Neat. Just alcohol; no ice, no mixing, no stirring or shaking. Take the bottle and pour some into a
glass. Refers only to spirits. While wine and beer are drunk this way, they do not require the specification,
as it is assumed you will be drinking it neat. Unless you are drinking a wine spritzer, of course, which you serve on the rocks at a picnic in a magazine shoot.
When to use it: Whiskey and brandy are often drunk neat. In Russia, vodka is drunk this way.
On the rocks. Any alcoholic drink served over ice. Could be straight liquor or a cocktail.
When to use it: Ice is used to mellow and even out the drink or to keep it really cold. Some drinks—especially summer ones—are always served on the rocks: Tom Collins, gin and tonic, mojito. Some drinks, like the margarita and the Negroni, swing both ways (ice or no
ice), depending on the circumstance.
Up or straight up. A cocktail shaken or stirred with ice to chill it, but then strained into a separate glass to create a drink is served without ice.
When to use it: Many cocktails are served straight up—the martini, the sidecar, the Manhattan. Drinks that need no mellowing or would be weird if watered down.
With a twist. Specifies that the drink is garnished with some sort of citrus peel. Usually lemon, though orange is also pretty common. Please note that it is not necessary (nor preferable if you ask me) to twist the peel into a little coil shape. It takes too long and the main reason you are garnishing with a citrus peel in the first place is to add some citrus oil to the drink. Slicing a straight strip off will do you just fine.
When to use it: Many cocktails benefit from a little citrus action. It can brighten up booze-heavy drinks like Martinis.
Dirty. Adding olive juice to a drink to make it even saltier than it would be with just an olive garnish.
When to use it: If you love both gin and salt.
The well or the rail. The well refers specifically to the tray of liquor kept just underneath the bar where a bartender has easy access to it—as opposed to the back bar which is the shelves of liquor directly behind the bar. The well usually contains cheaper liquor that will be the go-to for the bartender when they are making drinks.
When to use it: unless the bartender asks or you specify, you will be getting a well drink. And for a lot drinks, this is totally fine. There is no need to spend the extra dough on premium gin, for instance, if you are just going to mix it with an overpowering flavor like tonic. Upgrade for anything you drink neat or your spirit forward drinks.
Proof. The proof of an alcohol describes the amount of ethanol in it. Ethanol is the chemical in booze that makes your brain work funny. Like a lot of measurements made up by the British (yards, miles) “Proof” is strange and arbitrary and originally meant, “7/4 times the alcohol by volume (ABV).” I can’t even begin to wrap my head around that, but now it is defined as twice the percentage of ABV. So, for instance, something that is 80 proof is 40% ABV, meaning that 40% of the liquor in front of you is pure ethanol. The higher the proof (or ABV) the more impact it has, obviously.
When to use it: Proof only refers to the hard stuff. You don’t refer to the proof of beer and wine. Your spirits are gonna start at 40%, which would be, as we know: 80 Proof.
Shaken vs. Stirred vs Built. A shaken drink is one where mix the drink by shaking it with ice. A stirred drink is mixed just by adding ice and stirring. Building a drink means adding each ingredient directly to your serving glass.
When to use it: You shake when there are non-alcoholic ingredients of different consistency that need help mixing with others: citrus, cream, eggs.
You stir when you are dealing with an all-alcohol concoction. They will mix just fine without shaking because they are essentially the same consistency and weight. In fact, stirring is mostly about making the ingredients cold.
You build when using soda—because shaking soda would create a mess, and all soda drinks are served over ice so you don’t need to stir them in order to make them cold.