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Neat Drink Meaning: Your 101 Introduction To Drinking Neat

Many people like to order a neat drink, meaning they want to appreciate the taste of liquor in a clean and unmanipulated fashion. 

Refreshing Whiskey Neat Cocktail on a Bar

There are many reasons for this, and we’ll cover everything you need to know about this liquor serving style. 

Neat Drink Meaning

Ordering a neat drink, meaning ordering a drink without ice, water, added ingredients, or actions outside of a simple pour (such as shaking or stirring), is a great way to order high-quality liquor — especially whiskey.

Whiskey Neat in a Glass

Adding ice or water to liquor like whiskey changes the equilibrium by bringing molecules to the surface, thus bringing out particular aspects of the drink’s notes, ultimately altering the taste.

And, of course, creating a cocktail by adding juice, soda, bitters, or other ingredients also alters the original flavor of the drink. So to preserve the liquor’s taste and flavors, drinking a glass of it neat is the way to go.

What Spirits Are Best Served Neat?

Whiskey is the most popular spirit served neat, but other spirits also benefit from this serving style:

Neat display of various alcohol drinks.
  • Bourbon: Bourbon is a specific type of whiskey with a sweet taste, smooth feel, and oaky, vanilla-like notes.
  • Rye whiskey: Rye is similar to bourbon but contains both corn and rye for its mash, as opposed to just corn, like bourbon, which gives it a more spicy finish that many people enjoy.
  • Brandy: Brandy is a distilled spirit made from fruit, like apples, grapes, and peaches. It has a sweet flavor that can be enhanced when served neat.
  • Scotch: Scotch is a type of whiskey made in Scotland and has very distinct flavors, such as the smoky taste of Lagavulin 16 Old Scotch Whisky.
  • Tequila: Tequila is a distilled agave-based spirit that has become popular over the years. While it’s not as expected, you can enjoy it neat to appreciate its original earthy and peppery flavors, especially with aged tequila.
  • Rum: Rum is a spirit made from sugarcane and other sweet ingredients, giving it a sweet taste that can be enjoyed neat.
  • Vodka: Vodka is an odorless, colorless spirit that people often serve with a mixer or as a shot, but high-quality vodka that tastes completely neutral is nice as a “vodka neat,” “chilled vodka,” “vodka straight,” or “vodka with olive juice,” when paired with a meal.
  • Mezcal: The roasted, rich agave flavors in mezcal tend to taste exquisite when left alone.

Neat Drinks vs. Other Serving Styles

Neat is one style of serving drinks, but there are other styles and bar terminology to consider when ordering. 

Delicious Bourbon Whiskey Neat in a Glass

On the Rocks

Serving drinks on the rocks means the glasses come with ice cubes. The ice could be cubed, crushed, or just one large ice cube.

Glass of Bourbon Whiskey, on the rocks

Not only does the ice chill your drink, but it can also alter the flavor and highlight specific notes over others.

People might enjoy this if they like their drinks cold, while others may prefer neat if they don’t want to risk their spirit getting watered down by the melting ice.

Straight Up 

Serving a drink straight up means that the beverage has been shaken or stirred with ice, then served in a fashion similar to neat — with no ice cubes in it. Ice cubes would mean that it’s on the rocks.

Shaken cocktails served straight up

Some people see the straight-up serving style as the best of both worlds, as you get to have your drink chilled a bit, but you don’t risk it getting watered down as you drink it.

However, this serving style is not as typical for straight spirits as it is for mixed cocktails besides bourbon straight.

Up

Serving a drink “up” is essentially the same as serving it “straight up.” Some people prefer this language because it is shorter and to the point.

Making dirty gin martini shaken served straight up

Thus, if you order a drink or spirit “up,” the drink will be shaken or stirred with ice, then poured without including the ice. 

Are Neat Drinks Safe?

It’s a common misconception that neat drinks are automatically unsafe. In fact, if you drink in moderation and take certain precautions, having a neat drink can be just as safe as drinking any other type of beverage.

bartender serving a glass of safe and neat whiskey

That said, there are some risks associated with drinking neat spirits because of the concentrated alcohol content in each sip since it is not diluted with water or other chasers.

This high concentration of alcohol is why it’s essential to understand what they are and how to minimize them.

Drinking in Moderation is Key

Like with anything else, the key to safely enjoying a neat drink is moderation. Too many straight spirits can quickly lead to intoxication and all the risks that come with it — from making bad decisions to becoming sick or even getting into accidents.

Benefits of a Neat Drink 

There are several benefits to choosing this drinking style for your next drink, including the following points.

Manhattan Neat with cherry

Stronger Undiluted Taste

One of the most significant benefits of neat drinks is that you enjoy the full, undiluted taste since neat drinks don’t include additional juices, sodas, or other ingredients.

Reduces Calorie and Sugar Intake

Since you do not include additional juices, syrups, sodas, or else, a neat drink can reduce your overall calorie and sugar intake.

Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Some neat drinks can also lower your risk of heart disease in comparison to other cocktails, depending on the ingredients. For example, a whiskey neat has a high level of heart-healthy antioxidants. 

Better Circulation

Finally, a neat drink can potentially improve a person’s circulation because neat drinks tend to lack artificial sweeteners and other ingredients that could be bad for circulation. This, in turn, reduces the risk of blood clots and other circulation problems. 

How To Drink Neat

Now that you know what a neat drink is, it’s time to explain how to drink it.

Glass of elegant straight or neat whiskey with correct amount on a bar counter

Pour the Correct Amount 

When it comes to pouring a neat drink, it’s vital to measure the amount that you are pouring. This is because neat drinks have higher alcohol content, so you must be extra mindful of how much you consume.

You should pour 2 ounces for any type of “neat” pour, including whiskey, vodka, tequila, or else.

Use an Appropriate Glass

The best way to serve a neat drink is in a lowball cocktail glass because it has a wide mouth that allows the drinker to better appreciate the aroma of their beverage.

Serve at Room Temperature

It’s also typically best to serve a neat drink at room temperature, as this ensures you get to capture the flavors that the spirit offers and not just the coldness of an ice cube. If it’s too hot, some flavors may be more overpowered than the distillers intended. 

Take Short Sips

Taking short sips with a neat drink is also ideal. Light sips help you drink mindfully, appreciating all the elements and qualities of the drink, from the aroma to the smoothness to the tasting notes. 

man drinking short sips on a glass of neat whiskey at the bar or pub

Plus, short sips help prepare your body for the alcohol and drink in moderation, which is a safer way to drink.

Choose High-Quality Alcohol

Not all liquor is created equal, and not all taste good when served neat. For a neat drink to be enjoyable and safe, you need to start with a high-quality spirit that you enjoy drinking.

Choosing only high-quality alcohol will ensure you don’t end up forcing yourself to drink something you don’t like just because it’s alcohol.

How to Order a Neat Drink

Ordering a neat drink at the bar is simple, as it’s a simple task. It’s an uncomplicated drink option in which the most important thing to get right is the type of alcohol you’re after. Here’s how to order a neat drink at the bar:

 bartender serves a glass of neat whiskey on the bar counter at the pub
  1. Ask for what type of liquor you want, then add the word “neat” after it. For example, If you wish to drink whiskey, you can ask for a “neat whiskey” or a “whiskey served neat.” 
  1. Know ahead of time which brand you prefer. You can ask if they have it before ordering if you’re unsure. Then, add that to your order. For example, “I’d like a whiskey neat with Bulleit Bourbon.”
  1. If you want something on the side of your neat drink, such as a “twist” (i.e., an orange peel) or a shot of pickle juice, you can add that to the end of your order, such as “I’d like a Bulleit Bourbon, neat, with a twist.”

And that’s it! You would have now successfully ordered a neat drink.

Neat Drink Recipes

Neat drinks don’t have to be boring, as you can make them more nuanced with side ingredients. Here are two simple mixed drinks for inspiration:

martini cocktail and shaker arranged in a neat line
  1. Pickleback with Whiskey: This recipe involves Jack Daniel’s poured neat, with a side of McClure’s pickle juice.
  2. The Godfather: A simple bourbon cocktail with an orange peel that you can serve without ice.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you still have questions about neat drinks? Here are our answers to frequently asked questions regarding this serving style.

Are neat drinks suitable for beginners?

Neat drinks are a great way for beginners to get into their alcohol journey, as it’s a simple but effective way to enjoy your favorite spirits.

It’s essential to keep in mind, though, that with neat drinks having a higher alcohol content, you should start slow and be extra mindful of your intoxication levels.

What is a NEAT glass?

A neat glass is a lowball glass, otherwise called a rocks glass or an Old Fashioned glass. It’s a short tumbler with enough mouth space for casual, slow sipping. 

Which is the best type of whiskey to drink neat?

There are many excellent types of whiskey to drink neat, including but not limited to scotch, Irish whiskey, rye whiskey, bourbon, and Japanese whisky

You should choose whatever type of whiskey you prefer the most, as that is the best part of drinking a spirit neat — enjoying the taste! 

Cheers!

We hope you enjoyed this guide and are now inspired to try ordering a neat drink the next time you’re out!

Leave us a comment below and let us know whether you like neat drinks or not – we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Written by Paul Kushner

I have always had a deep interest in the restaurant and bar industry. My restaurant experience began in 1997 at the age of 14 as a bus boy. By the time I turned 17 I was serving tables, and by 19 I was bartending/bar managing 6-7 nights a week.

In 2012, after a decade and a half of learning all facets of the industry, I opened my first restaurant/bar. In 2015, a second location followed, the latter being featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

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