Bartending is a complex field. It’s more than the art of crafting delicious alcoholic beverages; there’s a science to it, too. When it comes to bartending terms, there are a few key words every bartender should know:
- Angel’s Share
- Cask Strength (or Barrel Proof)
- Chill Filtration
Knowing these terms will not only improve your bartending vocabulary, but it can also increase your knowledge of drinking culture and history. Many of the bartender terms on this list have historical roots, dating back to the barrel ages. (Pun intended.)
Here’s a little bit more context for the bartender lingo list above:
Angel’s Share. This refers to a small amount of alcohol that evaporates during the aging process. The phrase typically applies to whiskeys, and the exact amount of evaporation varies from barrel to barrel, between 2 – 10%, depending on years aged. Since wooden barrels absorb things like sulfur, the missing Angel’s Share is typically a welcome part of the process.
Aperitif. In French tradition, an aperitif is a cocktail consumed before a meal. To that we say bonjour! Many aperitifs are crafted to stimulate the appetite or palate. A bitter drink or ginger-based cocktail may be a wise choice.
Bitters. Bitters are what make for some of the best drinks, and they’re not difficult to make. To create bitters, you need a neutral spirit and your flavors. Typically, the flavors are made up of edible roots, bark or aromatics. Create something special with elderflower liqueur, fresh rosemary, lavender, and blueberry bitters.
Bruised. Just like with skin or fruit, being bruised is not necessarily good. A bruised drink has been shaken too long and is cloudy in appearance.
Cask Strength (or Barrel Proof). Spirits, like whiskies, that have been aged in a cask or barrel have a higher alcohol by volume (ABV). While distilleries usually add water to the finished product, enthusiasts and distilleries have been increasing production on “cask” or “barrel” strength bottles. The ABV is much higher with these products, so pour accordingly.
Congeners. Congeners bring flavor to your alcohol, but they also bring bad side effects like hangovers. While naturally occurring from fermentation, people may react differently certain congeners, even if they’ve enjoyed a certain alcohol before.
Chill Filtration. Ever wondered about the difference between a clear and a cloudy whiskey? The answer is likely chill filtration. This process involves cooling whiskey down to approximately zero degrees, then using a fine filter to improve the visual clarity of a whiskey. It’s a controversial process in the whiskey world, as it’s only benefits are cosmetic.
Cooperage. This term is all about manufacturing, as a cooperage is where barrels and casks are made. The people who make casks and barrels are called coopers, and they make the containers, only, not the alcohol itself.
Dram. It’s a popular term in Scotland, but a rarely used measurement in the United States. The dram is a small pour, traditionally of whiskey, with an exact measurement of 1/8 fluid ounce.
Digestif. A bookend to the aperitif, the digestif is a beverage served after a meal that may aid with digestion. A fortified wine, brandy, or bitter spirit will do the trick.
Dry. This is how James Bond sometimes orders martinis, but what does it mean? Very little or no vermouth. The rest of the martini is made to standard.
Lightning. Lightning is another word for moonshine. Did you know that moonshine is actually whiskey? The only difference between a traditional whiskey and lightning (or moonshine) is that lightning is not barrel aged, thus the reason it is clear instead of brown.
Mash. A mash is a mix that is made with hot water. During the mash process, natural sugar is created from the breakdown of starch in the grain mix. Mash is an essential building block of many alcohols, and after the mash process is complete you’ll have what’s known as a “wort.”
Shrub. Currently trending, a shrub is a vinegar-based mixer that sometimes contains alcohol but is usually used as an ingredient in a cocktail.
Rinse. A liquid that coats your glass to enhance the flavor of a spirit or liquor.