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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!