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Ordering a Cocktail Neat vs. On the Rocks: What's the Difference?

Whether you're an at-home bartender or a professional, knowing the popular bartending terminology is key to happy customers. That being said, bar terms aren't only for bartenders to understand. Staying up to date on the latest bar vocabulary can also help those who are ordering a drink. It will make getting exactly what you want at the bar easier, and you'll sound cool asking for your favorites—a must for a great bar experience.

Ready to look and sound like a professional, whether you're in front of the bar or behind it? Knowing the difference between ordering a drink neat vs. on the rocks is a great place to start. So let's break down these commonly used terms and learn when to use each.

What is "Neat"?

Neat is the simplest of all bartending terms. A neat drink is a spirit poured into a glass with no other ingredients added, not even ice. Ordering a neat drink is similar to ordering a shot. However, there are slight differences that make the drinking experience unique. While a shot is 1.5 ounces, neat drinks are 2 ounces. They're not chilled, and there is only one ingredient. Unlike shots, spirits ordered neat are meant to be enjoyed slowly and sipped on throughout the night. Drinking spirits neat is believed to be a delightful experience in which you can fully enjoy the spirit's flavors.

Whiskey and brands are the spirits most often ordered neat, as many individuals enjoy drinking them at room temperature. However, quality tequilas and vodkas may also be ordered neat on occasion. 

What is a Neat Glass?

Though there's nothing new about ordering drinks neat, the NEAT glass is a more recent invention. Made by mistake in a glass blowing factory, the uniquely shaped glass revealed that it helped direct harsh alcohol vapors away from the nose. The NEAT glass, meaning Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology, squeezes lighter ethanol molecules out of its opening while keeping the heavier, more alluring molecules within the spirit. So while drinking from the unique shape may take a while to get used to, it lets you appreciate the drink in its most accurate form.

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Is Neat vs. Straight vs. Straight up

Though neat is the most widely used term for enjoying a spirit without anything added to it, a few other terms can make ordering a neat drink confusing. Often confused for neat, the terms "straight" and "straight-up" mean something entirely different. Here's a quick overview of each.

Straight

Ordering a drink straight can be confusing for both the customer and bartender, as the term is used differently. Some individuals use the term "straight" to order a straight pour of a spirit. An example of this is when ordering a "bourbon straight," though a standard order, it would technically be considered neat.

Other's correlate the word "straight" with "straight-up" and use it to order light or white spirit chilled and served in a cocktail glass. To be considered straight-up, the spirit must first be cooled with ice that has been diluted slightly. If the bottle of alcohol was simply placed in the refrigerator to chill without ice, then the drink poured would technically be neat.

The term straight is also often applied when ordering a shot. For example, individuals may order a straight shot of tequila with no accompanying lime or salt. A shot of vodka, Whiskey, or even rum can also be ordered straight. 

Up

Using the term "up" to order a drink usually means that you'd like it chilled with ice and then strained into a glass. Shaken and stirred drinks fall into the up category and are commonly poured into a cocktail glass. This makes the term easy to remember as "up" drinks are usually accompanied by a glass with a long, elevated stem.

Straight Up

Possibly the most confusing term of them all, straight-up often brings the most confusion for both the bartender and drinker since the meaning of it can vary depending on where you're drinking. Drinkers often use the term "straight-up" to refer to both neat and up drinks. This confusion can often be traced back to how the bar uses the term straight and its multiple meanings. Generally, straight up refers to mixed drinks and cocktails such as martinis, sidecars, and manhattans.

What is on the Rocks?

Now that we've cleared up the confusion surrounding the term "neat," let's discuss what it means to order a drink "on the rocks." An industry term for a spirit—usually 2 ounces—served over ice, ordering a drink on the rocks can have many benefits to its taste. Though some spirits like brandy and Whiskey may taste good at room temperature, others taste better when chilled. In addition, ordering a drink on the rocks is a quick and easy way to cool your beverage. And like mixed cocktails, most individuals prefer a refreshing and chilled spirit over a warm one.

In addition to cooling mixed drinks, ice can also help release unique flavors and aromas in spirits like scotch, whiskey, and tequila. While ice is often believed to dilute a quality spirit, when enjoyed in time, large ice cubes will cool your drink without melting into it. Ultimately, whether you choose to enjoy a drink neat or on the rocks is a matter of personal preference.

Why is it called "on the rocks"

Bar terminology for "with ice" the phrase "on the rocks" became popular when saloons began using ice in drinks from their new iceboxes. Because cubes were not yet widespread, the ice was often chipped off of large blocks, creating "rocks of ice." Though whiskey on the rocks is the most popular drink ordered, any type of liquor can be served on the rocks.

A Quick Review

Neat: A room temperature spirit, usually 2 ounces, served in a glass.

Shot: 1.5 ounces of a spirit, room temperature or chilled, served in a shot glass.

Straight: A chilled and strained spirit served in a glass.

Up: A type of cocktail served "up" into a cocktail or coupe glass.

Straight Up: A drink that's chilled and strained into a cocktail glass.

On the Rocks: A spirit served over ice into a glass.

Common Cocktails Served On The Rocks

While almost any cocktail can be served on the rocks, here are a few of the classics. Whether you choose to make these drinks yourself or purchase pre-made versions, they're sure to be the talk of the party.

Margarita on The Rocks

A cocktail as classy as its story, bartender legend states that the margarita was invented in 1938 by well-known bartender Carlos "Danny" Herrera. Customer and Ziegfeld dance Marjorie King, stopped by his restaurant, Rancho La Gloria, halfway between Tijuana and Rosarito, Baja California. Marjorie was allergic to most spirits but not to tequila. This inspired Danny to balance the dominant flavors of tequila with a bit of lime and salt, creating the classic margarita that we know and love today. 

Making a margarita on the rocks is simple. We use Tequila Blanco, orange liqueur, fresh lime, agave syrup, and salt for our Classic Margarita Recipe. While the orange liqueur is optional, it adds a sweet, citrusy taste to the drink that's undeniably good. Choose to make a classic margarita with ingredients you have on hand or purchase our ready-to-go margarita cocktail in a bottle and pour directly into a glass with ice for a tasty drink enjoyed on the rocks.

Mai Tai

Unlike today's version, when the Mai Tai was first created, it wasn't a cup full of sugar. Instead, it was made with simple ingredients that showcase the tropical flavors of rum. Lime, orgeat, orange curacao, and simple syrup were combined, and the mixture was then shaken with ice before being enjoyed. As the latest rendition of a rum cocktail, the mai tai was so famous in the 1940s, and 50's that it's said to have depleted the world's rum supplies.

We believe that when made with simple and pure ingredients, like those found in our Ready-to-Go Spiced Mai Tai and served over the rocks, it's one of the greatest tasting cocktails around!

Bourbon Sour

What started as a popular drink amongst sailors, when it was brought to shore, it quickly became a well-known drink worldwide. Over the years, the ingredients for a whiskey sour have remained simple, including liquor, lemon, and simple syrup. While these three ingredients are the only ones needed for this classic cocktail to be delicious, we took it to the next level by creating our Ready-to-Drink Bourbon Sour with fresh juices. Our recipe with bold, with a big flavor, and includes Bourbon Whiskey, Fresh Lemon Juice, Fresh Orange Juice, Cane Sugar, and Blackstrap Bitters. Enjoy it shaken or on the rocks for a true treat.

The growing list of bartending terminology can prove to be quite confusing. But, knowing the difference between simple orders like neat and on the rocks can help you feel more confident will ordering your next drink. Or set you on the path to success when making your own at home.