Food & Drink

Test your cocktail knowledge with this quiz

Bar keeps are no longer just bartenders. They are creators of exotic cocktails using honey or vanilla syrup, fresh herbs from the local farmer’s market and infusing spirits.
Bar keeps are no longer just bartenders. They are creators of exotic cocktails using honey or vanilla syrup, fresh herbs from the local farmer’s market and infusing spirits. MCT

A new age of cocktails is upon us and, as you might expect, it demands that you bump your game up a level or two. No longer can you wander up to a drinks menu and assume that simply knowing the difference between an Old Fashioned and a Manhattan will be enough. Today’s cutting-edge cocktail lists require a bit more knowledge of the imbiber, but they offer a return on any investment that is well worth the effort.

Sure, you can still just grab a vodka tonic if you want and avoid having to grapple with any unfamiliar vocabulary words in the drink descriptions, but that would be like relying on a landline because you never got around to figuring out how an iPhone works. Plus, you’re apt to get better service if your mixologist doesn’t have to waste any time explaining what “shrub” means in this context.

To that end, here’s a quick quiz on drink terminology highlighting some words you’re likely to encounter if you’re drinking in the right places these days.


a. A thin piece of metal or wood you stick in a gap to level things out

b. A computer program that similarly fills in gaps

c. A low-alcohol version of a familiar mixed drink


a. A bush used to create borders or fill in holes in landscape design

b. The unflattering nickname that late humor columnist Molly Ivins bestowed upon our 43rd president

c. A concoction of fresh fruit, sugar, vinegar and herbs that dates from the Colonial era


a. What happens to your tire on I-40 when you’re running late

b. That tingly feeling you get at the first sip of a really good bourbon served straight up

c. A solution of herbs in an alcoholic solvent


a. The bartender at that place whose name you forgot

b. When the bartender breaks an egg open and deftly separates the white from yolk

c. A French syrup made from almonds, sugar and orange flower water


a. The name of your gamer ex-boyfriend’s dog

b. What your relationship with that ex inevitably lost

c. Any mixed drink with citrus and carbonated water


1. a., b. & c. Blogger Dinah Sanders coined the term “shim” on her blog a few years back and then wrote the definitive book on making low-alcohol drinks taste as good as their higher-octane versions, “The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level.” It’s a real trend, in part because asking for a shim version of your drink order sounds cooler than asking your bartender to “go easy on the liquor.”

2. a., b. & c. The term shrub isn’t new at all. It’s just been around so long it’s making a comeback. In the olden days, our refrigeration-challenged ancestors made shrubs because they needed fresh fruit to ward off scurvy. Today, we just like the subtle flavor they add to our drinks.

3. c. A tincture is super-powered infusion, with a large dose of herbs, vegetable or other organic soaked in high-alcohol spirits. Despite the 19th-century medicinal sound of the word, it’s nothing to fear. As with a shrub, it’s another tool for the creation of multilayered cocktail flavors.

4. a. possibly, c. definitely. House-made syrups are all the rage in well-run cocktail bars, a relief for all of us who lived through the heyday of mixers made from high-fructose corn syrup. Orgeat, which you will love if you like almonds, is the fairy queen of today’s syrup scene. The original recipe for a Mai Tai, which dates to the 1940s, included orgeat.

5. Not (we hope) a. & b., but c. The fizz saw its greatest popularity in the first half of the 20th century, and like the others on this list, it’s enjoying a revival. Your fancier fizzes include an egg white shaken until frothy with the booze, citrus and bubbles to create a drink as light as a cloud.

Amber Nimocks is a former News & Observer food editor. Reach her at

Sip Tip

Also trending now: alcoholic root beer. I’m inclined to turn my nose up at any one-can-at-a-time beverage that sits alongside apple ale and hard lemonade in the convenience store cooler, but hard root beer is an exception. The thing is, it tastes just like root beer, and good root beer at that. The best I’ve tried is from Coney Island Brewing Co. Wait until the kids go to bed, float a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of a tall glass and soak in the grown-up suds.