What's that Lassie? There's a drink in the well?
There are actually plenty of drinks in the well and a number of other ingredients and tools too. These items play a vital part in a bar's profitability and in the quality of the drinks served. Understanding what a well drink is can help you make better decisions about what to purchase and use in your bar.
We've put together a guide explaining what well liquor is and a handful of the best and most common well drinks.
What Is a Well Drink or Well Liquor?
Well liquor is lower-cost liquor that a bar uses more frequently in mixed drinks than the top-shelf brands. Well drinks are the mixed drinks made using this liquor. Do your customers request a particular brand of liquor when ordering a cocktail? If not, you will likely be serving a well drink. Bars should choose to use these liquors more often since it keeps liquor costs to the bar down.
Some more expensive cocktail bars will actually use more expensive brands in their wells. Understand that the prices in a bar are generally reflected in the quality of the liquors they use. If a rum and Coke is only $5, it probably isn’t made with top-shelf rum.
What Does a Well Drink Mean?
A well drink is any cocktail made using low-cost well liquor and other common ingredients kept behind the bar. This term encompasses all mixed drinks that are made using these ingredients. This is the opposite of a "call drink" which uses a specific brand as requested by the customer.
The average patron doesn't request a particular brand of liquor for their mixed drinks. Using well liquor allows bars to keep their costs low and sell as many drinks as possible to maximize profit. Still, you need some level of quality in a well drink to ensure you continue to have patrons.
Why Do They Call It a Well Drink?
The area behind a bar within easy reach of a bartender is called a "well." Drinks made using common ingredients found there are called well drinks. Ingredients other than liquor include club soda, seltzer, sodas, bitters, and a variety of fruits.
The well area of a bar can also be called a "speed rail," "speed rack," or "speed well." As these names imply, this area is set up by the bartenders to ensure they can put drinks out as quickly as possible. Maintaining a clean and orderly well is imperative for any professional bartender.
What Qualifies As a Well Drink?
Any cocktail made using lower-cost liquor can be considered a well drink. Many of the drinks every bartender should know are well drinks and are ordered often. Most well drinks contain three ingredients or fewer. Usually, these drinks will have a part liquor, a part mixer, and a fruit or garnish. Some of the most popular well drinks include gin and tonic, rum and Coke, and Long Island Iced Tea among many others.
Best Well Drinks
You don't need top-shelf liquor to make a great cocktail. Well drinks can be just as tasty and cost both the bar and patron a lot less. Here are a few lists of our favorite well liquors and some of the most popular cocktails.
Well Whiskey: Top 5
- Evan Williams. Contrary to popular opinion, this is more than a knock-off of Jack Daniels. This 86-proof whiskey has a subtly sweet taste that makes it great for mixing.
- Old Crow. This 86-proof bourbon is distilled by the same people who make Jim Beam. It uses the same ingredients but aged for less time.
- John B. Stetson. A solid, 84-proof bourbon with a caramel and honey taste. You could definitely do worse.
- Four Roses. An 80-proof bourbon with a warm, buttery taste. It is a bit rougher than some others, so it may not be to everyone's liking.
- Fleischmann's. This 80-proof blended whiskey has a solid taste matched by an amazing price. A bar can get twice as much whiskey for the same cost as many other well options.
Well Vodka: Top 5 Well Vodka Brands
- Tito's Handmade. This 80-proof vodka is distilled using yellow corn in Texas. It has a sweet, peppery taste that lends itself well to mixed drinks.
- Svedka. Made using Swedish spring water and wheat, this 80-proof vodka is ideal for cocktails. It has a balanced taste that doesn't overpower and comes in a variety of flavors.
- Smirnoff No. 21. One of the most well-known names in vodka and common in most bar wells. Smirnoff No. 21 is a multi-award winning, 80-proof corn vodka with a smooth feel.
- Sobieski. The #1 selling vodka in Poland, Sobieski is an 80-proof rye vodka that tastes very smooth without a bite.
- Wodka. Another 80-proof rye Polish vodka, Wodka is an even cheaper alternative to Sobieski. It does have a stronger mineral taste but is nearly as smooth.
Well Cocktails: Top 5 List of Well Cocktails
- Rum and Coke. This highball cocktail, also known as a Cuba Libre, is one of the easiest cocktails to make. Using just rum, Coca-Cola, and lime juice, it's hard to go wrong with this classic.
- Gin and Tonic. What's easier than three ingredients? Two ingredients. Just one part gin to three parts tonic water, this fits right in with the best summer cocktails.
- Screwdriver. A tasty vodka treat, the screwdriver is another simple highball cocktail. Just add one part vodka to two parts orange juice and you're all set.
- Long Island Iced Tea. More complicated than the rest, but loved by many, the Long Island Iced Tea makes use of the whole well. The drink uses syrup, lemon juice, cola, and a slew of liquors. You can see why this is one of the most popular cocktails in the U.S.
- Tom Collins. This classic cocktail that utilizes gin, lemon juice, syrup, and carbonated water. It's light, refreshing and one of the most common drink orders in the world.
Well Tequila: Top 5 Well Tequila Brands
- Hornitos Black Barrel. Black Barrel is made by putting aged anejo into oak barrels for four months. This 80-proof tequila has a smooth and smoky taste that goes great in a margarita.
- Espolon Blanco. This 100% blue agave tequila is 80-proof and has a deliciously tropical flavor and smooth feel.
- El Jimador. Another blue agave tequila, El Jimador has a softer, citrusy taste. At 80-proof, this tequila is a great choice for a drink that can stand on its own flavors.
- Lanazul Blanco. This 80-proof white tequila is also blue agave, but adds a hint of vanilla to its tropical flavors.
- Jose Cuervo. One of the most well-known names in tequila, Jose Cuervo offers a perfectly serviceable tequila at a low cost. Though only 80-proof, it can be a bit harsher than the other options, so reserve it for cocktails with strong flavors.
Tequila Well Drinks: Top 5
- Margarita. You can't go wrong with a margarita. It's one of the most popular cocktail recipes and contains tequila, lemon juice, and orange liqueur.
- Sangrita. This spicy drink makes the most out of its tequila. Tequila, orange juice, lime juice, and chili peppers make a deliciously peppery drink.
- Tequila Sunrise. Named for its beautiful gradient, the Tequila Sunrise is a great summer cocktail. All you need is tequila, grenadine, and orange juice.
- Tequila Sour. Part of the "sour family", the Tequila Sour makes great use of bitters. Egg whites, lime juice, sugar syrup, and tequila all add to the great sour taste from the bitters.
- Mexican Mule. Like its counterpart, the Moscow Mule, the Mexican Mule makes use of a copper mug. Just swap the original's vodka for tequila, and add ginger beer, lime juice, and a wedge of lime for a delicious drink.
Well Rum: Top 5
- El Dorado 8 Year. The youngest of El Dorado's offerings, the 8-year aged rum has a soft oak and caramel taste. This 80-proof rum finds the perfect balance between cost and flavor and is perfect for cocktails.
- Bankers Club Silver Rum. This mild 80-proof rum has the perfect, light taste to compliment any mixed drink for a great price.
- Angostura 5 Year. Though slightly more expensive than most well rums, Angostura offers a flavorful rum. This 80-proof rum is perfect for tropical drinks with its hints of banana, mango, coconut, and vanilla.
- Bacardi Superior. Bacardi is one of the most common well rums in the world. Backed by a well-known name, this 80-proof tropical rum tastes similar to Angostura but is a bit weaker.
- Captain Morgan. Another household name, Captain Morgan offers the most-used spiced rum in the industry. This 70-proof rum has a strong taste that goes well in cocktails that call for a little spice.
Well, Well, Well ...
That's the long and short about well drinks. These drinks are some of the most common in the bar industry. If a customer wants to know what's in their favorite mixed drink, let the bartender share what you use for well liquor. If it's not to the customer’s taste, have them order a call drink.
Running a bar requires knowledge of every tool and ingredient at your disposal. Understanding mixology terms can also help streamline processes and ensure you serve the best drinks for optimal prices.