At this time of year, ice is generally considered a pain. It makes walking and driving hazardous, gums up our pipes and gutters and wreaks havoc on tree limbs.

Ice in our drinks? That’s another matter. And it goes way beyond blender drinks. There are actual rules and legitimate science that govern the use of ice in cocktails. Let’s learn some of the basics, so that you can look slick the next time you play mixologist.


Neat means a liquor is served unmixed and undiluted–poured straight from the bottle to the glass with no ice. You may never have thought of it this way, but wine is served neat. Cognac in a snifter is neat. A martini is not neat, unless it’s just vermouth in a glass.


A drink served up is not served with ice, but it has been shaken or stirred with ice to chill it before it’s strained into a glass. A Manhattan is often served up, for example.

On the Rocks

As you may have guessed, this means ice in the glass! A drink on the rocks typically starts the same as a drink served up–shaken or stirred with ice. But then it’s strained and poured over ice cubes in a glass. A Whiskey Sour is often served on the rocks. 


A drink served over is served with ice cubes, much like on the rocks. The difference? It’s not shaken or stirred with ice first. Whiskey connoisseurs often enjoy their beverage over, as the liquor seems to flavor the ice, and the ice makes the spirit refreshing. In fact, they’ll often enjoy their second round with the same ice, as it’s nicely seasoned by now. (That rule that water should never touch whiskey? Only valid for true Scotch.)


When you order a mist, you’re in for a more chilly drink. A mist begins as a drink served over–it’s not shaken or stirred with ice. But rather than cubes, the liquor is served over shaved or crushed ice. An amaretto mist is one example.

True mixologists select ice as carefully as they select spirits. Most obviously, you want to be sure your ice is made with fresh water and free of any odors or flavors from the freezer. 

Large pieces of ice will melt more slowly, so if you wish to avoid diluting your drink too quickly, you can use an ice mold tray designed to make big cubes for cocktails. 

Crushed ice will cool a drink rapidly, as more surface area is exposed to the liquid. It also will dilute the drink faster, making it ideal for thick liqueurs. 

When shaking a drink, give some thought to the type of ice you use. Cubes will help create froth as they’re agitated, and shaved ice will make a drink cold; a combination of the two is useful to achieve the foam on a drink like the Pisco Sour.

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