Things You Are Afraid to Ask Your Bartender

Cocktails,Drinks
July 3, 2014

Don't embarrass yourself at the bar. Get those burning alcohol questions answered and order confidently!

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We all have those burning questions about drink and drink etiquette. Most of us just don’t want to look silly asking them in front of our friends or – hubba hubba—that cute mixologist behind the bar. So here it is: everything you wanted to know about drinks that you were too afraid to ask. Class starts now.

Neat, up, straight up, sideways? What direction should I order my drink?

Things You Always Wanted to Ask a Bartender But Were Too Afraid to A

These orders involve pours of your spirit of choice into a glass in their purest form. No garnishes, no twists, no mixers. Just solid premium liquor. The difference is the temperature at which they’re served. Neat: These drinks are poured directly from the bottle into a glass and served to thirsty customers at room temperature. Straight up or up: They mean the same exact thing; one’s just shorthand (kinda like how “brother” became “bro”). These drinks are poured directly from the bottle into a tin with ice, shaken or stirred, then strained into a glass and served to thirsty customers chilled.

Garnishes, part A: Are they purely decorative, or do I plunk or squeeze them into my drink? 

Things You Always Wanted to Ask a Bartender But Were Too Afraid to A

Garnishes are meant for both visual appeal and flavor customization. Some purists will tell you to leave the lime wedge on the side of the glass, but it’s really up to your taste preference. Go ahead and squeeze the lime into your margarita glass if you want more lime flavor in your drink. Or leave it off if you want a stronger agave flavor to shine through. Up to you.

What’s the difference between shaken and stirred, and what the heck is “built”? 

Things You Always Wanted to Ask a Bartender But Were Too Afraid to A

Let’s start with a simple rule: The standard way to mix a cocktail that consists of spirits only is by stirring it. This method chills the drink to the proper temperature (uh, cold) and does not “bruise” the liquor, allowing the cocktail to taste the way it is meant to taste.

So here’s when to shake a cocktail: when there is citrus, cream, or egg white in it. This method also cools a cocktail, and more quickly than stirring. More important, it produces air bubbles and/or tiny shards of ice that cloud, froth, and generally make a drink look pretty.

Oh, and “built”: This just means the drink is “built” in the glass it’s served in, usually used when the drink calls for carbonation (like soda water) or is simply served on the rocks.

Garnishes, part B: Is it okay to eat the garnishes when I’ve finished drinking my cocktail? 

Things You Always Wanted to Ask a Bartender But Were Too Afraid to A

Generally, no. Citrus peels are used to add their oils to the surface of a drink for flavor. Do not eat them. Most other garnishes, like sprigs of mint and other herbs, are purely eye candy. At times, edible garnishes that go into a drink – like olives, onions, cucumber wedges, pickles, and maraschino cherries, are meant to add subtle, specific flavor to a cocktail. This flavor goes both ways; while the olive contributes to the drink, the alcohol in the drink contributes to the olive. Knowing this, it’s sometimes hard to resist that spirit-soaked treat on the bottom of your glass, so go right ahead and enjoy it.

Will I look like a newbie drinking out of that little cocktail straw? 

Things You Always Wanted to Ask a Bartender But Were Too Afraid to A

Yes. It is called a stirrer and is meant to be removed after stirring your cocktail. To truly enjoy your cocktail, it is important to drink from the glass. This puts your nose at the level of the drink so you get the true aroma of the cocktail.

What’s the best way to taste the salt on my margarita? Lick it? Use my finger? Just rotate the glass? 

Things You Always Wanted to Ask a Bartender But Were Too Afraid to A

Salt is part of the whole margarita experience – it balances the sweetness of Cointreau or triple sec, enhances the flavor of lime, and softens the bite of tequila. So sip from the rim, rotating as you go. If your margarita is served with a straw, remove it. Unless you ordered yours “sin sal” (without salt), which is just a shame.

Whiskey: water, ice, what?

Things You Always Wanted to Ask a Bartender But Were Too Afraid to A

Whether to dilute your whiskey depends on the strength of the whiskey and your personal palate. In higher-proof varieties, a splash of water or an ice cube can bring out flavors and aromas (and can soften the sting of the spirit). Whiskeys at lower proof may not need anything at all and can be drunk neat.

What is proof, anyway? 

Things You Always Wanted to Ask a Bartender But Were Too Afraid to A

Proof is the measurement of how much alcohol is in a bottle of liquor. In the United States, alcohol proof is defined as twice the percentage of alcohol by volume. So if a bottle lists “40 percent alcohol by volume,” it’s 80 proof. The higher the proof, the more alcohol it contains. So be careful.

The word comes from the 18th century, when distilleries had to prove the amount of alcohol in their spirit. They did this by lighting it on fire with gunpowder. If it didn’t light, the alcohol content was too weak, a sign that it was watered down.

How do I hold a wine glass?

Things You Always Wanted to Ask a Bartender But Were Too Afraid to A

It may seem prissy, but you should always hold a glass of wine by its stem, not the bowl. It’s not just an etiquette thing. White wine and Champagne are meant to be enjoyed chilled, and red wine at slightly cooler than room temperature. When you cup the bowl with your palm, your body heat warms the liquid inside. So try to resist.

So there you have it. Never again will you lack the confidence to order anything – and sound smart doing it. Test your newfound knowledge at a Fridays in your neighborhood.

Brought to you by TGI FRIDAYS. Come see the latest from the #SummerofFridays!


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