Liquor terms are here. You’ll find helpful definitions and and descriptions. In short, a liquor glossary. Knowing liquor terms can help you understand, appreciate, and describe specifically what you like.
II. Popular Books
III, Scholarly Books
IV. Liquor Terms
I. Recipes for Distilled Beverages
- Bustamonte, L. Complete Cocktail Manual. 301 Tips, Tricks, and Recipes.
- Franks, J. Delicious Vodka Recipes.
- Hallay, A. and Wolfe, D. Classic Cocktails.
- McNally, K. Schiller’s Liquor Bar Cocktail Collection. The Bartender’s Guide.
- Petzke, K. Tequila: Myth, Magic & Spirited Recipes.
- Rathbun, A. Good Spirits. Recipes, Revelations, Refreshments, and Romance, Shaken and Served with a Twist.
- Rowley, M. Moonshine. Recipes, Tall Tales, Drinking Songs, Historical Stuff, Knee-slappers, How to Make It, How to Drink It….
- Savarino, M. The Seasonal Cocktail Companion.
- Sora, J. Bartender’s Guide: Over 1,200 Recipes.
- Waggoner, S. and Markel, R. Vintage Cocktails.
II. Popular Resources about Distilled Spirits
You can enjoy these resources without knowing any liquor terms. However, watching or reading them will provide liquor terms in context.
- Whiskey [Video]
- Bruning, T. Scotch Whiskey.
- Difford, S. Gin: the Bartender’s Bible.
- Foley, R. The Rum 1000: the Ultimate Collection of Rum Cocktails, Recipes, Facts and Resources.
- Gaytán, M. Tequila!
- Jones, D. Rum.
- Kellner, E. Moonshine. Its History and Folklore.
- Luntz, P. Whiskey and Spirits for Dummies.
- MacLean, C. et al. World Whiskey.
- Ridgwell, M. Spirits Distilled.
- Williams, I. Rum: a Social and Sociable History.
III. Scholarly Books about Distilled Spirits
You can also enjoy these books without knowing any liquor terms.
- Forbes, R. Short History of the Art of Distillation.
- Lanier, D. Absinthe. The Cocaine of the Nineteenth Century.
- Meacham, S. Every Home a Distillery. Alcohol, Gender and Technology in Colonial Chesapeake.
- Rasmussen, S. The Quest for Aqua Vitae. The History of Alcohol from Antiquity to the Middle Ages.
- Stewart, B. Moonshiners and Prohibitionists. The Battle over Alcohol in Southern Appalachia.
- Unrau, W. White Man’s Wicked Water. The Alcohol Trade and Prohibition in Indian Country, 1802-1892.
- Watney, J. Mother’s Ruin: a History of Gin.
IV. Liquor Terms in Alphabetical Order
Absinthe is a spirit drink of aromatics including star anise, fennel seed, and wormwood leaves. It is green in color but turns white with the addition of water.
Ades are tall warm-weather drinks consisting of sweetened lemon or lime juice and a spirit. Fruit garnishes them. They may also include plain or soda water.
Alcohol refers to ethyl alcohol or ethanol, the type in alcoholic beverages. It also commonly refers to alcoholic beverage in general. The word alcohol is from the Arabic “al kohl,” meaning the essence.
Alcohol equivalence refers to the fact that standard drinks of beer, wine, and spirits all contain equivalent amounts of pure alcohol. To a breathalyzer, they’re all the same.
Amaretto is a liqueur with a slightly bitter almond flavor.
Anisette (ahn-i-set) is a fragrant liqueur from anise seeds. Therefore, it has a licorice flavor.
Aperitifs (uh-per-i-TEEFs) are drinks before a meal intended to stimulate the appetite.
Applejack is a sweet brandy with an apple flavor.
Aqua vitae (ah-kwuh-vee-tie) or “water of life” is the original name of distilled spirits. Distillers first made them for medicinal and health purposes. Research now shows that moderate drinkers of spirits tend to have better health. That’s compared to than either abstiners or heavy drinkers. They also tend to live longer. (The same is true of beer and of wine drinkers.)
Argmanac is a French grape brandy.
Back. A back is something a person drinks along with a straight spirit. Backs are commonly soda or water.
Barbados rum is a rum with a smoky flavor. Distillers make it on the island of Barbados.
Barrel is a standard unit of volume. A U.S. barrel is 31.5 gallons while a British barrel is 43.2 gallons.
Barrel proof means that the producer didn’t dilute the spirit after removing it from the cask or barrel. Thus, it has a higher proof than the traditional spirit.
Bitters is a sweet to dry drink distillers combine with aromatic plants.
Blended whiskey. Producers combine different whiskeys.
Bottled-in-bond whiskey is straight (unblended) whiskey. Distillers make it under strict U.S. government supervision for tax purposes.
Bourbon is a beverage from a mash of at least 51% corn and aged in new charred oak barrels. A Baptist minister, Elijah Craig, first distilled it in Bourbon County, KY.
Brand name means proprietary name. US distillers branded their names on kegs before they shipped them.
Brandy is a beverage distillers from wine or fruit mash.
Distilled spirits have no cholesterol, carbohydrates, sodium, or fats of any kind. Learn more at Calories, Carbs & Fat in Popular Beverages.
Call Drink. When a customer orders a drink giving the brand names of both spirit and mixer. For example, Bacardi and Pepsi.
Calvados (col-va-dose) is apple brandy from cider. Distillers make it in the town of the same name in northern France.
Cask strength is the same as barrel proof.
Cassis (kah-seece) is a purple liqueur. Distillers make it from currants.
Chaser is something a person drinks after a shot of straight spirits.
Cherry brandy (kirchwasser). Distillers make this brandy from cherries.
Cobblers are tall drinks consisting of shaved ice, fruit and spirits. Berries, fruit or mint garnish them.
Coffee brandy has the flavor of coffee. Distillers use coffee beans in making it.
Cognac (cone-yack) is brandy distilled from wine in the Cognac region of France. Thus, all cognac is brandy but not all brandy is cognac.
Cointreau (kwan-troh) is a liqueur with orange and lemon flavors.
Column distilling is a newer and more efficient way to distill alcohol. Distillers pump the mash continuously into a column. Steam rises and evaporates the alcohol. Distillers can continue the process repeatedly. This results in a higher proof and more nearly pure alcohol. See pot distilling.
- A guy walks into a bar — and gets a mild concussion.
- A man walks into a bar with a cheese sandwich “A whiskey sour for me and a beer for the cheese sandwich,” he says to the barman.
“I’m sorry, sir,” replies the barman, “we don’t serve food in here.”
- A neutron walks into a bar. “How much for a whiskey?” the neutron asks.
“For you?” says the bartender. “No charge.
Congeners are substances in alcohol. They occur in higher quantities in darker spirits and wines. They add flavors but also contribute to hangovers.
Cooler is a beverage with a base of beer, wine or spirits. The bartender combines this base with ingredients such as fruit or cocktail flavors.
Cordial is liqueur that distillers make in the U.S.
Corn whiskey is distilled from a mash of at least 80% corn.
Crèmes are extra sweet liqueurs.
Each of these is a “crème de.”
- Banana is a sweet liqueur with banana flavor.
- Cacao (ka-cow-oh) is a sweet liqueur with chocolate flavor.
- Cassis (kah-seece) is a sweet liqueur with currant flavor.
- Framboise is raspberry liqueur.
- Kirsch is a sweet liqueur with black cherry flavor.
- Menthe is a sweet liqueur with mint flavor.
- Noya is a sweet liqueur with almond flavor.
- Violette is a sweet liqueur with the flavor of violet oil and vanilla.
Crusta is the sugared rim of a glass. Originally, the crusta was a 19th century drink. It was a spirit (usually brandy) with a large lemon peel garnish and a sugar-rim edge.
Cups are wine cocktails made with brandy and triple sec mixed with sweet wine, dry sparkling wine or cider.
Curaçao (kyoor-uh-sow) is a cordial with sour orange peel flavor.
Cynar (chee-NAHR) is an Italian liqueur with artichoke flavor.
George Washington was his country’s first large distiller. Learn more by taking the George Washington Quiz. You’ll discover things you never learned in school!
Daisies are cocktails of spirits, a cordial and lemon or lime juice. The bartender usually shakes them with cracked ice, pours them over an ice cube, and decorates them with fruit.
Dash. A dash is a few drops or a very small amount of an ingredient.
Digestif is French for liqueur.
Dirty describes a drink (often a martini) to which the bartender has added some olive brine.
DISCUS is the abbreviation for Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Major producers of distilled spirits in the US are members of this trade association..
Distilled spirits refers to ethanol that is produced by heating fermented products, such as wine or mash. Then condensing the resulting vapors. Sometimes referred to as liquor or hard liquor. The term hard liquor is misleading. It implies the product is more intoxicating or potent than beer or wine. In fact, a standard drink of beer, wine, and spirits each has an equivalent amount of pure alcohol.
Distillation is the process distillers use to separate alcohol from water. Alcohol evaporates at a lower temperature than water. Therefore, it evaporates first and then distillers condense it back into liquid form. This is one of the most important of liquor terms.
Dry is the absence of sugar or sweetness in a beverage. It also refers to areas under alcohol prohibition. Finally, it refers to people who advocate prohibition. Yet almost one in five American adults today favors prohibition!
Ethanol is the form of alcohol in alcoholic beverages.
Eau de Vie (Oh da vee) is any beverage distillers make from fruits.
Fermentation is the process during which yeast converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Finish is the lingering aftertaste that results after an alcohol beverage is swallowed.
Fizzes are mixed drinks of distilled spirits, citrus juices, and sugar shaken with ice. The bartender then adds “fizz” (soda water) or other carbonated beverage.
Flips are made with a distilled spirit, egg and sugar. The bartender shakes it with cracked ice and strains it into a glass.
Frappé (fra-pay) is a liqueur over crushed ice.
Galliano is an Italian liqueur with the flavor of herbs.
Garnish. Bartenders may add a garnish to a drink to enhance it. Garnishes are often slices of lemon or lime, cherries, olives and twists. Some garnishes only add to appearance. But others do it enhance flavor.
Genever. (See Hollands gin.)
Gill is equivalent to five ounces. Historically, British soldiers had a ration of two gills of gin or rum each day.
Gin is distilled spirits flavored with juniper berries. It may also include additional flavorings.
Grand Marnier (GRAHN mar-NYAY) is an an orange liqueur.
Grappa is Italian brandy made from pomace, which refers to the seeds and skins that remain after wine making.
Grog is rum diluted with water. It was also an early English name for Caribbean rum.
Before he became president, Abraham Lincoln sold liquor. His 1833 liquor license is displayed at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History.
Highballs are made with almost any distilled spirit, ice, and any of a number of carbonated beverages.
Hollands gin (sometimes called Genever) is made from malted grain spirits. It’s a heavy aromatic beverage.
Hot toddy. The bartender sweetens liquor and hot water, often with spices.
Irish coffee is coffee with a dash of whiskey and whipped cream on top. It’s a very popular beverage.
Irish Mist is an Irish liqueur with heather, honey, and herbs.
Irish whisky is triple distilled, blended grain spirits from Ireland.
Jamaican rums are medium heavy-bodied rums produced in Jamaica.
Jigger is a container for measuring liquids when making mixed drinks.
Juleps are traditionally made from Kentucky bourbon and fresh mint leaves. However, people sometimes make them with gin, rye, brandy, brandy, rum, or champagne.
Kaoliang is a beverage distillers make from sorghum cane.
Kentucky whiskey is a blend of whiskeys distilled in Kentucky.
Kir is a cocktail of crème de cassis with white wine.
Kirsch or Kirschwasser is a clear dry brandy that distillers make from black cherry juice.
Kummel is a sweet liqueur with caraway seed flavor.
Liqueur (li-cure) is a sugared and flavored distilled spirit.
Liquor historically referred to any alcohol beverage. However, today it generally refers only to distilled spirits.
London dry gin is an unsweetened gin.
Maceration is the process of placing crushed fruit into distilled spirits for a period of time in order to impart the flavor of the fruit.
Malt liquor is not liquor or a distilled spirit of any kind. It is a beer with higher alcohol content and often sweeter taste than most other beers. (See liquor.)
Maraschino cherries are tart cherries for garnishing drinks.
Maraschino liqueur is a cordial distilled from a bitter wild cherry (marasca).
Mash is ground malt and water.
Mescal is a spirit from Mexico. Distillers make it from the Agave Espadin or other varieties of Agave plant.
Mist is any drink in which the spirit is poured into a glass over crushed ice.
Moonshine is illegally-produced distilled spirits. Legal spirits carry a very high tax. In fact, over half the retail price of a bottle of spirits goes to taxes. That creates a strong demand for less expensive spirits. Moonshiners fill that demand with their illegal and sometimes dangerous product.
Mountain dew is another name for moonshine.
Muddler is a bartending tool for crushing drink ingredients.
Mull is a sugared and spiced hot drink made from a base of beer, wine or distilled spirits.
Neat is a spirit with no ice, mixers, or chilling. In other words, it’s simply right out of the bottle. Period.
Neutral spirit refers to ethyl alcohol of 190 proof or higher than has no taste of the grains or fruits from which it was made.
Nog or egg nog is a beverage of eggs and milk or cream, traditionally made with rum or brandy, although whiskey, sherry, ale or cider may be used. The name may have come from “noggin,” a small drinking vessel or from joining the sounds of “egg ‘n grog.”
On-the-rocks refers to serving a beverage poured over ice cubes.
Ouzo (ooze-oh) is an anise flavored brandy-based Greek liqueur.
Package store is another name in the US for liquor store. Package stores sell “package goods.” That’s because of laws requiring that alcohol containers not be visible in public. Therefore, clerks place them in paper bags or “packages.”
Pink gin is a cocktail of gin with a dash of bitters.
Pony. A pony or pony shot is one ounce.
Pousse cafés (poose ka-fays) are sweet drinks of cordials and liqueurs poured in succession so that one floats on another.
Proof refers to the alcohol content of a beverage. In the U.S., proof represents twice the alcohol content as a percentage of volume. Thus, a 100 proof beverage is 50% alcohol by volume and a 150 proof beverage is 75% alcohol. In the Imperial system, proof, (or 100% proof), equals 57.06% ethanol by volume, or 48.24% by weight. Absolute or pure ethanol is 75.25 over proof, or 175.25 proof. Proof is one of the most important liquor terms.
Puff is a traditional afternoon drink made of equal parts of a spirit and milk, to which club soda is added and then served over ice.
Punch is a drink mixture prepared in large quantities. It’s typically made with citrus juices and two or more wines or distilled spirits. Some people add carbonated beverages. Hot punches often use milk, eggs and cream as a base.
Quinine (kwahy-nahyn) is a bitter substance from the bark of the Chilean cinchona tree. Producers add it to tonic water.
The size of the grain used to produce a whiskey largely determines its body or lightness. Larger grains make lighter whiskey and vice versa. Rye, which is small, makes a whiskey with full body. One made from corn, which is large, makes a lighter whiskey.
Raspberry liqueur is a cordial with a raspbrry flavor.
Rock and rye is a liqueur. Distillers originally made from rye whiskey and rock candy.
Rum is a beverage that distillers make from fermented molasses.
Rye whiskey is distilled from a mash of at least 51% rye grain.
Sambuca is an Italian licorice-flavored liqueur that distimade from elderberries.
Sangarees are made with whiskey, gin, rum or brandy with port wine floated on top. Alternatively, some people make them with wine, ale, porter or stout with nutmeg. Don’t confuse with sangria. That’s a tart punch of red wine with orange, lemon and apricot juice plus sugar.
Schnapps (schnopps) is a spirit that distillers make from potatoes or grain. Scandinavians and Germans call it schnapps. People elsewhere call it vodka.
Shooter is a mixed drink. The bartender serves it straight up in a small glass. The drinker swallows the drink in one gulp. Differs from neat because it contains a mixer.
Single malt Scotch whisky is unblended Scotch whisky. They vary substantially in characteristic. But all have the unique smoky flavor of any Scotch whisky.
Sling is a tall drink made with lemon juice, sugar, spirits, and club soda.
Sloe gin is not gin. It’s a brandy-based cordial made from sloe berries. That’s the fruit of blackthorn bushes.
Smash is a short julep served in a small glass.
Sour mash whiskey is made from a mash containing about 25% residue from a previous mash. This gives added character to the resulting whiskey.
Sours are made with lemon juice, ice, sugar, and a distilled spirit. The spirit is usually whiskey.
Standard drinks all have 0.6 ounce of pure alcohol. For more, see Standard Drinks.
Straight is unblended.
Straight up or up is a chilled spirit or mixed drink consumed without ice.
Swizzles consist of lime juice, sugar, a spirit and bitters with shaved ice.
Tennessee whiskey. Distillers make it in compliance with the regulations for making bourbon. However, they then filter it through charcoal after distillation. (See bourbon.)
Tequila is a beverage from Mexico. Distillers make it from juice of the plant, Agave tequilana.
Toddies are sugar water, a spirit, and either ice or hot water. With any hot water are clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, or lemon peel.
Tonic is a tall drink of ice, a spirit and tonic water.
Tonic water is a slightly bitter, carbonated beverage with quinine flavor.
Tot. A tot is a short shot. Therefore, it makes a less alcoholic drink. A bartender who serves a tot to a customer who doesn’t request it is cheating the drinker.
Triple sec is is liqueur that distillers have distilled three times and added a fruit flavor. (Also see below.)
Triple Sec is as the brand name of a liqueur from Curasao with orange peel flavor. (Also see above.)
Twist. The bartender uses a zester to peel some rind of a lemon. This produces a thin, long twist of peel.
When first made, distilled spirits are completely clear with no color. They get their colors and hues from the aging process in oak barrels.
Uisge beatha (wheesa – bee) is Gaelic for whisky.
Ulanda is a cocktail containing dry gin, triple sec and absenthe.
Ullage is the empty space in a cask or barrel.
Union Jack is a cocktail containing sloe gin, dry gin and grenadine.
Up is the same as straight up. Up also refers to a drink in a stemmed glass.
Van der Hum is a South African liqueur with tangerine flavor.
Virgin is a cocktail without any alcohol. For example, a virgin Bloody Mary has no alcohol.
Vodka, or “dear little water” in Russian. It’s a beverage from potatoes or grain (usually corn and wheat). Some distillers add sweeteners and flavors to their vodka. Most U.S distillers filter their vodka through charcoal.
Well drinks are cocktails the bartender makes with a “well” spirit or wine. That is, with a house spirit or wine.
Wet is extra mixer in a drink or extra vermouth in a martini.
Whiskey is a spirit distillers make from grain in the US, Canada, or Ireland. Note spelling and compare to whisky. From Gaelic “uisge beatha,” pronounced “wheesa – bee.”
Whiskey bead is the string-like circle of bubbles that whiskey forms when someone pours it into a glass. Or shakes it in a jar. The higher the proof, the more uniform and long lasting the bubbles.
Whisky is a spirit distillers make from grain in Scotland. Note spelling and compare to whiskey.
White Russian is a cocktail of coffee liqueur, vodka, and milk.
“With a twist” means the bartender should add a twist of citrus peel to the drink.
Xeres is a cocktail consisting of dry sherry and orange bitters.
X.Y.Z. is a cocktail of lemon juice, triple sec and rum.
Yeast are single cell organisms. They convert sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. They are about half protein and provide B vitamins.
Yolanda is a cocktail of brandy, dry gin, sweet vermouth and grenadine.
Yukon Jack is a Canadian liqueur with orange flavor.
Zero mint is a cocktail consisting of creme de menthe with water and partially frozen.
Zester. Bartenders use this special peeling tool to prepare lemon twists.
Zombie is a cocktail of pineapple juice, orange juice, lime juice, apricot brandy, rum and confection sugar.
At this point, you know much more about spirit or liquor terms than most bartenders. So kudos!