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Cocktail Size

While enjoying an excellent cocktail posted on the Campari thread, I noted that the drink was a bit strong -- not necessarily a bad thing. (3 ozs. of liquor, plus juice and some water from dillution by stirring with ice.) As a fan of classic cocktails I've noticed that in years past cocktails tended to be much smaller, say no more than 2 ozs of liquor, often less. ( Lucius Beebe's Stork Club Bar Book has recipes and some great tales about hoisting cocktails in the old days. The Stork Club recipe for a Manhattan -- 2/3 ozs rye, 1/3 oz sweet vermouth, bitters and ice.) I inherited a set of 1930's cocktail glasses and they only hold around 3 ozs -- figuring dillution for ice and mixers, they clearly contemplate 2 oz or less in liquor. Now places serve them big -- and they jolly well better if they're charging $8.00 to $12.00 a pop. (I'm old -- I still can't get over the jump in cocktail prices, though I understand the reasons.) I've had Martinis served in bowl sized glasses and Margaritas served in what could double as a vase. But when I make drinks at home I tend to stay on the small side and make up in number what is surrendered in volume. (Two margaritas, each with 1.5 ozs of tequila and a quarter oz of Cointreau with a a half oz of fresh lime juice served straight up, suits me better than one big one, and stays colder too.) Just wondering -- there is obviously no right or wrong -- when you make drinks at home do you follow modern retail practice and make them large, or stay on the small side and increase the number if, ahem, necessary?

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  1. Depends on what kind of day I've had. . .

    I usually use 2 oz. of primary alcohol. I prefer to have the second waiting--chilled--as well.

    On a similar note, I prefer to sip a relatively strong mixed drink than to knock back one with a larger proportion of mixer. That's my biggest complaint with restaurant and bar drinks--they're often sweet to the point of being syrupy.

    1. yeah, im a novice bartender and im always perplexed when looking at anythin gbut the most recent cocktail books cuz all the measurements are for things like 1/4oz of this or 3/4 of that. then i go to work and its all, "4 count of this, 2 count of that..." sorry, but that 4, or even 2, count is WAY more than one, two, or prolly even three ounces, yknow? is it just times, they are a'changin, or is it something else?

      2 Replies
      1. re: ben61820

        Ben, can't you use jiggers at your job? I would think especially if you are just learning it would be a good tool to try and utilize.

        1. re: fafner

          no jiggers there. well, there may be some around but noone is making a point of using them or pointing them out to me. the counting method is fine (thats what ive been doing for a while before actually working as a bartender) for me , i was just commenting on the discrepancy yknow.

      2. Sounds like those bars are still stuck in the 70's-80's era of oversize, fruity, sickly sweet, neon colored drinks served with huge straws, and shooters in plastic test tubes; and the 90's bigger is better, supersize martinis and cocktails, all called martini this 'n that.

        The bars I have been going to lately in NYC are all about the drink. (The Pegu Club, Bemmeleman's, etc.) The serve is the small, traditional cocktail size so you can sip it slowly, but it won't be room temp before you finish it. They are made exactingly to recipe with every pour measured, eye droppers for homemade bitters and extractions, fresh squeezed juices, fresh mint and fruit for muddling, etc. Of course the price hasn't dropped, they cost more than ever. An evening of drinks and snacks had better be on an expense account or you'll have to take out a third mortgage on your co-op.

        Give it a few years to trickle down and you will see many high end bars doing the same thing. The low end and chain places will still probably serve the fishbowl drinks that are mostly artificial mixers and preservitives, with no-name booze.

        1. My pet peeve(s) too! The jumbo cocktails are just like large portions of food -- perceived value. But a twelve-ounce bucket of booze will make most people drunk and I would rather have a small, cold drink (I make the old size at home, too) and then wine with the meal and then a digestif. I can't if I partake of the martini-on-sterioids.

          As to price, try punching some old menus prices (you can see some on eBay) into an inflation calculator online. I did and it said that now a cocktail should be around $4.50.

          1. I am glad you liked my cocktail! Yes the recipe I used is a jumbo size...definitely enough for two served in vintage cocktail glasses. Out of laziness I usually just make one big one for myself. The up glasses I own are similar to the boat-sized ones used in most bars now.

            I agree that the classic small cocktails are much more elegant, the drinks stay cold all the way to the end, and you can have another one or something else without becoming extremely drunk.

            When you are suckered into paying $8-$14 for a drink I think it's understandable to expect a massive drink in exchange. How great it would be to have the option of a half-size cocktail for $4! I don't expect to see that anytime soon in NYC. The nice thing about making these drinks at home is that you can scale up or down as you like and pay 1/10th the price!

            1. I use a 7oz. martini glass and use 1 cup of vodka (with just a drop of vermouth) in the shaker. This makes two cocktails. I also have smaller glasses, but with my guests they don't seem to get much use. :)

              I remember having pre-dinner cocktails at the One Duval restaurant in Key West a while back and the glass it came in was ridiculously large...definitely a "Lost Weekend" type of glass. First time I've not been able to finish a drink!

              1 Reply
              1. re: MartiniQueen

                I remember having two drinks there and I never did make it to dinner, things got a bit foggy out, but I made a lot of new friends. Although it was days before I remembered where I parked my car.

              2. It's increasingly difficult to find new cocktail glasses at popular retailers in sizes other than 8-10 oz. The smallest one on Crate & Barrel's site, for instance, is a 7 oz glass. Compare this with my vintage barware, like a very popular Chase shaker set from the 30s, whose chrome-plated cocktail cups clock in at a whopping 3 oz.

                I adopted larger cocktail glasses (7-8 oz) and started serving accordingly larger drinks a few years ago. Not only was it hard to find smaller glasses, but in the wake of what people were accustomed to getting in bars, serving shorter drinks looked a bit odd and stingy. It also meant a lot more work at a big party. (My 64-oz megashaker is a godsend in this scenario, and also is comical to wield in front of a crowd.)

                It certainly points up the need to chill glasses and drinks thoroughly, or your typical cocktail of 5-6 oz will be tepid by the time it's finished. I'm also far likelier to move my guests onto wine, highballs, beer or soft drinks after only one or two of these.

                The oversized glass also accounts for the pale-looking drinks you get at some places that feature birdbath-sized (10-14 oz) shaker cocktails: that's a clue their padding their potions with water. Not every pinkish Negroni I've been served is due to too much gin (though I'd rather a slightly diluted, icy Negroni in the right booze proportions than one made by the ubiquitous idiot bartenders who apparently believe every shaker drink must mimic the dry Martini: 95% of one ingredient and 5% others).

                The trend at the most serious purveyors of proper cocktails to use more traditional cocktail glasses, often vintage barware, that typically hold 3-5 oz. There's a lot more craft, clever ingredients, and creativity going into these drinks, so quality trumps quantity.

                A very interesting article that touches on this theme in its discussion of London's amazing high-end cocktail scene is in the NY Times (free registration required): http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/07/din...

                I sure wish we had more places like these in Boston.

                3 Replies
                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  If you wanted to go with new glasses, how about a champagne coupe? I would imagine these are still available, maybe from a restaurant supplier.

                  1. re: Up With Olives

                    This is a nice idea, though I tend to favor coupes, with their shallower and squarish or gently rounded bottoms, for serving desserts like sorbets. I like to serve Champagne and other sparklers in tall, slender flutes, which I think show the bubbles better.

                    Lately I've been favoring cocktail glass designs in the classic triangular shape, but with the sides coming to a more acute angle at the stem, so they're a bit taller and slenderer than the most popular shape, which is almost an equilateral triangle in profile. The shallower type is much easier to find, however.

                  2. re: MC Slim JB

                    Crate and Barrel USED to offer a six-ounce glass in its Gala line, which I thought was perfect. But, no longer. I've been looking for another source since then.