Up, Neat, Straight Up, or On the Rocks

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I considered naming this article “How To Take an Order Behind the Bar”, since there seems to be a problem with bartenders and servers not fully understanding the vocabulary used in their workplace. I was reminded of this while reading this thread on the StraightBourbon.com forums some time ago. Yes, there seems to be some confusion about the terms “neat”, “up” (or “straight up”) and “with a twist”, and my goal is to try to help straighten this mess out.

Neat

neat.jpg

The first – and simplest – term we’re going to examine is “neat“. “Neat” – as applied to drinks served in bars – refers to a shot of liquor poured directly from the bottle and into a glass. There is no chilling involved with a “neat” drink. There is never an additional ingredient in a drink served “neat”. You can not have a Screwdriver served “neat”. That’s not how we use the word.

Up

 

If you walk into a bar and order a Dry Martini, “neat”, you might be served a tepid shot of Martini and Rossi Dry Vermouth in a room-temperature glass. That’s how the term “neat” is used. Although you know how much I love vermouth, nothing about that order sounds appetizing. What you were probably looking for was a Dry Martini, served “up. “Up” implies that there was some preparation involved, and that there is no ice in the final product. You can have a Manhattan on the rocks, or I can give it to you “up”.

Straight Up

 

Up” was originally short for “straight up“, meaning “no bullshit“. As in “I can handle the truth. Give it to me straight up.

Where the real confusion lies is with the term “straight up”. Although I don’t know where the choaos began, these days there is a bit of conversation required when that phrase is used.

Let’s say you order a Wild Turkey, “straight up”. Your bartender should assume you mean that you want your bourbon “neat”, and serve it as so. However, if you were looking for a chilled shot of whiskey in a cocktail glass, you probably should have dropped the “straight” and asked for your drink “up”. And if, as a bartender, you’ve received an order for a Ketel One “straight up”, you should probably check with your customer to make sure they’re looking for chilled vodka and vermouth, and not a glass of warm vodka.

Twist

twist.jpg

A “twist” is always a thin strip of citrus peel, without pith and without the meat of the fruit. It derives its name from the fact that the peel is “twisted” over the surface of the drink to express the oils. Note that the default generic “twist” is made from lemon peel. Order appropriately.

The third term that causes some confusion on both sides of the bar is the word “twist”. I’ve ordered a gin martini with a twist (my preferred garnish) and received a big wedge of lemon on the side of the glass. I’ve taken an order for a gin and tonic with a twist, and had the drink sent back because I garnished with a thin strip of citrus peel. A delicate blend of gin and vermouth, the Martini is ruined by a big squeeze of lemon juice. Conversely, the bold flavors of a gin and tonic need more than a light spritzing of lemon or lime oils on the surface of the drink.

To recap:

Neat: Right out of the bottle.
Up: Chilled, and served in a cocktail glass.
Straight Up: Usually means “neat”, but check first.
Twist: A thin strip of citrus peel. Default is lemon.

117 Replies to “Up, Neat, Straight Up, or On the Rocks”

  • Marleigh says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve had many a bartender misunderstand what I mean when I say I’d like a drink “up”—I may print this out to keep with me, just in case.

  • Dan says:

    Here’s my take on things.

    Neat: Room temperature, straight out of the bottle into a glass, be it a lowball or a snifter, etc.

    Up: Chilled, in a cocktail glass.

    Straight Up: Chilled, in a lowball, highball, etc.

    To me, the Sazerac is served “straight up”. This is also how I like my whiskey sours.

  • Lance J. Mayhew says:

    I’m going to print this out and safety pin it to the shirt of anyone who dares misorder from me again now that this post is up.

    I always cringe when they ask for a gin and tonic with a twist. I always try to clarify, and it usually devolves into them asking for a lime twist when what they wanted was a lime wedge. Stupid me, I should be able to read their minds from the beginning.

  • Lance J. Mayhew says:

    Is that martini stem in your pic chipped?

  • Dan, I think that a hard-core whiskey drinker looking for a “Lagavulin, straight up” is going to have a problem with your definition, there.

    And Lance, that glass is chipped. I got all of those images off of iStockPhoto this morning and had to take the hand that was dealt.

    Jeff

  • Barbara says:

    I completely agree with your definitions Jeff. Now, if only we could get the customers to comply!

  • Dan says:

    Ah, but a hardcore whiskey drinker would know to order his whiskey neat 😉

  • Jeff Frane says:

    As a customer, I appreciate the heads up. I always thought that neat=up=straight up. Obviously, I’m a dope.

    Is there a specific reference for “neat, with water/ice in a separate glass”?

    And I would put in a vote that any bar serving good malt whisky has a pitcher of *good* water available for a splash.

  • There have been several times I’ve ordered scotch or whiskey neat, only to be given an odd look when I ask for water on the side. 9 times out of 10, they bring a glass of ice water (with cubes), making it difficult to add to the glass without splashing everything everywhere. I’d like to see small pitchers available with spring water, even if it’s an extra cost. After all, how much is that shot costing you to begin with? 🙂

  • John Claude says:

    Jeff F.

    “with a water back” is how you’d get that on the side.

    Conversely, after bartending out East, I’m amazed at how many martini/manhattan drinkers want the rocks from the mix on the side. It kills me to see them sit on their drink FOREVER and keep it chilled by dumping the old ice in periodically.

  • jimmy says:

    The funny thing about this is, when you try to clarify a customer’s terminology, they sometimes look at you like you’re the idiot.

    “I said ‘neat,’ I want it cold in a martini glass you fool!”

  • Jimmy, you of all people should be able to look them in the eye and say, “That’s not what that means.”

  • Mark says:

    Another terrific blog Jeff. I should print it out and let all the servers in my restaurant read it.

  • juliana says:

    Very nice, Jeff. I want to pass this out in the Mission, where sometimes I think they get confused if they have to do more than pull beer.

  • janice says:

    Great primer, thanks. It seems that in Canada, up and straight up are still synonyms, at least in my neck of the woods.

    One of the reasons I’ve asked for rocks on the side of an up martini is that the bartender works the shaker so hard that it’s a watery mess by the time it arrives. That’s no fun. My favourite martini in Toronto was at the Royal York hotel Library Room a number of years ago, where they served it in a small glass jug nestled in a bowl of ice. Not sure if they still do that, but it really made my day.

  • John Claude says:

    Janice.

    Several of the bars here in Providence use the small decanters nestled in ice.

    Your best bet though is to just make sure you ask for a stirred martini.

  • deb says:

    I say a sign or maturity is to be able to drink coffee black, smoke cigs unfiltered and drink whiskey neat!!

  • DJ says:

    two questions from a ‘kid’ who knows nothing. whiskey neat but chilled (without the dilluting effect of ice) – is that straight up?
    and what do you call vodka, OJ, and lemon juice – Absolut calls it an Absolut 18, my friend calls it Swamp Water…what’s the boss behind the bar call it?
    Thanks!

  • John Claude says:

    By chilled you mean kept in a fridge or freezer? I’d just call that kinda gross.

    As for the vodka/oj/lemon juice, it’s just one of a million variations on a drink with probably dozens of names. Just call it a Screwdriver and ask for a lemon garnish.

  • DJ – We don’t typically keep spirits chilled because they – especially nice whiskies – don’t reveal all of their wonderful aromas and flavors at that temperature. Room temperature is ideal for aged spirits, so keep that whisk(e)y bottle out on the countertop where it belongs!

    Notable exceptions to this rule are vodka (most likely a hold-over from a time before five-times distilled super-premiums) Jägermeister (much easier to gulp down in large quantities at college parties) and, as I recently learned, Chartreuse.

    As for the vodka/orange/lemon, John Claude is correct, just call it a Screwdriver with a lemon garnish.

  • Jeff,

    Why chill Chartreuse? I’ve never heard that one. How about Benedictine?

    I keep my tequila in the refrigerator, and occasionally my vodka or gin, but it’s just easier to chill it with ice. Besides, if it’s been in the freezer it doesn’t dilute properly when making a martini.

    My other question is about light. Most bars have their spirit wall on an interior wall with florescent lighting of some kind. There’s a bar in my home town that uses their front window as a backdrop for their liquor display. What spirits will degrade through light? I believe Absinthe is one of them.

    Blair
    http://goodspiritsnews.spaces.live.com

  • Re: Screwdrivers.

    A friend of mine mentioned a drink they came up with last night. It’s a Screwdriver served in a Highball glass called…. (you guessed it) “A Screwball”.

    Blair

  • Blair – I was at a Chartreuse class last Wednesday in Portland and the international rep recommended serving Chartreuse either chilled or on the rocks. Each of the products we tried were chilled, and I must admit, it was quite nice. I had always taken my Chartreuse at room temp, but the chill calmed a bit of the fire.

  • Albert says:

    Ahh, Chartreuse.
    We keep both the yellow and the green in the cooler at work, but I have to say – I prefer it at room temp.
    I learned a long time ago from Ronnie (yeah. that one.) that if you sip it slow and let it evaporate off, you get the most taste off the herbs.
    Since I don’t polish the 375mls off like I used to, it’s my approach to drinking the my favorite of all liquors now.
    And don’t think I’ve forgotten about the last time I served you the dragon @ Soriah. Uh huh…

  • Albert says:

    We also keep Bailey’s in there. As well as Akavits, Poire William, and a bunch of aperitifs (Lillet, both Dubonnet, some Sherry). And of course – Rumple Minz. Most of it makes sense, but for some reason we keep one set of Fernet and Menta Brancas inside, and one at room temperature. Go figure.

  • Margarita says:

    Limoncello gets stored in the freezer around here.

  • ND says:

    Haha, cool post. If you order a drink “neat” over here, the bartender’ll send over some dimwit to tidy up the serviette holder…
    Anyway, that tiny splash of water always opens up the bouquet of a good Scotch very nicely. It seems to have the opposite effect on Bourbon, though, like all the flavor vanishes when that dash of water goes in (leaving behind a kind of nasty charcoal/damp leaves taste). Am I imagining this, or do you other folks concur?

  • Hey ND – I don’t think you’re imagining it, but I believe it might have something to do with the proof of the spirit in question. Anyone concur?

  • Jeff Frane says:

    Jeebus, Morgenthaler, what are you doing up so early?

    My own opinion in re: bourbon is one I’ve argued with Ryan Stotz about at length. I contend that American whiskey is designed to be served with ice, either in a cocktail or with a bit of ice tossed in the glass. This is particularly true with all those high-proof whiskies that can be so “hot” from all the alcohol.

    True bourbonistas shun me.

  • MarkP says:

    As a customer, its still a little confusing. I guess I am not a purist but I like my Manhattans at room temp. But, ‘UP’ looks like it always means chilled, somehow (glass or liquor).
    In other words,
    Neat = one liquor, not pre-chilled, no ice in the glass.
    Up = one or many liquors, pre-chilled, no ice in the glass.
    On the Rocks = one or many liquors, pre-chilled, with ice in the glass.
    Straight Up = one liquor, not pre-chilled, no ice in the glass.
    Whats the definition of many liquors, not pre-chilled, no ice? If I get my Manhattan ‘UP’ will it come pre-chilled?
    A little help….

  • John Claude says:

    There isn’t (nor is there a need) a specific term for multiple unchilled liquids.

    Manhattans are generally served chilled as a rule. Any bartender who serves you up a warm one (unless you ask for it) has no business behind a bar.

  • MarkP says:

    “(unless you ask for it)” Like I said, I did/do ask for it that way. I also said I’m not a purist. I like what I like. If it is not a *real* Manhattan then Ok…call it something else. But, do you mean to say that there is no other drink in the world that has multiple liquors that can be served either chilled or unchilled? What about Highball variants? Rusty Nails? …etc?

  • John Claude says:

    I mean there’s not a term specifically for unchilled multiple liquor drinks. They’re just cocktails or shots. Rusty Nails are usually on the rocks FYI.

  • Brett says:

    Not sure if this thread is still being followed….here’s my question: I like Manhattans prepared as described for “up” but prefer it in an old-fashioned glass (just not a fan of martini glasses). What’s the best way to order this? I’ve been told “chilled, neat” (which doesn’t really make sense). I usually end up spelling it out…something like “chilled in a rocks glass, but no ice” just to be very clear. Any thoughts?

  • Brett – I think you’re probably best off ordering your drink as you have been. Sorry I don’t have more to offer, but I think “chilled in a rocks glass, but no ice” is a fine order.

  • John Claude says:

    I get this a lot. Just say “A Manhattan, but could you put it in a rocks glass?”. Unless the bartender is a drooling dolt, he/she should understand.

  • If the bartender is drooling, look for another bar! Don’t take a chance that he may accidentally put in more than simple syrup. 🙂

  • chuck says:

    The only way to drink nice single malts like Lagavulin or Macallan is neat, perhaps with 2 small ice cubes or water *back*.

    sometimes i order cheaper single malts (livet and fiddich) rocks, and so occasionly i’ll slip up and order a nice single malt rocks.

    I know the mettle of a bartender who looks at me like the blackjack dealer looks at a player who just doubled down a 5 against a Jack, as if to say “you really want a nice whisky like that rocks?”. If they do bring it rocks, like i ordered, but cleary not how it is supposed to be served, i will appologize and send it back. If they look upset, i will offer to pay for it, but still order a new one neat. If they try to sift the ice out of the first one, i leave 😉

    Being a bartender is about getting what we want, not necesarily what we ask for. unfortunately quality bartending is a lost art and most of what you get today are 20 something career community college students who havent a clue about what the bar experience is about from the customer perspective. thus in most places the ashtrays are overflowing, the puddles of beer on the bar are stale, the drinks take way too long, and everything in their lives, including their 2 absent baby daddys, is our fault. I find it hillarious when one of these 20 somthings gets huffy having to remember the few cheap single malts they carry. It is like, hon, i am obviously gladly willing to pay at least 2X more per drink than anyone in here, you may want to learn your trade and find out how your bread is buttered. what, i would be cool to you and you would not be huffy if i say and swilled $2 drafts all night like a frat boy?

  • chuck says:

    In most of Europe, ordering a water back gets you a small pitcher of luke water. In the states, ordering a water back usually gets you a huge glass of ice water. Does it set a bad tone if you explain to the bartender that you want a tradtional water back, after they hand you the big red plastic cup of ice cold tap water rocks? What is the best way/time to make this clarification?

    Also, when wanting only a few cubes of ice in a snifter to drop into scotch, how do you order this? i order a “small glass of ice” (then usually have to discuss/clarify that I do NOT want the drink pour over ice). A term like “rocks back” seems like it would be more effecient to convey this. i fear bartenders would not understand what i meant though. Is there a term already?

  • John Claude says:

    Chuck.

    If you order something a certain way, that’s how it’s going to get made. It’s not my job to give you what I think you should have. I may not like that you’ve asked me to “shake that martini to death” but hey, it’s your drink, not mine. I can suggest things if I think a mistake is being made or I feel you may like a variance, but if someone wants to drop rocks in their $25 scotch or salt the rim of that ridiculously expensive tequila, more power to them. I’m not paying for it. Also, you can’t “send drinks back” when it’s obviously your screw up. Especially when you’re dealing with expensive liquors. I might dump a Jack & Coke out, but I’m sure as Hell not watching that Blanton’s go down the drain. Suck it up, have the bartender strain the whiskey/whisky into another glass and learn from your mistake rather than throwing a perfectly good (yet slightly chilled) drink away.

    Out of curiosity, have you ever bartended? To presume what someone wants is just asking for issues. Honestly, if you pulled the kind of attitude you suggest you have, I’d rather deal with the frat boys than a patronizing, know-it-all customer.

    And it’s called “Rocks on the side”.

  • One solution I have found is to ask the bartender for a cocktail straw. I then can precisely add the amount of water I need from whatever size glass with however much cubed or crushed ice they may hand me. I simply dip the straw into the water, cover the end with a finger, and carry it over to my scotch. This is also a fine way to extend the drink experience, similar to an absinthe drip.

    If water is a real issue, bring some of your favorite bottled spring water. It will not only taste better, but be at room temperature. I don’t like the taste of tap water in my premium scotch much anyway.

  • chuck says:

    Cool ideas, Blair. Yes, if i get cheaper single malts i will order rocks with water back, use a straw with whatever they give for the water, and drop in my own splashes. it is more when i want a small glass of ice with a neat pour. John Claude had the suggestion of “rocks on the side”, which should work. Thanks!

  • chuck says:

    John Claude, first thanks for the tip on “rocks on the side”. That helps.

    Next, no I have never bartended, but spend way too much time at bars – both as part of my job and recreationally. I am not sure what industry you work in (though I guess it is consumer services as a bartender), but it does not take a genius to figure out that bartending as a profession has crumbled. Like I said, it is a lost art.

    As to my attitude, if i am paying 20 bucks per drink, and the bartender is there to serve me, they better get it right or make it right. If getting it right takes a lot of insight and care into 1) what drinks you have to offer, and 2) respectful suggestions/clarifications as to preparations methods, especially if it seems a slip of the tounge, it may be good for the bartender to look past literal interpretations. An attitude of a bartender/waitress/hairstylist, etc. taking something literal and being defensive with “that is what you said” is just the kind of bartender/et al that complains at the end of the night about getting stiffed on tips. Of course, this is about 90%+ of the bartenders out there.

    I think customers (in bars, but in hospitality services in general) have set our standards WAY too low for FAR too long, being served by mostly 20 somethings who have no interest in their professions and are mostly in it to make cash tips. This is why a customer who insists to be 1) treated as very important even if he is not swilling cheap stale domestic like all the yahoos, and 2) sends drinks back that are not made to his liking, appears to have an attitude.

    Though not a bartender, I have been in professional servies for 15 years. My customers often say they want something a certain way yet often they really want something different. If it is their dime, my real work starts when i have to find the delta between what is asked for and what is truly wanted. My ‘bar’ does not go low enough for me to say “Hey, that is what they said they wanted…..”. My boss never buys that excuse. Bottom line, customers are my lifeblood: i have to make it right or find someone who can, end of story.

    We should not forget, the customers are paying – and paying a premium. This buys them leadway with attitude and insistence on excellence. The bardender (or computer consultant, or mechanic, or dentist, etc….), otoh, are servants, even if they have some sort of power trip or defensiveness that they could never have interpretted an order incorrectly.

    Lastly, I can and will refuse any drink I do not like. Sorry! And yes, if it apears to cause a problem with the 20 something, I will offer to pay. I’m not cheap, i just wanted it right. If i get any flak after then I will talk with the manager or leave. Life is too short to deal with bartenders who could never make mistakes and take stances of “if this guy wants it this way, this is how he gets it. if he does not like it, he can suck wind.”

  • ND says:

    Hey man, I’m not sure what a “slip of the tounge” is, but it sounds embarrassing. I wish I could find a bartender that gives me EXACTLY what I ask for, without getting clever and modifying it (“sorry sir, James Bond said to shake your martini”). And seriously, where do you get off ordering something, and then not paying for it because you made a mistake?! I do agree that a bartender can make suggestions, but if you’re not asking for something totally off the wall (like a malt whisky with a nice cherry Coke), then good service demands giving you what you ask for—the bartender’s not a clairvoyant, and he’s also not a babysitter. Sorry.

  • chuck says:

    ND, good bartending is about excellent customer satisfaction. If arguing with a paying customer about who said what is the way a bartender gets excellent satisfaction, more power to him. Uh, where i “get off” is demanding excellent service for the premium i pay. Some bartenders get that, most do not.

    And if patrons are obligated to pay for any drink from anyone because they say so, why wouldnt they charge for it, before they bring it?

    Most decent bar managers understand that a few re-makes is part of the cost of doing business. If you, however, think business increases by asking customers “where do you get off?!?”, enjoy the increase in business.

    Bar patrons around the world: you do not have to keep taking this kind of crap from your local bartenders!!! Demand excellence. It will push the hacks out and increase the numbers that drop their attitudes, provide excellent, friendly service and ensure satisfaction.

  • ND says:

    Que? Let me get this straight: you order a $25 Scotch, and you specifically ask for it “on the rocks”. Then, when it arrives, you argue with the waiter that the bartender should’ve known that expensive Scotch shouldn’t be served on the rocks, but rather be served neat with a small pitcher of mineral water on the side. You then send the drink back, and insist that the bartender should pour you a new drink because a proper bartender would’ve taken the initiative to make sure that your order was correct. And you sincerely believe that the bar manager’s pandering to your fickle arguments is going to somehow put more money into his pocket (because, as you put it, he’s the “slave” in the situation?).

    I often work very closely with people in the hospitality industry, and it sounds to me like you’re the kind of customer who gets a hidden round of applause when he leaves the establishment.

  • John Claude says:

    Chuck.

    Let me start by saying this. I’m a damn good bartender. I do my research, I make an excellent and consistent cocktail, my customers love me. I adore the craft and I plan on continuing it as a profession probably until the end of my days.

    I don’t argue with you that a really great bartender is hard to find. I’m in fact moving back to Portland, OR from Providence, RI for just that fact. The bars and what they do here are atrocities. Terrible service, terrible drinks, no ingenuity. People out here think they’re God’s gift to bartending because they use simple syrup. It’s absurd. I’m returning home to hone my craft and learn from the best.

    Let me tell you, people have WEIRD tastes. I just the other night watched a table in the dining room order two Filet Mignons WELL DONE. I could almost hear the chef’s head hitting the cutting table when that order went through. The thing is, if I tried to nudge everyone another way when I thought what they were doing was wrong, I’d have a lot of indignant and offended customers on my hands. Like was said earlier, unless it’s something completely out of the ballpark (I have often times sent waitresses back to the table to clarify orders), I’m going to give the customer what they asked for. For a customer to then blame me because I should have known what they meant is just absurd. And for you to say I or anyone else is an unqualified bartender for that reason is just plain insulting.

    I’m sure you’re a very nice person and I would love to learn more about Scotch whisky from you (in fact, if you can recommend any books on the matter I’d be happy to look into them. Scotch’s are one of my weak points) but please, please, please drop the attitude. I’m here to serve you, but I’m not your “servant”. You’re not going to make many friends on a website populated by bartenders and servers by using terms like that.

    Best of luck and enjoy the Scotch. Sans rocks. ; )

  • S. Jolly says:

    John Claude,

    Beautifully Stated!!

    A Fat Kudoos to You!

    I am a bartender like yourself, pursueing the “lost art” Studying, listening, learning all that I can of my profession..
    I am also a drinker and I want my Whiskey neat with a coke back.
    I live in a College town and u should see the looks that are thrown when I place my simple little order at other local bars.

    My point??

    I understand Chucks arguements. I don’t believe that he is referring to US.

    Keep up the good work up there.. I’ll keep in “neat” down in GA!

  • dogimo says:

    I always love those pool joints that post up a sign of “House Rules” that are really just the normal rules but its there to point the dummy to it.

    I think a big ol Ye-Ol’-Style brass placard of some kind behind the bar would be incredibly useful. “NEAT = x. UP = y. STRAIGHT UP = z. TWIST IS A PEEL NOT A WEDGE!”

    This would aid patron and barkeep alike.

    Yes, I carry with me at all dinnertimes a laminated placard showing a photo of a steak cooked to each of the 7 degree of order (including raw and burnt).

  • raystargazer says:

    This is an old thread, but I have to comment after reading it all. My dad was a scotch drinker from way back. Gave it up more or less in his 50s, but managed to plant the seed. So I’ve been playing with fidich and so forth (best I can afford) and when time are tough I fall back on JW. I like them all. As far as bars and servants, you’re all right. There is a mass of bad spots and a few good ones. My definition (learned from dad) is a bar you can sit in and relax. I only drank in a bar once with dad, but he just sat down, dropped his pack of luckys on the bar, ordered his scotch and visibly relaxed. He taught me how to sip (contrary to the shot guzzler kids I hung out with), and I do that to this day. My point is – relax. If you have a bartender who’s antagonistic, do the best you can to enjoy your drink and find another place. Otherwise, chat with him. They usually take the time to listen if they’re any good, and getting exactly what you want is no harder than what the pros here say. Order a scotch neat with a water back, or even “can I have a fidich neat with a cup of ice on the side?” Both would work in my experience and it’s not really that hard. I can tell you pouring out a good scotch would break my heart. Probably I would ask that he drain off the ice into another glass and bring me a second one minus the ice. By the time the second one was gone, the first one would be fine. Most of all drinking at a bar should be sans stress. So relax and understand that there are misunderstandings. Try to be clear while you’re still sober and you’ll get what you want.
    Good thread! Thanks to all.

  • Frumpulent Grumpton says:

    “And if, as a bartender, you’ve received an order for a Ketel One ‘straight up’, you should probably check with your customer to make sure they’re looking for chilled vodka and vermouth, and not a glass of warm vodka.”

    I think you mean, “a Ketel One Martini”. Where did the Vermouth request come from?

  • John Claude says:

    I think you mean a Ketel One Kangaroo.

  • G-man says:

    At bartending school we were explicitly told, up, neat, straight and straight up all mean the same thing. Warm shot right out of the bottle. Although “straight up” was used to refer to cocktails that are mixed with ice then strained into a chilled glass. But now the term “chilled shot” has come into use to avoid the confusing of whether you want the shot chilled or not. If they don’t ask for a chilled shot and they say “straight up, stright, neat, or up” you give it to them neat. If they complain you can always toss it into some ice and give it to them chilled, after all you can’t un-chill it, if they didn’t want it that way.

  • John Claude says:

    G-Man.

    I’m sure you learned sone wonderful things in bartending school, but trust us, “Up” does not mean neat.

  • BP says:

    Fun comments to read, even thought they span 2 years now.

    Having spent a lot of time on both sides of the bar, I can relate somewhat to Chuck is saying. To me, good service includes verification when it seems someone is making an unusual order. When it’s me taking the order, I’ll try to act like I’m the idiot. In Chuck’s case, I’d probably confirm the rocks order by saying something like “I’m sorry, did you say you wanted that ‘neat’ in a rocks glass, or over ice.”

    Allowing the customer to make a mistake is not good service IMO. And in his defense, Chuck did say he would offer to pay for his mistakently ordered drink. Some of the responses made it sound like Chuck asked the bar to pay for his mistake.

  • John Claude says:

    Here’s the rub though. Chuck’s “request” isn’t unusual in the least. When someone is paying $25 per drink, one can assume they know what they want. Especially given the pompous attitude Chuck is bringing to the table here. I always repeat orders back to the customers, but I have a feeling Chuck would be too busy patting himself on the back about his excellent taste in drinks to even notice.

    Let me make this clear though, I would never, ever, berate or tell a customer to suck it. Things happen, that’s the nature of the business, and with the markup on booze, it’s not such a huge los to have to pour a drink out here and there. But for Chuck to tell me I’m a bad bartender because I’m not a mind reader is ridiculous. Had he made a strange request, sure, I’d verify, but with a normal request, no, I’m not going to grill him about his choice.

    Allowing a customer to make a mistake (Tequila Alexander?) can be construed as silly, but ordering a scotch (even if it is expensive) rocks is not “a mistake”. It’s a very, very, very common order.

  • Angela says:

    I bartend at a fine dining establishment in Birmingham, Alabama. This blog is excellent. I frequently make Sazeracs, French 75s, old fashions, and other classic cocktails. The ordering process is indeed a lost art, though. I always know what to expect when someone asks for a martini list versus a cocktail menu. I once even had someone ask me if I make a good apple martini. I told them that I will indeed make them an apple martini and that I hope that they will enjoy it. (I personally think that touting my apple martini skills would be the equivalent of our sous chef touting his hamburger-helper making skills).
    I have problems with people ordering martinis. A trend here in Birmingham is to muddle martinis very heavily. The result is a very cold drink with a layer of crushed ice. Most customers have come to expect this and I always ask my customers if they would like for their martini to be heavily muddled. Most people LOVE it. However, I still get those purists who order their vodka or gin martinis “straight up” and by that mean that they do not want the drink to have any vermouth and to be stirred and not shaken or muddled.
    What is your take on heavily muddled vodka or gin martinis?

  • Angela – THis is honestly the first time I’ve ever heard of someone muddling a Martini, so I might not be of much help. Other than to say this: that if you’re going to use that much crushed ice to chill what should be a stirred drink, you’re going to be adding a hell of a lot of water. If that’s what your guests like, then by all means give it to them.

    But when I drink a martini, I like it to be cold and strong. And I leave the muddler in my tool bag.

  • Angela says:

    I guess it’s a Bham thing. It was started by Highland Bar and Grill and now it’s everyone’s favorite thing. People just love crushed ice, I think. I just feel bad for the purists who keep getting a layer of ice when they don’t want it. Thanks!

  • Rachel says:

    What does it mean when ‘served down’?

  • Ian says:

    Down means the same thing as up but in a rocks glass.

    Chilled over ice and strained into an empty rocks glass.

  • Arme says:

    I ordered an Irish whiskey, neat, is a bar one time. The bartender said they had Dewars. I told her that was Scotch, not Irish, and ordered rum, neat instead. She asked “What’s ‘neat’?” I almost walked out of the bar.

  • Bryon says:

    Good article and comments. As a scotch enthusiast this was interesting to read. I usually order mine with a ice cube or two, I will have to try it neat soon. I am not a big people person but would like to learn the craft and maybe own day own a nice bar.

    Cheers

  • Jason says:

    @ #10, regarding “water back”, and interpretations thereof:

    I ordered a Scotch at a hotel bar in Minneapolis a couple years back, with water back. Simple enough…

    I got what I asked for, but with a curve…in this particular bar, ordering Scotch w/ water back got you a double pour on the spirit. I was so busy running my mouth and enjoying the drink the doubling didn’t register in my brain till I went to pay the tab.

    So, for you professionals, I ask: is this unusual? It didn’t break my heart to get that double Scotch, but it *did* surprise me.

  • Bob says:

    Interesting thread as I had my first experience with this sort of thing just this evening. I ordered a 15 y/o Single malt straight up with water on the side. The waitperson understood that I meant undiluted/unchilled whiskey with a small glass of water on the side yet the bartender overruled her and shook the whiskey over ice and served it in a martini glass with a brimming glass of water.
    My waitperson was superb and replaced the drink even though I said it was not necessary. And yes, this positively impacted on her tip.
    I’ve been of legal drinking age for 40 years and this is the first time I’ve ever had this sort of confusion ordering a decent single malt with water on the side. I am aware of the ambiguity in the terms neat, up, straight up but the nature of what and how it was ordered along with the bartender’s overruling of the waitress should have at least prompted a request for clarification from the bartender. After all, the bartender is the professional and should have an understanding of how things should be served even when the customer might like it served differently.

  • Bob says:

    Jean Claude
    With all due respect to you, if someone is ordering a $25 scotch in an unusual way, should you not make sure you have understood the order correctly? After that, it’s all on the customer.

  • John Claude says:

    Bob. I’d hardly call “on the rocks” an unusual request for a scotch. If the server (who often times is not that well versed with bar terminology) comes to me with an order for a drink that seems a little…off, I’ll send them back to clarify, and like I said, I generally repeat back to the customer when they order something. I’m not going to be a pretentious douche and say something like “Oh, you want this $25 scotch ON THE ROCKS???” and try to shame my customer. If it’s what they ordered, and what they specifically want, I’m going to give it to them. I may say something like, “You drink it neat ever? I really like the blah blah blah aspects of it…”, but generally I’m not here to judge someone’s palate.

  • Luther says:

    It’s been nearly a year but I ordered “johnny walker black, double, neat, water back” and the waitress seemed confused but didn’t ask any questions. She returned from the bar and asked me to explain, hence, the bartender didn’t know either.

    I really felt like I was in the twilight zone as I have asked for the same drink nearly every night for forty years in exactly the same manner as I stated above & this was the first time I actually stumped the stars.

  • Wootten says:

    Do your research on vernacular champ. Ordering a drink “neat” means adding one ice cube to a “shot” in a double shot or a small bucket.
    Your definition of “neat” is called a “shot”. Just an FYI.

  • Wootten – I’m sure that’s how you do it at whatever dance club or dive bar you’ve been working in for the past year, but I assure you this is not really proper terminology. It is, however, the sort of lazy calls bartenders in, say, dance clubs and dive bars use.

  • Jason says:

    I have been drinking for a fair amount of time, in bars all over America.

    I have NEVER ordered a drink “neat” and gotten anything other than the spirit itself in a glass with no additions, accompaniments, etc.

  • Wootten says:

    I’m sure you understand Dance clubs very well and really there’s nothing wrong with dive bars. However, I’ve been tending bars for 39 years and currently call Top of the Mark my final gig. Maybe finding some humility yourself and actually practicing the art of mixology instead of preaching it would aid in your despair.
    And really, there is no need to respond Sir.

  • jefffrane says:

    In a blog argument last year, one derp was claiming that his use of “40” had nothing to do with malt liquor or ghettos. He tried to claim that “40” was how anyone ordered a beer, not only in the US but all over Europe and the UK. Typically for a troll, he refused to back down in spite of a storm of derision.

    Oh, maybe it was vernacular.

  • Atroc says:

    So, this guys saying that “neat” means on one rock? That is th stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. And who on earth thinks a rocks glass is called a “small bucket”?

  • Emily says:

    I prefer my Ciroc or Kettle One chilled. No ice. How would I order i if I wanted it with a twist? Up wih a twist?

  • LM says:

    Wootten (#69) wins a coveted Internet Ass-hat Award. Easily, one of the dumbest statements ever published. Congrats, sir.

  • Roberts says:

    Neat = directly from the bottle, room temp, unchilled glass, no ice…Period.

  • uglier says:

    There should be a picture of Wootten in the dictionary next to the entry, “idiot”.

  • CBR says:

    I’m so glad to see recent comments! The entire time I was reading through all the old comments I was wondering when the comments died…

    I wish I could find a bar that is run by professionals like yourselves.

  • Michelle says:

    I have worked as a server, a manager, a bartender (only a little a long time ago), and have basically been in the restaurant/ bar business for 20 plus years.
    I am currently a server and there is a new bartender who is telling me that neat means chilled and up means not chilled. I know this is incorrect and so does the other bartenders at work. The Bartender who is misinformed is not new to bar tending, just new to our pub. How do I go about correcting him without causing an argument or offending him? How does he not know this if he has been a bartender for several years??
    I didn’t want to have to go to a manager to have them correct him because I felt that was calling him out on it and I didn’t want to make a big deal about it. But I do need to let him know the right way 🙂

  • willie says:

    When ordering bourbon neat is it standard to recieve 1 shot or a double shot

  • Ryan S says:

    Just curious as a relative newcomer to the scotch world. What’s the perk of getting water and/or ice back? I’m just 30, and my first real experiences with single malts were recent and I’ve always ordered neat (on the advice of an excellent bartender). I like the drink as is, and don’t see the need to add water or ice. However, I’m always open to suggestions and advice. Any explanations?

  • Jason says:

    I don’t personally order Scotch on the rocks (or as Scotch & water) anymore unless it’s a cheap blend.

    However, I will generally order a ice-water back sometimes because I might feel like a *little* water in – just a splash or a few drops – in order to open up the aroma a bit, and I don’t really trust most bars to understand that.

    (I also like to drink the water itself, particularly if I’ll be drinking more. Helps me pace myself if I’m out for the evening.)

  • Nathan says:

    @ Ryan S: Your safest bet is to drink malt whisky neat, although a scant teaspoon or two of spring water may release additional layers of aroma and flavour that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to detect. Ice, on the other hand, is best left out of good whisky.

  • Too says:

    May be a loaded question, but what’s the main difference between single malt scotch vs others vs Tennessee whiskey vs Irish whiskey vs bourbon, etc.

    I usually just drink JD neat in casual bar settings, ad switch it up to scotch (mcallans 12 year usually) neat in more formal settings. I’ve switched to kentucky bourbons and other scotch brands but never really got the difference. and never tried it with a splash of water but will give it a try.

    Honestly my palate doesn’t really differentiate, but I’m a young buck so what do I know anyhow?

  • John says:

    The best thing I’ve derived from this conversation is to get to know your bartender. If you are ordering at a bar you’ve never been at or from a bartender you don’t know, it is best to simply ASK him/her what the terms mean in their experience. Or simply describe what you want when dealing with an unfamiliar location or person. “Macallan 25 with a single small ice cube” should be clear. Or ‘a shot of Michter’s Small Batch, no frills’. Just ask the server, ‘If I order ‘neat’ how will it be served?’ It would be awesome if the establishments which serve enough variety of premium liquor to rate a ‘list’ of bourbons, tequilas, scotches, etc., would print on that list what their application of the terms entails.
    And Too, a SMALL bit of water or a SMALL ice cube helps a good scotch or premium tequila or special bourbon to ‘bloom’ and release fragrance and complex flavors. Jack D probably doesn’t benefit from this but Van Winkle well might. Next time you have a GOOD single malt, smell and taste it, then add one small ice cube and see which you prefer. Either way is good and it’s YOUR taste you want to satisfy.

  • Trey says:

    I really need to get on the splash of water thing myself. Also what are some recommendations on single malts that don’t break the bank? To give you a ballpark, Glenfiddich 12 or 15 is my go to but I’ve been exposed to things I’ll never afford on the regular (sadly discontinued Macallan cask strength being a favorite) so I’ve got a somewhat decent palate.

    Thanks in advance if this thread still has a pulse!

  • Jason says:

    Trey:

    If you like big ol’ sherry bombs like the dearly-departed Macallan Cask Strength, I would recommend looking into:

    Glenfarclas 105
    Glendronach Cask Strength
    Aberlour A’Bunadh

    Depending on your locale, those tend to run in the $60-90 range.

    All three of those distilleries also have regular-strength bottlings that are quite nice in a variety of age ranges. Glenfarclas 12 is one such example of a very well-put-together whisky.

    Glenmorangie also makes some very nice products in various finishes – sherry, port, Sauternes, etc. All reasonably priced.

    If you’re into Scotch, I might recommend checking out Reddit.com’s Scotch community – http://www.reddit.com/r/scotch .

  • Trey says:

    Jason:

    Wow, way more info than I expected to get so quick! Thanks so much and I’ll definitely check those out 🙂

  • Steve S says:

    I was just in Chicago an ordered some whiskey at a restaurant bar. I’m a big guy and like to order a “double” whenever I’m not pouring it myself. I ordered a Jameson “double – neat” and she told me that neat already means double. I thought it meant just what you had described – out of the bottle with nothing added. Does double modify the meaning of neat? The young guy behind me agreed with the bartender. Who was right? I don’t mind a “double-double-neat”, but it seemed that I had to say “no ice” while in Chicago.

  • John Claude Esh says:

    In regards to the neat/double thing. I know a lot of places back east, shots (for shooting back quickly) are a straight 1oz. So maybe if you’re ordering it neat (to sip) you get a proper full pour? Some regional cultural process.

  • Gabriel says:

    Nice !!

    I just finished reading the whole thread. 6 years of comments. It’s 2 am and I am very happy to have spent this time reading. I learn quite a few new things. Thank you all. I am going to try my scotch with a splash of water in my tulip shaped glass, and play with the imagination to see what new and fascinating aromas I can find.

    Salud !

  • Tim says:

    Can you tell me the origin of the superstition of three ice cubes in a brown liquor drink? It was passed down to me by my first girlfriend’s father, who was the first person who poured me a bourbon on the rocks. He insisted that there always had to be an odd number of ice cubes in the glass. In a tumbler he insisted on 3. If it was a larger glass for special occasions, 5.

    He was a professional, with a hard earned diploma from the University of Georgia to prove it. I suspect the 5 cubes was an excuse for a larger drink, but 3 cubes in a tumbler just feels right. One wouldn’t get the liquor cold. Two seems incomplete. Three seems to be just right – the Goldilocks effect.

    Maybe he was just screwing with me because that’s what I was doing with his daughter.

    One night we were all out at a pizza restaurant near Atlanta and there was a high school class mate of ours at the bar by himself.

    My future father-in-law boldly stated, “Never trust a man who drinks alone.” I thought he was just imparting wisdom from his nightlife playbook. But years later after we broke up, I found out that that guy at the bar married my old girlfriend. He was probably there stalking her.

    But I digress. Do you know about the three ice cubes superstition??

  • John Bell says:

    straight is the same as neat… which means room temp, room temp glass.. up means chilled (shaken with ice then poured)

    on the rocks, obviously, on ice.

    that’s really all there is to it unless you want to specify your choice of glass as well, but both straight/neat and up are generally served in rocks glasses

  • Michelle says:

    Great thread. Thanks. I ordered a whiskey straight up last night in a nice (but brand new) bar (now I know I should have ordered it neat) but it came in a shot glass, and I was put off. I felt like a college kid at our table. Almost sent it back for a lowball glass but was insecure in my order to begin with and didn’t want to be a snob. I really wanted that whiskey but boy did I hate that shot glass. I came here today looking for some direction and education so it doesn’t happen again.

    Thanks for the lesson!

  • Brian Thompson says:

    I’m quite late to this article (I actually found it while researching drinking gin neat), so my point may or may not have been mentioned in the comments already… Anyway, this is a bit contrary to how I’ve always understood it to be. I don’t think many will argue on the meaning of “neat”… i.e. no BS… a spirit poured straight out of the bottle (or decanter) into a glass. However, I believe “up” does not require a drink to be chilled… It simply specifies the glassware, more than anything else… Up… up high… elevated… i.e. a cocktail glass. “Straight” being the term that denoted a drink chilled with ice (however not served with ice). “Straight up” would be a chilled spirit or cocktail that is then strained into a cocktail glass. “Straight” would be simply chilled and strained into (to me) a lowball glass. And back to another that no one would argue, I’d imagine, “on the rocks” is simply served in a glass over ice. So…

    Neat = room temp spirit in a glass
    Straight = chilled/strained spirit in a glass
    Up = served “up” in a cocktail glass (or a coupe)
    Straight up = chilled and strained into a cocktail glass
    On the rocks = served over ice in a glass

    …At least, that’s how I’ve always understood it…

  • Ashley says:

    So the correct phrasing to order say, a Dewars, or similar, would be something like, “Dewars, neat, with a water back”? Or would it be, ” Neat Dewars with a water back. ” I don’t want to sound like a total jackass, lol.

  • Ira says:

    Jeffrey, I just found your website, it’s great thanks! I know this is an old thread but here’s my two cents in reference to ordering a Martini “Up”. I was taught that a Martini by definition is an “Up” drink so saying so is redundant and it has always kind of bothered me to hear one ordered that way…Thoughts?

  • Peter VE says:

    “Bulleit, neat, water side” always gets me what I want in the bars I prefer to go to.

  • Marvie says:

    Hi..
    Can you help me with this question?
    If the customer orders scotch on the rock without specifying any particular brand.what brand i will going to serve?
    Thank you.!

  • Mark says:

    Wow, long lasting thread. I have been keeping my whiskey in the freezer so I can have it start out cold AND undiluted. I find mixed drinks, when served up, assert their flavors better this way. It has gotten so that if I order a mixed drink out, I’m grumpy that it has gotten so watered down. Is there a term for getting ones liquor pre-chilled?

  • Sam says:

    I’ve been trying to push the term. “Chilled neat” for cocktails that are chilled put served in a rocks glass, like a Sazerac. Thoughts? Have do you prefer other terms for this application?

  • abe says:

    This is a cool website. Its kind of funny how different terms vary in different places. Ive been bartending for over a decade in very high class martini bars and neighborhood dives as well. I always thought that “up” meant in a stemmed glass not necessarily chilled ie martinis,manhattans , cordials etc. the glass changed depending on the type of alchohol but would always have a stem of some kind hence “up”.If they asked for a Bailey’s “up” it would come in a snifter or pony glass. I always have to clarify about “dry” and “bone-dry” that varies alot because our clientele is old and young. universally , “rocks ” mean ice. “neat” means in a class no additional liqours. And “straight up” is the same but in stemware. No one ever orders a warm martini so it is understood that they are all chilled and if they want the ice crystals “bruised” or “beaten ” are the terms used. Thank you for the blog and the information to help hone my craft

  • Ky resident says:

    Just want to keep this thread alive. Best I have found for a decent review of terms for a server.

  • Indygal says:

    Thanks to all who have weighed in. I started reading this thread earlier today and tonight I poured my Bushmills over just one small cube instead of a glass full. So much better! And as soon the cooler weather arrives, I am going for “neat”. (Hey, it takes time to change old ways.) But thank you again for the education. I can’t wait to pour my bourbons neat and enjoy them on a whole new level.

  • Tim says:

    Jeff, wow your blog has many many years of comments! Some smart (Jean Claude) some not so much..(Wooten)You should be proud! thanks for taking the time To make this lingo very clear. Best Regards from Tx.

  • Kolette says:

    Bar #1: I ordered a drambuie, & asked if it could be served warm. (Minnesota/middle of Jan/30-below 🙂 The bartender poured the drambuie into a snifter, & then balanced the snifter (on its side) & laid it on top of a rocks glass that was filled with hot water. It was perfect…just what I wanted! it was warm, & stayed warm thru-out my sipping 🙂 Cost: approx $10.00

    Bar #2: I ordered that same drink & it was served exactly as I asked (same procedure as Bar#1)but when I got my bill, I was charged $10 each for the 2 drambuies, along with a $3/drink “neat” charge. Not being a spirits-connoisseur, I asked the bartender what “neat” meant, & he said the “neat” charges were for the hot-water set-ups. I thought it strange, since Bar#1 didn’t charge me, but oh well. Also, being a novice, I then assumed that the word “neat” meant “warm, over hot water”.

    Bar#3: so now, armed with my new word, I ordered a “drambuie, neat”, & per your definition, Jeffrey, I got my drambuie straight out of the bottle…no heat, no hot water, no nothin’. I told the bartender that I wanted my snifter of drambuie laying in a glass of hot water, & he sweetly did that for me…& when I asked him about my use of the word, “neat”, he explained that what he had originally served me was considered “neat”. It was all very cordial, & I told him that I really didn’t know what I was saying, but I thanked him for his patience. (by the way, classy, urban, upscale bar, but no “extra” charge. tho a BIG tip to the kind bartender)

    Bottom line: I’m still confused about 1: how to use the proper terminology when ordering the hot-water set-up, & 2: the use of the word “neat” on Bar #2’s bill (?)

    I’m sure the whole hot-water set-up takes more time, so an extra-charge for that doesn’t bother me…But the term “neat” surprised me then, & it especially perplexes me NOW after reading this thread!

  • Marco Polo says:

    I love this thread and have been lurking it for a couple of years. Let’s keep it alive… 1 more year and it will be a decade!

    Who says you can’t achieve immortality?

  • Lando says:

    @Kolette

    1. Seems like you ordered correctly and got what you asked for.

    2. The “neat” charge was not for a hot-water setup, just a bartender that didn’t know or didn’t understand the question. The “neat” charge is there because that bar likely makes neat drinks with larger (2-3oz) pours than standard drinks. The bar I work at has add-on buttons like that for any liquor that is served in larger portions or special preparations like martinis, manhattans, etc. So, for instance, if you ordered a grey goose martini your ticket would say Grey Goose $10, and a $2 martini charge.

    3. He was correct, and gave it to you “neat”. “Warm” is a separate request.

    Not sure if you’ll see this, but I hope it helps. Cheers.

  • Scott says:

    Slightly off topic: I have had no problems when asking for my whiskey neat, but I prefer it in a slightly chilled glass. This is seen as a picky order by some, but most bartenders oblige. Living in Southern California, bars can be warm…so “room temperature” might be warmer than I’d like for my drink. And this problem is often compounded by glasses that have just been washed in hot water. So, “neat in a chilled glass” is how I make sure my whiskey isn’t warm, but also isn’t diluted.

  • Chanel says:

    A year ago at a bar in Boulder, I ordered a pour of Lagavulin “neat, straight, and up, please and thank you.” I was attempting to show off my ability to name a Scotch Whisky in front of friends, as I had just begun drinking these types of spirits and felt accomplished due to this new adventurous undertaking. The girl stood there looking at me as though I had a third eye on my forehead and I impatiently asked her if there was a problem. She politely responded, “I’m sorry ma’am, but that doesn’t make sense” and proceeded to explain why. To this day I can’t thank her enough for correcting me, although my friends have never let me live that down…lol

  • Markus says:

    Jeffrey —

    Thank you for clearing that up!

    Everything you’ve laid out makes perfect sense, but what is the possibility the patron asking for, say, bourbon “straight up” is neither looking for their bourbon “neat” nor simply “up.” I was given to understand it meant poured “neat” (not a cocktail, etc.) but eventually served “up”, after being chilled over ice (rather than refrigerated)… or how should that be ordered?

    [Name of bourbon] “up” and “shaken” or “strained” or… (as applicable), perhaps?

    What’s more, perhaps you can settle a private wager — what is implied if someone orders a similar drink “short and neat”? My position – often disputed by certain friends – is that the more ambiguous part of the request is for a “short pour”. In other words, a smaller rather than larger drink; as opposed to served in a shorter glass.

    • “Chilled and neat” would be an acceptable way to order this. There’s not a standard term for that because, frankly, it’s an uncommon way to drink a spirit.

      As for your private wager, “short” really only is used when talking about beer. If you want a half shot of whiskey, just ask for a half shot or a half pour.

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