David Willner (General Manager, PS 450, Vig 27 & The Volstead, NYC) gives expert video advice on: How do I salt the rim of a glass?; What is "top shelf" liquor?; What is meant by the terms "neat", "straight up" and "on the rocks"? and more...
What is "top shelf" liquor?
Top shelf liquor refers to the most premium brands of liqueur available. If we look at three vodkas, Grey Goose, Kettle One and Absolut, for example; out of these three, it is the first two which are likely to be top shelf. Top shelf liqueurs are often more expensive and higher quality.
What is a "speed rack" on a bar?
A speed rack is one of the most important things for a bartender. The speed rack is usually positioned directly in front of wherever you're going to do most of your bartending. the speed rack contains one of every major liquor, so one vodka, one gin, one tequila, one rum, one sour mix, and then hopefully one of each type of mixer. You also want to have your lower-end drinks in the speed rack, unless all you're pouring is top shelf liquors. The reason for this is because if you're using things from the speed rack, this is what you're using the most of. Premium liquors are called out more often than not, so someone that wants a Screwdriver with Ketel One will say, "I want a Ketel One Screwdriver." If they just say a Screwdriver, then you'll just take it from your speed rack and pour away.
What does "proof" mean with regard to liquor?
In terms of alcohol, "proof" is another way of saying strength. In the United States, we have a scale that goes up to 200 degrees. Each degree has 0.5 of a proof. For example, something that is "100 proof" has 50% alcohol by volume, and so on and so forth. That's a "proof."
What is meant by the terms "neat", "straight up" and "on the rocks"?
Serving something "neat" means that you are serving it completely by itself, without water or ice. A lot of purists will say that "neat" is the only way to drink things; especially scotches, bourbons and whiskeys. "Straight up" means that you want to chill your drink but don't want any ice in it. Martinis are almost exclusively served "straight up". "On the rocks" means that you are serving your liquor with ice in the glass. A scotch on the rocks, for example, would be served with five to ten ice cubes, depending on the size of your rock's glass. Nearly all cocktails are served "on the rocks", in the sense that they have ice in them, but typically, "on the rocks" means that you want it in a rock's glass with a certain amount of ice cubes.