What It Means To Order A Back Drink At The Bar

"Back" is a pretty big thing in the bartender lingo lexicon. Not to be confused with the back bar or the bar back, a back drink is essentially a chaser to your primary shooter and is typically a non-alcoholic drink paired with stronger, higher-proof spirits. The pickleback, for example, is traditionally a shot of whiskey chased by a backdrink in the form of a shot of pickle brine. It's delicious and super utilitarian, and it's evolved into a barroom staple for a reason.

There are no rules here. Your back drink can even be water; it's a classic pair for washing down Manhattans and old-fashioneds, which could use a little lubricant but already boast complicated enough flavor profiles on their own. Water lets these spirit-forward cocktails shine without competing with the taste. 

Beer backs are also common for on-the-rocks spirits fans. For example, if your go-to bar order is a Jack and Ginger, short, you might also order a beer for sipping to help it go down a little easier. And if you order that six-dollar happy hour beer and a shot, that's technically a beer back.

A back drink is a non-alcoholic accompaniment to your beverage

Back drinks can either be shot-sized or come in a full pint glass, whatever you wish. By default, your bartender is probably going to bring out a back drink in a rocks glass, so if you want more or less, just ask for it.

Why does it work? Mixed drinks and cocktails are fundamentally pre-assembled shots with the back drink already built in. Mules can be broken down as vodka with a ginger beer back, while French 75s are gin with a lemon juice back.

To that effect, avoid looking like a poser when you order and follow this simple rule of thumb: Always name the spirit before the chaser. (i.e. gin and tonic, vodka cranberry, or rum and Coke). In the same way, order your spirit first, then ask for whatever back you'd like to pair with it such as, "I'll take a vodka with a pineapple back." 

Lemonade, ginger ale, and cola are all popular choices for back drinks. Even some NYC bars like The West in Williamsburg, Brooklyn have been keeping kombucha on tap as a back. In short: The world is your oyster, and you can wash it down as you please.