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What Is a Well Drink?

While flashy, complicated cocktails tend to get lots of attention from customers, as a bar/restaurant owner, you never want to overlook the basic options.

Well drinks aren’t made with top-shelf liquor. They don’t have clever names or loads of ingredients. However, they’re a significant profit generator for many bars and restaurants.

gin and tonic well drink

Here’s a closer look at what well drinks are, what customers expect from them, and how you can set yourself up for success.

Well Drinks Explained

Well drinks are made from lower-tier liquors. Customers order a well drink by the type of liquor, not its brand name. For example, a “rum and coke” and a “gin and tonic” are both well drinks.

The next level up from a well drink is a “call drink”. It’s ordered using a specific brand name, such as a “Jack and Coke” or “Absolut and orange.”

Well drinks get their name from the bar’s well, which is the space front and center behind the bar, where bartenders spend most of their time. Whether the bar stores the bottles there depends, but the name symbolizes how frequently these drinks are served.

These are also sometimes called rail drinks, as the liquor bottles are organized on the bottom rail of the bar area. They are typically the most frequent pours and are usually in a spot where bartenders have quick access.

Another name for well drinks and liquors is house drinks and house brands.

Types of Well Liquors

Well drinks are made from lower or starter-tier liquors. Note that doesn’t mean the bottom of the barrel. Instead, well liquors are a step (or a few steps) above plastic-bottle brands found in the liquor store.

What’s in a well? Go to any bar in the country, and you’ll likely find these five liquors:

  • Vodka – Smirnoff is the best-selling vodka in the US, in no small part because it’s widely used as well vodka in bars and restaurants of all types.
  • Rum – As the oldest spirit, it’s no surprise you’ll find rum in even the most basic well.
  • Whiskey – Any lower-tier whiskey counts as a well drink, but don’t confuse well whiskey with “Well Whiskey,” a specific brand made in Well, Pennsylvania.
  • Gin – London Dry and Beefeater are both popular well options because they have a gin taste without the overpowering flavor of juniper berries.
  • Tequila – While Patron gets an overwhelming amount of attention in rap songs, for well tequila, you can usually go with less expensive options.
  • Liqueurs – Triple Sec and Blue Curacao are probably the two most common options.

Additionally, most wells will have a sour mix.

cheap mixed drink

Should You Focus on Your Well Drink List?

Absolutely! Too many bars and restaurants neglect their well drink menu – and they’re missing out on potentially major benefits. Here’s why your well drink list is essential:

Quick and Easy

Bartenders can whip up most well drinks in less than a minute. They’re an excellent option for keeping customers happy when the bar is busy.

Profitable

They’re one of a bar’s most cost-effective options. The basic ingredients are cheap. Plus, as we just learned, they take no time at all to make.

Versatile

You can change up your well specials easily. For example, you might try tailoring them to the seasons or even times of the day. Offer a happy hour special on screwdrivers in the morning or on gin and tonics when the temps outside are cold and rainy.  

Welcoming

Not everybody enjoys fancy drinks or wants to spend a bundle at the bar. Well drinks offer comfortable favorites at affordable prices.

bartender ringing in drink orders

How to Make Your Well Drinks Look Amazing

As with any drink, presentation plays an important role. Just because well drinks are inexpensive doesn’t mean you can’t make them look awesome.

First, pay attention to the quality of the garnishes. People don’t want fruits that look like they’ve been sitting on the bar for half a day. Garnish your drinks with fresh wedges and peels. Ideally, cut and prepare them directly in front of the guest.

Treat juices the same way. Fresh, natural juices taste and look much better than those made from concentrates. While they might cost a bit more initially, the increase in customer satisfaction can lead to a rise in drink orders.

Finally, consider serving your well drinks in something besides a standard pint glass. Using your bar’s specialty glassware can add a touch of sophistication to the drink without increasing your expenses.  

Popular Well Drinks

If you stock your bar with the liquors listed above, you can make a huge array of drinks. That said, the vast majority of customers will likely want one of the following:

Vodka Well Drinks

vodka cranberry

Vodka has a clean taste with a slightly thicker texture that blends well with practically any type of mixer. Some popular well drinks include:

  • Vodka Tonic – Two ounces of vodka with tonic combined in a glass with ice
  • Vodka Soda – Same as above, but with soda water instead
  • Screwdriver – Two ounces of vodka combined with orange juice in a glass with ice
  • Cape Cod – Also known as a vodka cranberry, it has two ounces of vodka with cranberry juice. An alternate version uses two ounces of cranberry juice and then soda water to fill the rest of the glass.

Clear vodka drinks tend to go well with either a lemon or lime garnish. Vodka drinks with fruit often pair nicely with an orange slice.

Gin and Tonic

The “G and T” is a classic for a reason. It’s simple but refreshing with just a bit of a bite. You’ll need:

  • Two ounces of gin
  • Tonic water

First, fill a glass about halfway with crushed ice. Then add the gin. Finally, pour in tonic until the glass is full. The most popular garnish is a lime wedge.

Another popular well drink is the Gin Buck, which combines two ounces of gin with either ginger beer or ginger ale. The ginger delivers a flavorful boost to the juniper in the gin.

Whiskey Sour

whiskey sour well drink

Originally invented by sailors in the British Navy, the whiskey sour is an enduring classic with a refreshing, sweet flavor.

Pour two ounces of whiskey into an ice-filled glass. Next, add sour mix or lemon juice and sugar. You can also add an egg white, which creates a drink called a Boston Sour. Another option is using a bar spoon to float red wine across the top of the drink, which turns it into a New York Sour.

Rum Well Drinks

The two most popular types of rum well drinks are:

  • Rum and Coke
  • Cuba Libre

While they have similar ingredients, your customers will know the difference, so you need to know it, too.

A rum and coke combines two ounces of either white or dark rum with any cola (you don’t have to use the Coke brand soft drink). Pour the rum into an ice-filled glass, add the soft drink, and it’s ready to serve.

rum and coke in a glass with ice

A Cuba Libre contains the same amounts of rum and coke but with lime juice. For best results, squeeze two fresh, half wedges of lime directly into the glass. Then, add the rum, ice, and coke.

If you’ve never had both of these drinks before, you’ll be surprised at how much of an impact one ingredient can have. It’s like the difference between a peanut butter sandwich and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

Tequila Well Drinks 

While well tequila drinks are popular, most bars also do a robust business in tequila shots, so you might want top-shelf options available, too.

As far as tequila well drinks go, one of the most commonly requested options is the Tequila Sunrise. It contains two ounces of tequila, grenadine, and orange juice. Pour the tequila into a glass with ice, add the orange juice, and then finish it up with a splash of grenadine. A single cherry makes an excellent garnish.

Another popular tequila well drink is the Paloma. It’s made from an ounce and a half of tequila, a half-ounce of lime juice, a half cup of grapefruit juice, and a dash of salt. Combine the tequila, lime juice, and salt before topping with the grapefruit juice. Garnish with a lime.

Long Island Iced Tea

long island iced tea

Finally, we have the Long Island Iced Tea, which requires (almost) all of the well liquors in your arsenal. Strong but sweet and easy to drink, the Long Island is popular just about everywhere. To make one, you’ll need:

  • 1/2 ounce vodka
  • 1/2 ounce tequila
  • 1/2 ounce rum
  • 1/2 ounce gin
  • Cola
  • Triple-Sec

Fill a glass about three-quarters full with ice. Pour all the liquors into the glass. Next, add a splash of Triple Sec. Fill the remainder of the glass with cola.

Finally, mix well. Add a garnish – a cherry is popular – and it’s ready to serve.

Final Thoughts

If you stock your well with care, your customers will notice and reward you with repeat business. Keep your drink prices low, but avoid ultra-cheap spirits. Also, use fresh fruits and juices instead of concentrates.

Today’s bar customers are more sophisticated than ever before. Even when they’re ordering from the well, they expect delicious flavors and top-tier presentation. Fortunately, by following the guidelines and recipes above, you can deliver an amazing and affordable experience to everyone in your bar.

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Written by Brian N

Brian has been an influencer in the food and beverage industry for over 20 years. He not only loves to eat and drink at restaurants on a regular basis, he also knows the business inside and out.