To chill or not to chill your alcohol is not really an age old question but it comes up more than one would think. The temperature of your beverage is a matter of preference. But knowing how you want it and asking for it in the right manner so you get what you want sometimes becomes two different things. Here are some guidelines to follow.
Rocks. This is another word for ice. “Can I have a whiskey on the rocks, please?’
Chilled. This usually means you want your alcohol shaken over ice and strained. This is standard lingo for shots. ‘I’d like two shots of Stoli, chilled.’
Up. Up refers to martini/cocktail glasses. Sometimes cocktails can come two ways. A bartender would ask if you want your vodka martini or margarita ‘up’ or ‘on the rocks.’ Up automatically implies shaken over ice and strained.
Straight Up. This is another way of saying you want your cocktail or spirit shaken over ice and strained into a martini/cocktail glass. ‘I’d like that straight up, thanks.’
Straight/Neat. This means without ice and room temperature. Most low to mid level whiskeys, bourbons, tequilas and scotches are served at room temperature in a rocks glass when asked for as straight or neat. Brandy, cognac and the more expensive spirits are traditionally served in a snifter. That’s not to say you can’t sip your Jack Daniels from a snifter if that’s how you’d like it but you’d have to ask for it to be served in a snifter otherwise expect a rocks glass.
When to chill. Most of the lower end spirits are better served over ice. As the ice melts it dilutes the bitterness or bite making it more palatable. The lower temperature also mildly numbs your taste buds so you’re not getting the full flavor. So if you’re shooting cheap vodka or sipping rotgut whiskey then ice is the way to go.
When not to chill. The more expensive spirits are designed for sipping and to be enjoyed and savored at a leisurely pace. For example, tequila connoisseurs will tell you higher end tequilas actually have complex layers of nuts, fruit and smoky flavors that would be lost if served above room temperature. The same goes for small batch bourbons, scotches and whiskeys.
You, the customer, can also control the temperature and dilution rate by ordering water or soda as a back or rocks on the side. ‘Scotch, neat and a water back,’ will get you two rocks glasses: one with scotch and one with water that you can sip intermittently. You can also order ‘bourbon, straight with rocks on the side,’ which will also get you two rocks glasses: one with bourbon and one with ice cubes that you can add to your bourbon to slightly raise the temperature and control the dilution rate.
Knowing what you want before you ask for it is half the battle but knowing how to ask for what you want is the key. You won’t look like a novice if you ask a few questions; bartenders are there to help you. It’s better to ask and get what you want than not ask and be disappointed.