I was cleaning underneath the hand sink a few nights ago and I found a promo bottle of Jim Beam Red Stag. Curious from how it found it’s way into my bar I didn’t want to disturb it’s resting place or my JuJu so I scrubbed the tile underneath it and returned it to its slumber.

It had been a rough night for the bartenders, we were busy, not excruciatingly so, but the restaurant was at full tilt. Taking stock of bottles to be hauled out to the recycling bin I was struck at the number of bottles that had been emptied one and a half ounces at a time, doling out their contents to guests as they took the edge off their work day, broke the ice on a first date, waited for their reservation to come up, or noshed on some fresh sugar snap peas at the bar. The bartenders always jigger pour, as a matter of taste I find that it creates consistency in all of the cocktails, your drink will taste the same from night to night and from bartender to bartender, as well it assures that the guest gets every ounce of booze that they pay for (it’s amazing how easy it is to under-pour a drink when free pouring).

I was sliding the bar’s spare whisky crates underneath the well when I was struck by a customer earlier in the evening who was disappointed to see his whisky being doled out by his terms “with a medicine dropper” into his rocks glass. He gruffly remarked that he ordered “a shot of whisky, not a fancy-drink.” I topped off his well scotch on the rocks with an extra flourish from the bottle, annoyed with this guy, resisting the urge to give him the bottle and let him pour his own, charging him at the end of the night for the depletion in the bottle. I mean, they get away with this in Barbados, why couldn’t I?

It occurred to me that there is a language, unfortunately all too secret, in ordering what you want. This list is by no means definitive, but it should help square things out when it comes to ordering your drink at a bar, get what you want without having to spell it out plainly. And remember, by being accurate, a bar is actually lowering your cost to drink there because they are being precise and judicious and where the alcohol is going. Not juggling and spilling Malibu all over the place.

A shot is 1.5 ounces of liquor, in some bars it will be 2.0 ounces, but if you get 1.5 the bar has done due diligence in seeing to it that you are being served what you ordered.

A double is at least 2.0 ounces of liquor, it’s not two drinks in one (again in some places it is… Ahem, the Lancer Lounge) but if a bar pours you 2 ounces they have fulfilled their contract, if you want a strong tasting drink order a double, expect to pay for a double. If you want a ‘stronger’ drink but don’t want to pay for it order…

a Short, which comes in a shorter glass.  This drink should still be balanced by have a punchier flavor because of it’s use of less mixer. If you want your drink to last a little bit longer and you are pacing yourself order

a Tall, refers to the size of glass that the drink will be served in, usually fizzy drinks, a tall drink is going to have more dilution. If you want your tall drink to taste like a short order a “Double Tall

Up refers to your drink being in a cocktail glass without ice. Contrary to popular belief men drinking drinks out of cocktail glasses is actually manly.

Rocks, refers to your spirit being served in a glass with ice

Water, refers to the addition of water to your drink. If you want ice and water, let me know.  Plenty of respectable Irish and Scotsmen drink their whisky and water without ice. Heh, respectable Irishmen gets me every time.

Neat means that your drink is going to be served without any adulteration and at room temperature.

If you are a ‘splash of this’ drinker, and are disappointed at my ineptitude of making your exact drink imperfectly, please order it as a “back” as in a “soda-back” or “ginger-back,” and dole it out as you see fit, I won’t be offended and won’t take it personally. All I really want to do is give you what you want and would happily let you modify your drink exactly to your taste. Bars around the world go as far as offering little caddies of lemon, lime, syrup, and bitters brought to your table like the pickle caddy at My Brother’s Bar.

It’s not as difficult as the crash course in Italian Euro-garbage that you have to learn to order a black coffee at Sbux, but at the end of the day, we want you to get the drink that you expect.

About Kevin Burke

Kevin is an occasional barman and fulltime practitioner of the Janitorial Arts at Colt & Gray.