Turning 21 is a milestone, and the very first thing you want to do to celebrate is hit up a bar. You’ve dreamed of sidling up to the bartender and ordering something sophisticated while still maintaining your cool, sexy aura. Problem is, if you’ve never ordered a drink before, you end up sounding like “Er…um…I’ll have a Strawberry Daiquiri?” Whether you’re finally 21 or in the city with a fake (ahem), you can avoid this fate as long as you brush up on your bar knowledge so you look like a pro when it’s time to get down.
Brewskis with Your Buds
Nothing is more refreshing than an ice cold beer, so after a long day of work or school (or both!) it’s nice to wash it all down with something simple. Except it’s really not that simple. There are so many varieties of beer that it’s hard to know which one will strike your fancy. Get to know some rudimentary terms, so that you can order with confidence.
Ale: Varies from pale to dark amber in color. The texture is smooth and sweet, the flavor is fruity, stronger, and more bitter than beer.
Amber: A beer named for its reddish color.
Barley wine: A dark, bittersweet beer with higher alcohol content.
Bitter: Amber ale with a strong smell and a dry, sharp flavor that’s produced from hops (a flower cluster that is mainly used to provide a bitter flavor or aroma to beer).
Brown ale: Nutty, malty ale that’s dark brown in color with flavors ranging from dry to sweet.
Domestic: Beer that is brewed in the United States and is, therefore, cheaper. E.g., Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Blue Moon and Sam Adams.
Draft (draught): A method of dispensing beer from a keg or cask. This is what your waiter is referring to when they talk about the kinds of beers that they have “on tap.”
Foreign: Beer made outside of the U.S. and, therefore, more expensive. E.g., Heineken, Red Stripe, Dos Equis and Corona.
Hard cider: A sweet fermented drink made from apples. Some poplar brands include Magners and Strongbow.
Hefeweizen: A frothy wheat beer that is lighter in body and alcohol content.
India Pale Ale (IPA): A pale ale with a significant amount of hops.
Lager: A crisp, clean beer made at near-freezing temperatures for longer periods of time than ales.
Malt liquor: A malty lager that’s pale in color with an alcohol content above 5 percent by volume. This is the kind of stuff that is in Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice.
Pale ale: A highly hopped beer made from high-quality malt that’s dry in flavor.
Pilsner: Very pale in color with a dry, hoppy flavor and aroma.
Stout: Dark brown in color, full-bodied in texture, and slightly burnt-tasting in flavor. Guinness is the most famous form of stout.
Wheat beer: Pale in color and slightly tart in flavor
Chillin’ with A Glass of Wine
It’s fun to share a bottle with your closest gal pals or have a glass with dinner, but wine is incredibly complex. Usually when you’re at dinner you can ask your waiter for a good wine suggestion, but it’s still a good idea to know the different kinds of red and white wine.
Types of White Wine:
Chardonnay: The world's most popular white variety. It is usually oak-aged and has a buttery flavor.
Chenin Blanc: A highly acidic wine that can range from very dry to very sweet.
Muscat: Produces the only wine to actually smell like grapes and has varieties in sparkling wines.
Pinot Grigio: A very wide variety of styles from dry to sweet to spicy that will have a hint of honey.
Reisling: A low-alcoholic wine with striking acidity.
Sauvignon Blanc: These are the most tangy and pungent of the wine varieties.
Types of Red Wine:
Cabernet Sauvignon: Has a blackcurrant flavor and smells similar to pencil shavings.
Merlot: Usually higher in alcohol and will taste of black cherries.
Pinot Noir: The most finicky of grapes producing the widest range of quality. It has a very earthy aroma.
Syrah/Shiraz: Rich and spicy wine with the sweetness of blackberries.
Zinfandel: Again, this is another one that can really range in quality depending on the winery. Some of the more popular ones come from California.
“What can I get you?” the bartender asks. You clearly have no idea, so you fumble around for the right words and look like a goon. If this is a nicer place (read: not a dive) then ask for a cocktail menu and ask what this particular place is famous for. Do they make a killer White Russian? Then order it! If you have something already planned to order, here’s what you need to know.
- Always order the drink with the name of the liquor first. “Vodka Cranberry, please.” Never: “Cranberry and Vodka.”
- There are three different price ranges when it comes to alcohol. It’s a matter of quality and price. If you’re okay with drinking the cheap stuff (mostly available at your local house party), then order a well drink at the bar. Well drinks are typically made with the cheapest kind of liquor they have. If you’re a little particular, go for a “call” drink or “you-call-it” where you specify the brand of liquor you want in your drink. Example: “Can I have a Bacardi and Coke?” If you’re celebrating or have a limitless trust fund, you’re going to want to drink premium liquor. This kind of stuff is high quality, top shelf stuff so be aware that when you order Belvedere in your drink, you will pay extra.
Here is a handy guide of where the different brands land on the price scale:
Cheap Vodka: Seagrams, Smirnoff, Svedka
Mid-Priced Vodka: Absolut, Skyy
Expensive Vodka: Belvedere, Grey Goose, Ketel One
Cheap Tequila: Jose Cuervo, Classico Silver
Mid-Priced Tequila: 1800 Select Silver
Expensive Tequila: Patron Silver
Cheap Gin: Booth’s London Dry
Mid-Priced Gin: Tanqueray London Dry
Expensive Gin: Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick’s
Cheap Whiskey: Jameson, Bushmill’s Original
Mid-Priced Whiskey: Jameson 1780, Black Bush
Expensive Whiskey: Jameson 18 Year, Greenore Single Grain
Now that you know what you want and what kind of liquor you want in it, you’re ready to sit back, sip and enjoy.
A Drink Dictionary
Now that you got the fundamentals down, it’s time to learn about all of the fun ways alcohol can be served. Opening a drink menu or hearing someone order a drink can be as confusing as reading a chemistry textbook in Greek. With all of the different terminology, it’s easy to get lost. Here’s an understandable and alphabetical guide to the vocabulary you need to know. Once you order the basic liquor, there are lots of other ways to mix up your drink, and the waiter or bartender will ask you so they concoct it just how you like it. “Do you want that frozen or on the rocks?” “Shaken or stirred?”
Here’s what it all means:
Bitters: Alcohol that is bitter or bittersweet and usual contains herbal essences like plants or flowers.
Chaser: A drink -- either alcoholic or non -- to be consumed directly after a shot.
Garnish: A decorative piece of fruit or vegetable that’s floating on top of the drink or hanging out on the side of the glass.
Martini Lingo: A dirty martini means that some of the brine from the olive jar is mixed in with the drink. A dry martini means little to no Vermouth (a fortified wine flavored with dry ingredients) while a wet martini is a moderate amount of Vermouth.
Neat/Straight Up: A liquor served in the glass with no ice or other ingredients. This is usually for purists who love the taste of the alcohol without any interference.
On the Rocks: A single spirit served over ice.
Shaken: A mixed drink where the ingredients are combined in a cocktail shaker, typically over ice.
Sour: Typically a fruit juice -- lemon or lime -- added to a spirit as a mixer. Girly-girl drinkers should be best friends with this term.
Splash: A small amount of any mixer, like soda or juice, added to a completed drink.
Stirred: Combining spirits and mixers without using a cocktail shaker.
Twist: A slice -- or curl -- of lemon peel run along the edge of the glass. How chic does “Martini with a Twist” sound?
Up: Shaken or otherwise prepared with ice, and strained into an ice-less glass.
What Is Actually in These Classic Drinks?
We’ve heard them mentioned numerous times in TV shows and movies, but if you’re going to order one, you have to know what’s actually in it!
Martini: Gin and Vermouth, served with a lemon twist or olive
Long Island Iced Tea: Surprisingly no iced tea, but a mixture of a variety of liquors; Vodka, Gin, Rum, Tequila, Triple Sec (an orange-flavored liqueur), Sour Mix, and a splash of Cola.
Sazerac: Absinthe, Rye Whiskey and Peychuad’s Bitters. New Orleans is the home of this classic drink.
Manhattan: Whiskey, Sweet Vermouth, and bitters, garnished with a Maraschino cherry.
Cosmopolitan: Vodka, Triple Sec, cranberry juice and a squeeze of lime. Its shockingly pink color is always a crowd pleaser.
A Word on Bar Etiquette
Bartenders get crazy busy on most nights of the week depending on the bar. People are rude to them and tip them badly, just as they do waiters and other people in the service industry. Show them that you really appreciated their time, effort, and skill by following a few simple rules.
- When trying to get the attention of the bartender, don’t yell “Hey you!” or “Can I get some help?!?” You will only look rude and obnoxious. Try to catch his eye contact and give him a slight nod, and say “Excuse me.” Be sure to know what you want when he comes over too; he doesn’t have time to wait while you make up your mind.
- When your bartender asks you if you want to start a tab, that means you give them your credit card and they keep adding drinks to your bill as you order them. They will also ask you if you want to “close it or leave it open” which means closing the tab and taking your card with you, or leaving it open so you can keep ordering.
- If the bar is particularly busy, it’s rude to stand at the bar after you’ve been served. You want to be kind to your fellow patrons and leave space for them to order as well.
- If you are running a tab, it’s best to tip around 20 percent, but if you are ordering drinks singularly, tipping one dollar for every drink works.
Know that you’ve been schooled, it’s time to go out in the world and use that knowledge. Enjoy this exciting time of your life, but as always, drink responsibly.