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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.