Food & Drink

Every Cocktail Menu Term You Don’t Know, Explained

Going to a fancy new cocktail bar can be tricky, especially if your typical go-to order is a simple (but delicious) Boilermaker. You want something good, but you don’t understand half the words on the menu. There’s a lot to know out there, and we can’t all spend our days learning the techniques, ingredients and glassware that make high-end cocktail bars so special. That’s where we come in. Using the official SupercallGlossary, we’ve compiled a list of cocktail menu terms that you might not understand. Consider this guide your Rosetta Stone to every elaborate cocktail menu you come across.


Gomme: (n.) A sweetener similar to simple syrup. Gomme is thicker than simple syrup, utilizing gum arabic in addition to sugar and water. The gum arabic acts as an emulsifier to stop the sugar from crystallizing, creating a fuller, silkier final drink.

Oleo-Saccharum: (n.) A mix of citrus oil and sugar that lends a citrusy flavor base to punch, giving the drink a subtler weight and body than simple syrup or juice would impart. To make Oleo-Saccharum, you muddle the peels of lemons or oranges with sugar and let the mixture rest for at least half an hour. The oil seeps from the skins, leaving a concentrated syrup.

Tincture: (n.) A concentrated alcoholic infusion of herbs, botanicals or other ingredients used to inject flavor into a cocktail. A tincture is made by soaking the base ingredient in a high-proof alcohol and straining. Similar to bitters, tinctures act as aromatics, and only a few drops are required to add depth to a drink. Like bitters, tinctures were historically used as curatives in herbal medicine, but unlike bitters, which blend a range of ingredients, tinctures utilize a single concentrated flavor.


Coupe: (n.) A type of cocktail glass with a rounded bowl. Originally used for Champagne, the coupe is actually poorly designed to contain the drink's bubbles. The coupe has taken on new life as conveyance for cocktails, its rounded sides saving many uncoordinated drinkers from spillage.

Nick and Nora: (n.) A type of stemmed, coupe-style glass based on those used in the 1930s film The Thin Man by the mystery-solving protagonists, Nick and Nora Charles. The glass is similar to a shallow wine glass in design and holds a modest 6 ounces of liquid. The elegant style gives a retro twist to a drink that would normally be served in a Martini glass.

Snifter: (n.) A wide-footed glass with a wide bowl that tapers at the top. Snifters are used for sipping aged liquor like brandy. The short stem encourages the drinker to cup the bowl in their hand, warming the spirit. The wide bowl allows the liquor to breathe, while the narrow opening intensifies the aroma for sniffing. Only a small amount of liquor is poured into a snifter.


Dry Shake: (v.) To shake the ingredients in a cocktail shaker without ice. A dry shake is often followed by a hard shake (a standard shake with ice). Dry shaking is usually done for cocktails made with eggs or egg whites to better emulsify the egg into a foam.

Emulsify: (v.) To incorporate egg whites into a drink, usually by shaking in a cocktail shaker. Agitating the whites causes their proteins to unfold and mixes in air bubbles, creating a nice foam for a cocktail. The whites are typically shaken first with liquid ingredients (and without ice) in a dry shake, to help them emulsify.

Float: (v.) To carefully layer an ingredient on top of others rather than mixing it in. Cocktail makers often float ingredients by pouring them over the back of a bar spoon to make the task easier. Floating lighter ingredients on top can yield nice, neat layers, while floating a heavier ingredient last causes it to drain down into the rest of the drink.

Roll: (v.) A method of gently mixing a drink by pouring it back and forth between the glass and a shaker tin. This combines ingredients thoroughly without melting as much ice or adding as much air as shaking would. Rolling can also be used to avoid foaming an ingredient, such as tomato juice in a Bloody Mary.

Serving Styles

Dirty: (adj.) A style of Martini mixed with a splash of olive brine.

Dry: (adj.) A preparation, often for a Martini or a Manhattan, with less vermouth than typically called for in a recipe. It is the opposite of a wet preparation (see Wet). Extra dry means just a tiny splash of vermouth.

Lowball: (n.) A general term for cocktails served in a lowball (also known as a rocks or Old Fashioned) glass.

Neat: (adj.) A single, unmixed spirit served at room temperature without a mixer. Neat drinks are poured directly from the bottle into the glass, typically a rocks glass or a snifter.

On the Rocks: (n.) A slang term for a drink with ice. A drink ordered “on the rocks” simply means a spirit, usually 2 ounces, served over ice.

Perfect: (adj.) A drink made with equal parts sweet vermouth (Italian) and dry vermouth (French), such as a Perfect Manhattan. Perfect drinks are usually garnished with a lemon twist. Not to be confused with a simply flawless cocktail.

Up: (adj.) A drink that has been shaken or stirred with ice and strained into a stemmed glass. Drinks in this style can also be called “straight up,” but some confuse that term with serving liquor neat. It is best to stick with the term "up" to avoid mistakes.


Dash: (n.) A small amount of an ingredient. A dash can roughly be defined as 1/32 ounce, but more often it refers to a single shake of a bottle with a dasher cap, which limits the pour.

Dram: (n.) A small pour of a spirit, usually whisky. From the Scottish-Gaelic "deoch" meaning "drink," it originally referred to a eighth-ounce pour served at dram houses in 18th century England. Today you will hear it used as casual slang, such as "a dram of The Glenfiddich."

Finger: (n.) A measurement equal to the width of a finger placed against the side of the glass. Fingers aren't the most reliable tool but offer easy general measurements when you're eyeballing a mix.

Magnum: (n.) A 1.5-liter bottle. Magnum bottles are the most common size of wine or liquor bottles above the standard 750 ml. Anything above Double Magnum at 3 liters earns a name of 'ridiculous' for a practical capacity. A Jeroboam holds 4.5 liters, an Imperial holds 6, Salmanazar holds 9, Balthazar holds 12, Nebuchadnezzar holds 15 liters and Melchior holds 18 liters.

Pony: (n.) Also called a "pony shot." A unit of measurement equal to 1 ounce, which is half an ounce less than the standard shot.

Types of Drinks

Cobbler: (n.) A type of drink consisting of a spirit, sweetener and crushed ice often served in a Collins glass. Cobblers are derived from punch, and the base was originally wine or fortified wine. Bedecked with fruit garnishes, cobblers make good summertime sippers.

Cordial: The word for liqueur in the U.K., a flavored spirit with (by U.S. law) at least 2.5 percent sugar and usually lower in alcohol than straight liquor. Herbs, flowers, spices, fruits, creams, nuts and honey are common ingredients in complex, often secret concoctions.

Crusta: (n.) A type of drink that has fallen out of fashion but offers a historical link between classics like the Old Fashioned and relatively newer cocktails like the Margarita and Sidecar. Invented by Joseph Santini in the 1850s and popularized by Jerry Thomas' How to Mix Drinks, the Crusta adds a dash of acidic citrus and sweet liqueur to the traditional formula of spirit, water, sugar and bitters. The drink is served with a sugar-crusted rim.

Digestif: (n.) A post-meal drink meant to help digest food. Developed along with the aperitif in the 18th century as medicine, digestifs eventually migrated from the pharmacy to the bar, though some modern brands retain evidence of medicinal origins in their herbal flavors.

Fizz: (n.) A type of cocktail built by shaking a spirit, citrus, sugar and egg white, then topping with soda. A fizz is essentially a Daisy with the addition of egg white in the initial shake, creating a foamy effect further enhanced by the addition of soda.

Frappe: (n.) A type of drink consisting of a (usually quite sweet) liqueur over crushed ice. Think of a mocha frappe at a café, but with a boozy twist.

Highball: (n.) A drink composed simply of a spirit and soda, typically in a one-to-two ratio.

Negus: (n.) A warm drink made from wine or port, hot water, spices and sugar. It was invented by and named for Francis Negus, an 18th century colonel of the English military and executer at various times of the office of the Master of the Horse and that of the Master of the Buckhounds.

Posset: (n.) A warm drink consisting of warm wine and milk, which curdles as it heats. The posset, which resembles a nog, was only recently revived from the 15th century. The original preparation included the clots of curdled milk, though modern interpretations often strain the mixture before adding typical nog spices like cinnamon, clove and nutmeg.

Puff: (n.) A type of drink consisting of equal parts milk and liquor, topped with club soda.

Sangaree: (n.) A drink based on wine, port or liquor, sweetened and spiced with nutmeg. Sangaree is like Sangria but without the fruit, though sources disagree on the relationship between the two drinks. At its inception in or before 1774, Sangaree may have been made with Batavia Arrack (an ancestor of modern rum). Alternatively, in the 19th century, the esteemed Jerry Thomas listed six variations based on port, sherry, brandy, gin, ale and porter.

Sling: (n.) From the German word “schlingen” meaning “to swallow." A type of drink typically made with a spirit, citrus, water and sugar. A sling is similar to a toddy but without the spices. Slings became popular in the 19th century served both hot and cold, but cold became the preferred preparation after the invention of the Singapore Sling in the early 1900s.

Swizzle: (n.) A drink that is mixed with a “swizzle stick,” served over crushed ice. Swizzle drinks originated in the Caribbean and are usually rum-based, but are defined by the method of mixing rather than the ingredients. To swizzle a drink, rub a swizzle stick rapidly between your hands—as if starting a campfire—to churn the ingredients up and down the glass. This chills, aerates and dilutes the drink, and causes the outside of the glass to frost over and condensate.


Supercall: (n.) A drink made at the customer’s request with the highest quality, premium or "top shelf" spirits. These ingredients can be high proof, super-aged or intricately crafted spirits, often making supercalls expensive orders.

Call Drink: (n.) A drink ordered with specific name brands, as opposed to the (often cheaper) well drink made with basic ingredients from the bar's well (see Well).

Bottled-in-Bond: (n.) A label for a spirit that follows regulations initiated by the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. Mostly used for bourbon, though sometimes also rye and apple brandy, the bottled-in-bond label denotes quality through government oversight, though rules differ by spirit. Whiskeys bottled in bond must be 100 proof.