A Cocktail Vocabulary Lesson for the Novice

We've been reading up on lists of new trends that are predicted to become popular in the coming year, and there was one in particular that seemed to come up again and again. No, not the one that suggests that bartenders begin garnishing their drinks with literal pine and juniper branches -- the one about being nice.

It seems that this year, the cocktail and mixology community at large wants to try to bring back kindness to their customers, and change from that caricature of the stuck-up jerk with a handlebar mustache who just can't believe that you can't recite all 43 ingredients in Licor 43.

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Turns out, the novelty of having people roll their eyes at you or not respond to your questions has worn off and now bartenders want to go back to the days of kind, accommodating service and shirk off that snooty reputation. (Or so we hear.)

Sure, that sounds great! There have been many times when we want to just sit and talk to an esteemed bartender about green Chartreuse but we can't remember the word "Carthusian" -- as in the monks that make Chartreuse -- and the bartender completely loses respect for us, but really, this concept is very much a two-way street.

Ordering off of a restaurant's hand-crafted drink list might be a little confusing and sometimes that customer isn't always right. This often makes the bartender seem like he is being pretentious, but he's very often protecting his creations like a dinosaur mother protects her nest eggs--he's the one that has made and tasted each drink over and over again, after all. So as a truce, here are several vocabulary words that everyone should know to help their bartender be a little nicer and a little more helpful:

Bitters -- Bitters are a tincture of herbs, spices, fruits, nuts and other things. A few drops are added to a cocktail to balance out flavors or add an extra unifying element at the end of your drink. It in no way is some sort of magical substance that turns your drink entirely bitter, so don't request a drink "but not with that bitter... stuff. I like sweet not bitter."

Egg Whites -- Unless you are a vegan, chill out about this please. We all know about raw or uncooked eggs and salmonella, but for some reason, 50% of bar patrons in the universe have forgotten the sterilizing effects of alcohol. Egg whites are fluffed into a drink like a flip or a sour to add a nice foam, and thicken the texture of rich drinks, like the foam on a cappucino. They will not kill you. They will not even make you sick. Do not blame your stomach ache after a night of drinking on egg whites, you know who the culprit is there.

Infused Vodka -- Lots of bars do this now, but it is very different from the flavored vodka you buy at the grocery store. The difference is mainly sugar, in that what you buy from the grocery store is primarily sugar, some flavor and like nothing else. Infused vodka has no sugar, but has let an actual item like jalapeno peppers or real vanilla beans soak inside of that vodka for an extended period of time.

On the rocks -- No, this doesn't mean that your drink has thrown itself dramatically from some cliffs and is now sadly resting in peace below. This just means with ice. If you would like a drink with ice, you can say "on the rocks" or "on ice".

Neat -- Peachy keen. Also, room temperature and by itself. It does not mean "shaken with ice and then strained", that's what Up means. A neat gin martini would not be pleasant, it would probably taste like chewing on a burning juniper log, if we're being honest here.

Up -- Can't stress this enough, this means chilled, not room temperature. Neither neat nor up are served with ice. Saying that you would like a Lagavulin Macallan 25 "straight up" is pretty rude, and it's easy to interpret but you definitely mean "neat". There is always the off-chance that a new, fledgling bartender will dump that gorgeous caramel scotch into a shaker and blast it through some ice, before serving it to you in a martini glass. Everyone will cry.

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Melanie MacEachern