Drinks lingo, although relatively straightforward, is still confounding when you’re making or taking orders for the first time. More often than not, we fall back on helpful snippets from movies, music and books, a trend which I imagine would culminate in asking someone to “pass the Courvoisier straight up, shaken, not stirred, on the rocks.” Let’s not even start on what happens when someone learns about Scotch from one of my favorite offbeat musicians, Bob Log III. (Who is Bob Log III? Google Bob Log III!) The point is, it’s a big world, and there are a lot of jiggers, beakers and flasks out there to cover.
So what does the above phrase mean? Broken down, it’s:
Courvoisier: One of the best-known types of cognac, which is a brandy produced near the town of Cognac in France (like champagne, there are strict regulations as to where and how cognac can be made). And what is brandy? It’s distilled wine, made by first fermenting grapes, then distilling the product and, in some cases, aging it in wooden flasks. Brandy (or its subcategory, eau-de-vie), can also be made from other fruits. Check out, for example, Oregon’s Clear Creek pear brandy.
Straight Up: This is a combination of two requirements, both straight — that a non-mixed drink has been stirred with ice, but is served without it — and up, which means that it is being served in a stemmed glass. A martini, for example, is usually served up, but is not “straight up,” since it contains multiple ingredients. What many people want when they ask for a martini — a vodka martini, without any dry vermouth — is. Keep in mind that unless you want your tequila stirred with ice, then strained into a cocktail glass, you’ll be ordering it neat: that is, at room temperature, poured straight from a bottle.
Shaken, not stirred: Having subconsciously avoided Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels the way that dogs subconsciously avoid shock collars, I can’t really tell you why he ordered his martinis shaken, originally, except that the first cocktail he ordered that way was actually not a martini, but the similar vesper cocktail. Shaking a martini will make the drink colder, but will also add more water — while a martini with no water will make for a painful drink indeed, you don’t want to overdo it. Besides this, shaking will mix the ingredients more thoroughly, but will chip the ice, giving you a slightly cloudy result — this is why many people recommend that you shake all cloudy drinks, and stir all clear ones. James Bond may have preferred his martinis cloudy and his femmes fatal, but, then again, it’s not actually that much fun when your lover tries to murder you, either.
On the rocks: In a short, thick, non-stemmed glass, on ice. Such glasses are usually referred to as “lowball,” “Old-Fashioned,” or, fittingly, “rocks” glasses.
To top this off, I’ll offer my notes on that most famous cocktail, the martini:
½ oz Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
2 oz Plymouth Gin
Fill a large glass, or the metal part of a Boston Shaker, partway with ice (use the largest cubes you can find). On top of this, pour the vermouth, then the gin. Holding the glass, stir it with a bar spoon 40 times, then strain into a stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with either a lemon twist, one or three olives (never two — that’s bad luck), or a cocktail onion — although, technically, the onion will turn it into a Gibson.