Recently I wrote about correcting a worker at a restaurant; but, shortly thereafter realized we were both right and we were both wrong. As usual, there is more to the truth than it first appears.
Chuuhai is indeed written as 酎ハイ; however, there is another drink called Taruhai, which is written as 樽ハイ. The first drink is made of Shochuu (焼酎) and a mixer. Most often it is something sweet, but oolong tea is commonly used, too. The second drink is made of vodka and a mixer. Since some people refer to Shochuu as Japanese vodka, we can see the difference fading away here. Further, people drinking a mix of something sweet and strong alcohol are usually looking for a buzz and probably aren’t splitting hairs over what alcohol is mixed with their lemonade. I think at most restaurants the staff just go ahead and call it Chuuhai.
Again, taru is the character for barrel and contains both of the radicals from the character chuu, which refers to distilled alcohol.
Also, one friend, who happens to work at a Japanese company, suggested that I probably should have just pointed out, “Um, excuse me but doesn’t this character mean barrel, not distilled alcohol?”, instead of setting the waitress up to make a mistake. How very harmonious. I’ll try to remember that: it should be a good way to make my gentleness known to all mankind.