There are many, oh so many, ways we’re able to embarrass ourselves socially. If we happen to be in a fancy or even semi-serious drinks establishment, that number goes up exponentially. First, there’s the fact that we’re likely wearing some non-casual, entirely sweatpants-free outfit—spike heels to maneuver, cravat that just won’t sit right. Then there’s the ever present romantic implications, which have their own generous opportunities for humiliation.
And then there’s the drinking part itself, the typical embarrassment source being the danger of over-intoxication (drink water, avoid shame, and headaches). But what about just ordering a drink? Trying to seem savvy and hide those beads of sweat while scanning a list of $11 (or $16) cocktails with names you may not, tipsy or otherwise, actually be able to pronounce?
We can’t help you navigate financial choices, but where pronunciation comes into play, we got you. Cocktail names tend to be…interesting, which can mean complicated, which can mean hard to say. Which is why we put together a handy little guide to some of the harder-to-pronounce cocktails, and ingredients, out there.
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Bear in mind, these are classic cocktails, generally available in most serious cocktail bars. But most serious cocktail bars tend to also have lists that are substantially of their own making—cocktails with names specific to the bartender who created them. Fortunately those tend to be a bit more straightforward.
And when in doubt, you can always just point to the menu. Everybody understands “I want that. Have money. Will pay.”
If you’ve taken French, you probably don’t need a ton of help here. We won’t try to get you to pronounce the French R, but if you want to sip on this complex, smooth, rye and Cognac New Orleans classic, just memorize “VEE-UH-CAR-AY.” (Canadian Alternate: “VYUH-CAR, eh?”)
Ah, one of the most refreshing, easy-to-sip, hard-to-say drinks of summer. A Brazilian classic made with Cachaça (see below), sugar, and lime, it befuddles us with the “h.” Forget the “h,” put on some sandals, and say “KIE-PEE-REE-NYA.”
OK, not incredibly complex-looking, but there is a mild temptation to say “May Tay.” Especially after three or four. Made with rum, fruit juice, and orgeat (see below), order it like you’re talking proudly about your clothes. “MY TIE!”
Like a Negroni with rye, as classy as cocktails get. And a name to match. Not a lot of room for mistake here, but bear in mind it isn’t “BOULEVAR-DEER.” Imagine a gentleman ambling down, well, a boulevard (and say the first part like that), then “ee-ay.” So, “BOU-LEVARD-EE-AY.” Dandy and delicious.
Whether you’re going for a slushy strawberry version or a Hemingway classic, the most important thing here is not pronouncing the “QU.” If you’ve ever been scolded by an ornery vegan restaurant employee about mispronouncing “quinoa,” the same rule, and psychological trauma, applies here. (Not to mention, ignore that first “i.”) It’s “DA-KIH-REE.” And it’s delightful.
A sugar cane-based spirit that’s similar to a light rum. What’s intimidating here is that little cedilla under the third C. Don’t let that little guy bug you. It just means you say that “c” like an “s.” “KA-CHA-SA.” And then party
The ubiquitous bitters of the cocktail world, and—according to some—a reliable stomach aid and/or hangover remedy. So if you’ve got a pounding headache and want a few extra dashes in your seltzer water? Call for some “AN-GUH-STOO-RAH.”
The ubiquitous bitter herbal liqueur of the bartender world, and—according to some—another reliable stomach aid and/or hangover remedy. Despite any temptation to talk over-fancy, especially when ordering a shot of this potent stuff to impress your bartender, you DO pronounce the “T” here. “FAIR-NET,” and yeah, the rest is pretty simple. “BRAN-KA.”
You probably won’t encounter this as an ingredient, though it is an ingredient of something you’ve definitely had before: tonic water. Cinchona bark is the magical ingredient that not only gives tonic some of its rich, bitter flavor, but those all-important anti-malarial properties. So if you ever want to salute the extra special component of your G&T, shout out “Here’s to the SIN-KONE-AH tree!”
You’ll see a lot more of this is in Tiki cocktails. It’s an almond-based syrup, which yes, you can actually make at home (we might dare to try some day). Some pronunciations kind of let the “T” fall away, but most often, we’ve heard “OR-ZHAT.” (Most important: you definitely don’t need to say “OR-GEE-AT.”)