slowly pouring over the back of a spoon held inside the glass.


Maceration in the preparation of alcoholic beverages is the steeping of herbs, botanicals or fruits in spirits of some kind for a period of time, after which the whole mixture may be distilled again. This process is used to flavor different types of spirits such as liqueurs.


A popular cocktail made with tequila, orange flavored liquor, lime juice and margarita mix.


A popular cocktail made with whiskey and sweet vermouth.


The traditional martini is made from gin and vermouth, although many martinis are prepared with vodka instead of gin.


A non-alcoholic drink (typically soda or fruit juice) that is mixed with a spirit.


Originally from Cuba, the Mojito is made from rum, mint, sugar, lime juice and soda water.


A wooden tool shaped like the grinding tool of a mortar and pestle (between six and nine inches long) used to mash fruit and herbs with sugar or liqueur in the bottom of a bar mixing glass. Muddling is essential for making Mojitos.


The technique of mashing ingredients with a muddler in a glass.


When an unmixed spirit is served in a glass without ice, it is served “neat” or “straight.”

Old Fashioned

A classic cocktail made from whiskey, bitters, sugar and water.

On the rocks

When a spirit is served “on the rocks” it is served over ice without a mixer.

Orange bitters

Alcohol-based bitters flavored with orange peel and other botanicals.


A cocktail prepared with gin, lime juice and soda water.

Rose water

A food and beverage-flavoring agent made by steeping rose petals in alcohol. Used extensively in the Middle East. Good in lemonade drinks.


Made from molasses, sugar can juice or syrup, it is considered the first spirit of the new world. First produced in Barbados and Jamaica, traditionally double distilled.


Whiskey aged two years, with 51-100% rye in the mash.


Anise-based Italian after-dinner liqueur often taken with coffee.


A beverage originating in Spain made with red or white wine, sugar and fruits; garnished with fresh fruits and berries. There are lots of recipes for Sangria, but there should always be wine and fruits in them.


A Scandinavian and German term for strong, colorless spirits. Today schnapps is a popular category of fruit and spice spirits.


A malt-barley based spirit made in Scotland that has been aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years.


The most common technique used by bartenders for mixing ingredients to make a cocktail. Shaking involves adding ingredients to a shaker, then vigorously shuddering the shaker before serving.

Simple syrup

Syrup made from mixing equal parts sugar and water. Made with a much more concentrated recipe for baking applications.

Single malt

A Scottish barley-based spirit produced by a single distillery in one season. Bottled straight or used as a blending agent in blended scotch.

Sour mix

A tart-tasting mixer made with equal parts simple syrup and lemon or lime juice.


Cocktails made with a strong, sweet and sour ingredient — typically sour mix.


A hot beverage made of spirits, sugar and water.


A carbonated water that contains quinine and sugar.

Triple Sec

An orange flavored liqueur used mostly as a mixer. Famous cocktail applications are the Cosmopolitan and Long Island Iced Tea.


Fortified and flavored wines made in sweet or dry styles, used in cocktails and as an aperitif. The word originated from the German word for the wormwood plant, wermuth.

(adapted from us.thebar.com)