Hang out in bars long enough, and you'll start to hear the bartender throwing around all sorts of interesting words and phrases. And I'm not talking about the Tagalog profanity she picked up while backpacking through the Philippines; I mean the lexicon of bartending.
Today, a glossary of the secret language of bartenders.
Behind the stick: A slang term for the act of getting behind the bar and doing the work of bartending. The origins of the phrase aren't perfectly clear, but "stick" seems to refer to the tap handles used for pulling glasses of draft beer.
Building a drink: You probably know what it means to stir a drink or shake a drink. To build a drink, you add ice to a glass and then add the spirit and mixers. What you do next depends on how you're serving the drink. If it's a martini, for example, you build it in a mixing glass by adding the ice, the gin, and the vermouth (and possibly bitters), stirring, and then straining. If it's a margarita, you build the drink and then shake and strain. If it's an on-the-rocks Negroni, you build it right in the serving glass, stir and garnish it, and present it to the customer.
Rolling a drink: Another method for mixing a drink. In this case, you build the drink in the mixing glass, and then gently pour it into a shaker tin or another mixing glass to mix things together. Bloody Marys are generally rolled in this way because if you shake them, the tomato juice will foam up.
Buy back: First rule of going out for drinks: 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.
Well / Call: Most of you probably know this one, but it's worth mentioning anyway. If you go to a bar and you ask for a gin and tonic, you'll probably get the well brand, usually something like Barton, Booth's, or McCormick. If you want Tanqueray 10, you have to call for it by name.
Speed rack: In most bars I've seen, the well brands reside in the speed rack, also called a speed rail or speed well. It's usually at the level of the bartender's thigh, near the ice well. Having commonly used bottles in the speed rack allows the bartender to make drinks more efficiently. In many bars, there's also a soda gun nearby, so that in about 30 seconds, she can ice a glass, free pour the Barton gin, spray in some tonic, and grab a lime wedge from the garnish tray from which you shouldn't be stealing the olives.
In some cocktail bars, however, the speed rack serves a slightly different purpose, housing the ingredients necessary to make the bar's signature drinks. So for example, if the bar sells a lot of Manhattans, Negronis, and Sidecars, the speed rack might house rye, Campari, Tanqueray, Cointreau, and a good cognac.
Curse me, all that yackety yack and we haven't even had a drink. Well, what'll it be, pal, a shot? Whiskey neat? Martini up? Vodka on the rocks? Oh, what's the difference, you say?
Shot: Usually about 1 1/2 ounces served in a small glass without ice. Normally, you drink a shot by picking up the glass, putting it to your lips, and tossing it all back at once.
Neat: Two ounces of spirit served in an old-fashioned glass without ice. Meant to be sipped.
Up: Two ounces of spirit stirred with ice, and then strained out into a chilled, stemware cocktail glass.
Rocks: Two ounces of spirit served over ice.
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