You’re officially of-age. You want to stock up your new bar cart. You want to make a drink for yourself that’s not a vodka sprite. But where to begin?

We’ve got you covered; introducing the Bartender Encyclopedia. A true mixologist (a synonym for bartender reserved for expensive cocktail bars) knows their lingo inside and out. So, from us to you, here’s an intro to common drinks, terms, and general vocabulary that will help you get better at making and ordering drinks, hopefully ones you’ll enjoy!


Alcohol Types

Bourbon (n): An American style of barrel-aged whiskey. More ‘classy’ than ‘cowboy’ these days.

Brandy (n): A spirit that’s made from distilled fruit, usually grapes. Your grandfather probably has some in a cupboard somewhere.

Aperitif (n): An alcoholic drink to be enjoyed before a meal to stimulate appetite. Common examples are vermouth or champagne. Likely ordered by that girl you know who likes to ski and summers in Martha’s Vineyard.

Gin (n): A spirit made from grains and infused with juniper berries for flavor. You know it from Ryan Reynolds, or maybe Queen Elizabeth II, depending on your crowd.

Liqueur (n): Different than liquor, liqueur is an umbrella term for a spirit that’s been sweetened with fruits, herbs, and/or spices. Liqueurs are usually lower in alcohol content than other spirits/liquors.

Liquor (n): Alcohol that has been distilled. Used synonymously with the term spirits.

Mezcal (n): A smoky, Mexican spirit made from agave. All Tequilas are Mezcals, not all Mezcals are Tequilas. 

Rum (n): A spirit made from fermented sugarcane or sugarcane molasses. A must-have for tropical drinks (or college spring break).

Schnapps (n): An alcoholic beverage category made up of sweetened, flavored liqueurs. Some examples are apple, banana, peach, or peppermint.

Scotch (n): A type of whiskey produced in Scotland made from malted barley and barrel aged for at least 3 years.

Spirit (n): Any distilled alcohol with an alcohol content over 20%. Used pretty much interchangeably with the term liquor.

Tequila (n): A distilled spirit made from agave and produced in specific regions of Mexico. A subcategory of Mezcal.

Top-shelf (adj): The most expensive version of a spirit that a bar offers. Ex: top-shelf vodka. Chat up whoever is ordering this at your local bar, maybe they’ll buy you a drink.

Triple Sec (n): A sweet, orange-flavored liqueur, commonly used in cosmopolitans, margaritas, etc.

Vermouth (n): A fortified wine that comes in varieties like sweet or dry. Commonly used in martinis.

Vodka (n): A distilled spirit that is clear and unaged. Your most popular liquor at a college bar.

Well (adj): The cheapest version of a spirit that a bar offers. Also popular at college bars.

Whiskey (n): A broad category of distilled spirit made from a fermented mash of corn, barley, wheat and rye that contains sub categories like Bourbon, Rye, Scotch, etc.

Drink Styles

Muddle (v): Mashing ingredients so as to release their flavors. Commonly done with fruits, herbs, or spices before adding them to a cocktail.

Neat (adj): A ‘neat’ drink is an un-mixed drink. Just alcohol in a glass. Usually reserved for expensive whiskey or aged liquor.

On the rocks (adj): A drink ‘on the rocks’ means a drink on ice.

Sours (n): A category of drink that, you guessed it, tastes sour. Made by mixing in lemon or lime juice. Ex: “I’d like to order a whiskey sour.”

Straight (adj): A ‘straight’ or ‘straight up’ drink is like a ‘neat’ drink, but usually chilled before pouring.


Bitters (n): Additives made from plants, water, and alcohol that add flavor to various drinks. Take a stab at what they taste like based on the name.

Chaser (n): Anything that you drink after taking a shot to make the alcohol go down easier. Usually sweet.

Garnish (n): Garnish is a decorative or flavorful piece added at the end of the drink making process. Common examples are olives, citrus wedges or peels, or tiny little umbrellas.

Mixer (n): Whatever it is you’re using in addition to alcohol. Can be juice, soda, tonic, water, etc.

Rim (adj): Coating applied to the rim of a glass for added flavor or presentation. Ex: a salt rim for a margarita.

Simple Syrup (n): Sugar that’s been dissolved in water, making it easier to mix into your drink of choice. Sweetens up any drink it’s added to.


Bar Spoon (n): A long-stemmed spoon used for mixing drinks.

Cocktail Shaker (n): A shaker, for cocktails. A must-have for any wannabe bartender.

Decanter (n): A decorative glass container used to store and serve wine or spirits. Great for bar carts and showing off to your friends.

Jigger (n): An hourglass-shaped tool used to measure liquid quantities. Basically a 2-sided shot glass.

Muddler (n): A bartending tool to crush ingredients.

Anything we missed? Leave a comment and let us know. Cheers!