Neat vs Straight Up vs On the Rocks

By Sina Torner / Last updated on March 21, 2023

What is the difference of neat vs straight up vs on the rocks? These terms can cause quite a confusion, so I want to set this straight for you.
Neat vs. Straight Up vs. On the Rocks

It sounds pretty professional when you enter a bar and casually order a Tequila neat with a twist. Yet, it doesn't feel that cool anymore once you realize you didn't get what you hoped you would. And while there's even confusion among bartenders -let alone waiters- there is a pretty clear definition of neat, straight up, and on the rocks. And I'm going to help you with getting your bar terminology right.

What means Neat vs Straight Up vs On the Rocks

So here is what the different terms mean and what you get when you order your drink using one of them.


You order something neat and get a spirit without a mixer or any additional ingredients. So far, so good. But be aware that you will also get it poured directly out of the bottle, at room temperature, without ice. A neat drink is usually one for sipping, like a good Whiskey, a Rum, or a Cognac. A cocktail or highball can never be neat, though. So don't use the term there.

Straight Up

That is where the most chaos happens. Because it's actually three terms in one: straight up, some up only, and others say straight. And they can mean different things depending on what you order. But as a rule of thumb, you can rely on the following:

Straight Up
Straight Up should get you a chilled drink with no ice. Usually, that drink is shaken or stirred with ice and then poured and served without.
But when ordering a spirit without mixers, some use it interchangeably with neat. So, if you use it in this context, you might end up with a sip either at room temperature or chilled.

In bar lingo, the term Up used to be the short version of Straight Up. But now, it's sort of the most precise way to say that you want your drink stirred or shaken with ice and then served without ice.

Now confusion-wise, Straight is the opposite of Up. You can literally use it for anything. -Which is good in a way because you can't really go wrong with it. The bartender usually has to - and a good one will- ask what you want without you looking like you had no clue in the first place.
It can mean: neat in the case of dark spirits for sipping, chilled in the case of white spirits for sipping, and ultimately, it can mean you simply want to have a shot.

On the rocks

"On the rocks" is probably the least confusing term for most. Rocks refer to ice, and you will get the drink poured over ice in your glass. In contrast to neat and straight up, you can order drinks with more than one component on the rocks.
But remember: because the ice will start to dilute your spirit after a while, you don't usually order premium spirits on the rocks.


This one might also come in handy at one point: if you order a drink with a twist, it doesn't mean the drink itself somehow will be tweaked. It means that you get a citrus peel with it your order. The standard when ordering with a "twist" would usually be lemon. So if you prefer lime or orange, ask for a lime twist or an orange twist.

Other mixology terminologies

Now that you know the difference between Neat vs Straight Up vs On the Rocks, you might want to expand your bar vocabulary further. You continue reading our articles about what a highball is, what a dram of Whiskey means, or how many ounces you get when you order a shot in different places around the globe.

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