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Drinking Habits

What Is a Well Drink? Composition and Associated Risks

March 18, 2024
20 min read
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A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
March 18, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
March 18, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
March 18, 2024
20 min read

Understanding Your Drink Choices

  • Well drinks are simple, straightforward drinks made with a bar’s “house liquor.” They typically contain 1-2 servings of liquor and one mixer.
  • Happy hours and drink specials often promote well drinks, making them seem like a good deal. However, the most economical way to drink is to drink less!
  • The Reframe app can help you develop a plan to quit or cut back on drinking so happy hour overindulgence can be a thing of the past.

Imagine you're meeting up with friends for a few drinks after work. You walk in and make your way through the crowd. At the center of it all is the bar, a place of choices and decisions. Here, nestled between the flashy bottles, sit the humble well liquors — the everyday choice for many people who drink. But what’s the story behind these unpretentious options? In a world where moderation is key, understanding the allure and reality of well drinks can be a step towards more mindful, informed drinking. Let's unravel the mystery of well drinks, explore their significance in the bar scene, and look at some tips for safe consumption.

Understanding Well Drinks

Well Liquor

To understand well drinks, it’s important to first understand the role of “well liquor,” also known as “house liquor.” These liquors are kept in a special place behind a bar called a well, rail, speed rail, speed rack, or lower shelf. It’s a quick-access spot for bartenders to store their most often used liquors to increase their drink-making speed: instead of picking a liquor off of a shelf, they just grab the one in the well. In high-volume establishments, this setup is essential for making every second count. In other bars, the well is used mostly for simplicity. It’s also a way for bars to reduce cost. By ordering and using certain brands of liquor in bulk, they can get a better deal from their distributors, maximize their profits, and (theoretically, at least) pass the savings on to their patrons.

A bartender making a drink for a women

Bartenders keep their wells stocked with one or (rarely) two brands of the most basic liquors — whiskey, vodka, rum, gin, tequila — and a selection of common mixers like triple sec, blue curaçao, and sour mix. The makeup of a well depends on the bar, their clientele, and even the time of year. Bartenders and bar management may also tailor their brand choices this way, too, depending on their goals, needs, and patrons.

When a Liquor Becomes a Drink

“Well drinks,” also known as “rail drinks,” are terms used to refer to simple, straightforward mixed drinks made with well liquor. When we order a basic drink in a bar — say, a gin and tonic — the bartender will almost always reach for the gin in their well unless instructed otherwise. This keeps things simple for everyone and streamlines the whole process. This method is also cheaper for the bar, and typically well drinks are the least expensive drinks in the house, although this isn’t always the case. Well drinks are often the target of drink specials and happy hours, making them popular choices for drinkers looking to save money.

If you’ve ever had a mixed drink at a bar, you’ve probably had a well drink. Let’s look at some common examples.

Examples of Well Drinks

Well drinks are often the most popular drinks at most bars. They don’t require an extensive knowledge of alcohol or mixology; they’re less expensive than other options, and they’re quick and easy to make.

Let’s look at some common liquors and how they’re used in well drinks. By no means is this an exhaustive well drinks list, but it’s a good start.

Vodka-based drinks such as vodka soda, vodka cranberry, Moscow mules, and Long Island Iced Tea

Gin-based drinks such as gin and tonics, gimlets, and Long Islands

Whiskey-based drinks like whiskey sodas, whiskey and cokes, and whiskey sours

Tequila-based drinks like margaritas, tequila sunrises, and Long Islands

Rum-based drinks like dark ‘n’ stormys, rum and cokes, mojitos, and Long Islands

Triple sec — used in drinks like margaritas and Long Islands

Role of Well Drinks in Bars

The theory behind a well drink is to deliver a speedy, cost-effective option to bar patrons that doesn’t require a mixology degree to make. While they may be economical options, they are also deceptive. Well drinks can cause us to underestimate the amount of alcohol we’ve had, even if we try to set a responsible limit for ourselves. If we set a financial budget for the evening instead of a drink limit goal, we may end up drinking more than we would like.

Likewise, not every well drink is made equally. Sometimes, a “house” well drink will contain more than one serving of liquor — which is usually defined as 1.5 oz, or one shot. A typical well drink contains two servings of liquor added to a mixer. Drinks like a Long Island iced tea are popular well drinks that can sometimes contain even more. Every bar makes its drinks differently, so it’s easy to overdo it if you’re not familiar. When in doubt, always communicate with the bartender so you can appropriately track your consumption.

Well Drinks vs. Top-Shelf Drinks

When a well-style drink is made with liquor other than what’s in the well, it is often called a “premium drink” or “top-shelf” drink. There are a lot of tradeoffs between choosing this drink over a well drink. The quality of liquor may be higher, and the drink might be more enjoyable. This is something to consider if we are practicing mindful drinking. If we do choose to drink, we may get more satisfaction when we choose a higher quality liquor, which can inspire us to avoid ordering another round.

Top-shelf drinks tend to be more expensive than well drinks. If we are considering how much money we are spending on alcohol, choosing a premium option can be another check to hold us accountable to our goal and might inspire us to cut back even further.

Of course, the best way to spend less money on alcohol is to quit or cut back on our consumption. This is all part of the journey, and the first step is increasing our awareness and mindfulness about our choices — and educating ourselves on how to make smarter choices when we do choose to drink.

Tips for Ordering Well

If you plan to visit a bar and are considering ordering a well drink, here are a few tips to help you make smart decisions about your choice of beverage.

  • Choose quality over quantity. When cutting back on drinking, focus on making mindful choices about which drinks you choose. Opt for one high quality drink rather than multiple cheap drinks, and track your consumption to stay on top of your goals.
  • Be informed about what you're drinking. Don’t be afraid to ask bartenders about the well liquor options and the alcohol content of their well drinks.
  • Plan your drinking. Decide beforehand how many drinks you'll have. Don’t let drink specials or happy hours distract you from your goal of drinking less. Pace yourself, and stick to your plan
  • Mind your mixers. If managing your weight is part of your health journey, be aware that sugary mixers can add extra calories.
  • Consider non-alcoholic options. Bars have plenty of alcohol-free options to replace alcoholic well drinks. Experiment with ordering a mocktail, or stick with a soda if you’re going to an event with alcohol.
  • Enjoy alcohol-free days. Regularly plan days or social events without alcohol. Let Reframe help you develop a plan to cut back on your drinking so you can drink less and thrive.
Tips for Ordering Mindfully

Focus on Wellness

It’s important to underscore the value of mindful decision making in our drinking habits. While a bar’s well drinks offer an easy, economical choice of alcoholic beverage, we must keep in mind that we have power over our relationship to alcohol and over our choice to drink or not to drink. For those who opt to partake, doing so with awareness, moderation, and understanding can lead to a healthier mindset. However, remember that choosing not to drink is always a valid and often beneficial decision. Whatever your journey, Reframe can help you set goals and shift your relationship with alcohol — and with yourself!

Summary FAQs

1. What are well drinks?

Well drinks, also known as “rail drinks,” are basic mixed drinks or cocktails made with well liquors, also known as house liquors. They tend to contain two servings of alcohol, but sometimes more.

2. Are well drinks and well liquor the same thing?

No. “Well liquor” refers to the unmixed liquor kept in the “well” or “speed rail” behind a bar. These liquors are mixed into drinks, where they become what is commonly referred to as “well drinks.”

3. Are well drinks better than other cocktails?

Not necessarily. No drink is better or worse than another. What’s important is being aware of your intake and being mindful if you do choose to partake.

4. Is there a standard well drinks list?

Not really, although there are some common ones. Simple things that contain a liquor name — like whiskey sour, gin and tonic, or rum and coke — tend to be well drinks, but many others also fit in this category.

5. How much alcohol is in a well drink?

Each well drink is different, so it’s important to communicate with your bartender and be informed about the alcohol content of your drinks.

6. Are well drinks the best option at a bar?

The best option at a bar is a non-alcoholic drink like a mocktail. If you do choose to have an alcoholic drink, consider limiting yourself and switching to a mocktail for your next round. Your brain, body, and wallet will thank you!

Reframe Your Relationship to Alcohol

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today! 

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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