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Jul 21, 2010 11:11 AM

Do vague measurements frustrate only me?

I am not referring to 'parts' as ratios are obviously not vague if measured properly.

Juice of one lemon.
Juice of half a lime
A splash of coke.

I constantly see these in posts and even books where everything from a bottle is measured to the nearest ml.
How juicy is the orange, how large the lime, how much white is in the egg?

I know that some books give a rough indication of these measurements in a quantitative table at the back, but what is so hard about giving absolutes rather than relatives?

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  1. Certainly can't disagree with you there. Best to pull a sample of each drink far a quick QC before shaking or stirring, even if the recipe specified exact measurements; you might not have the same feelings about bitterness, tartness, etc, as the recipe's creator.

    1. I agree. Lemons and limes can vary hugely in size, and size they are providing acid, they quantity (plus sweetness) makes a huge impact on the final drink. Other fruits don't matter as much (e.g. orange) because they are sweet/sour balanced.

      I also hate the "top with soda". Well, is that 1 oz or 4 oz, especially if you haven't specified glass or amount of ice. I have made drinks where I've topped it, then tasted, only to find a watery blah cocktail.

      I'm not very fond of "rinse" either, or "dash" of something that doesn't come in a dasher bottle. How big is a dash of, say, Fernet Branca? 1/8 tsp? 1/16 tsp? Rinse of Absinthe? How big is the glass? How much to you pour off?

      1. I think it's a question of practicality. If you're making a drink with fresh-squeezed lime or lemon juice, it's a lot easier to just grab one fruit and squeeze it, as opposed to trying to measure out the amount of liquid produced. What are you going to do if the recipe calls for "one tablespoon" (or whatever) and your fruit produces 1/4 teaspoon too little? Cut up another fruit to make up the difference? This isn't pharmacology, it's bartending, and there's a little wiggle room in all measurements.

        I think it's pretty obvious that such measurements refer to an average-sized fruit. If yours are larger or smaller, adjust accordingly.

        As for "splash", I think that's a fairly standard measure of liquid in recipes.

        6 Replies
        1. re: scratchie

          Would I cut up another fruit? Yes. Quality is all about consistency and repeatability, and failing to properly measure completely throws that out the window. Some of us take this more seriously than others, so YMMV, but personally I lean towards perfectionism (whether or not that makes me fun at parties is a whole other conversation <g>).

          1. re: davis_sq_pro

            What if 5/8ths of an ounce was THE PERFECT amount? Wouldn't you just eyeball it? Or just go with 1/2 of an ounce?

            Taste, adjust accordingly.

            1. re: jaykayen

              It depends. 1/8 of an ounce of some ingredients -- absinthe and certain bitters, for example -- can totally change the character of a drink. And if I'm going to publish a recipe, I can't trust the reader to taste and adjust. The unfortunate truth is that few people taste food while they're cooking dinner; and even fewer bother tasting drinks while mixing them.

            2. re: davis_sq_pro

              Then I'd pour to exactly halfway between the 1/2 and 3/4 line on my measure and my drink would be perfect every time.

              I don't taste drinks that I have good measurements for, have made before and know work. It's hard enough to make drinks for friends without having to taste each one.

              I feel that a precise and accurate recipe is a courtesy to the reader. The reader is then free to estimate if they desire.

            3. re: scratchie

              I honestly don't know what size an average lime is. When I buy them at Whole Foods, they are always the same size. When I buy them in a bag at Trader Joe's they are always the same size. The WF ones are about 50% larger than the TJ ones. Unlike eggs, there's no standard "Large" or "Jumbo" or "Medium". In addition, at some times of the year, I might get a third more juice out of a lime.

              With some ingredients, I agree that precision isn't as important. 1 oz of vodka versus 1.5 oz with a bunch of cranberry juice and I'm not sure you could tell much, other than the buzz. But the difference between an ounce of lime and 1.5 oz of lime would be huge in a drink.

              I guess it's like baking versus cooking. A cup of flour in a cake, along with 2 eggs and a half cup milk or whatever is important. A cup of onions in a soup -- not so much.

              1. re: scratchie

                Actually in a well crafted cocktail a small amount of difference can change the structure quite a bit. this is why such precise measures are important. "Wiggle room" is for mediocre cocktails, precision for great ones.

              2. Sometimes we probably take things to extremes as foodies. I suspect many of us are somewhat geeky and want to measure everything. When someone really works out a recipe to their liking though it might go past the precise measuring stage. I don't think I really am that precise wth any of my best dishes honestly. I know them by now. Luckily the vague recipe should get us close and give us room to tweak it to our tastes.

                I'll confess, volume measurements for dry goods have always bothered me when baking. Whats the actual difference between my 2.5 cups of flour and yours? Why 2T salt when crystal sizes vary so much? Give me mass!

                1. One big problem with the historic recipes is that citrus fruit was a lot smaller than today. We have oranges the limes the size of their lemons, lemons the size of their oranges, and oranges the size of their grapefruits.

                  I usually try to place the recipe in a historical sense and put a volume on it. That way, if the recipe tastes off, I have a way to adjust it for next time instead of hoping for a different ticket in the citrus lottery.

                  And yes, the variation in limes this year is pretty incredible -- from small, fibrous limes that barely squeeze out 3/4 oz each to gigantic ones that are pushing 2 1/2 oz. There is no way that the above >3-fold range can be reasonable for something as sharp as lemons or limes.

                  And this doesn't even include the concept of a dash of liqueur or syrup...


                  9 Replies
                  1. re: yarm

                    Yarm, good point.

                    Ironically, this would make historic recipes even sweeter. I almost always have to modify them to have less sugar or more acid. Sometimes it isn't possible without really altering the cocktail.

                    I wonder why historic recipes are often so very sweet... Maybe its because citrus was hard to come by?

                    1. re: EvergreenDan

                      Original Aviation is so sour that it only has uses as a pre-prandial cocktail since you'll be salivating so much.

                      Not sure such generalizations can be made.

                      1. re: EvergreenDan

                        what do you mean by historic recipes? what decade or century? I find that recipes from the 70's to around 2000 are too sweet, but the further you go back, the less sweet.

                        1. re: EvergreenDan

                          I was thinking of early 20th century cocktails, such as from Ted Haigh's VSFC book. For example, the first recipe, the Alamagoozlum Cocktail has 3 sweet ingredients and nothing to balance it. 4 sweet ingredients if you count the Genever.

                          Another random page: Golden Dawn: Apry, grenadine, fresh OJ, and no acid.

                          I picked these two at random. There are balanced cocktails in there, but there are probably more that I've played with to bring to my personal taste.

                          I did look up Aviation in cocktaildb.com, and it is rather more sour than I've made it. I have no idea what the original recipe is, or the source reference. I noticed less Maraschino than I've seen elsewhere (although I'm not sure how big a dash is from a non-dasher bottle). And there was no Violette, which is obviously sweet and probably original, no?

                          I'll stand by my comment that I find most vintage recipes from this era usually too sweet. For reference, a Manhattan is about as sweet as I like a drink. I don't drink many cocktails from that later half of the 20th century. I find many modern bar creations nicely balanced, so long as you look over the ingredients to avoid sweet horror shows.

                          It may also be hard to know exactly how sweet some drinks were made, given the variability in making gomme or other syrup, the size of the acid fruits, and the acidity of the juice.

                          1. re: EvergreenDan

                            I was thinking of the Alamagoozlum too. I think it's disgustingly sweet, not to mention the fact that I can never spell it without looking it up.

                            But the recipe for that particular potation seems to have first been published in 1939 (from what I can find on the Web, at least), vs the Aviation at 1916. When was each drink ACTUALLY invented? Who knows...

                            My understanding with regard to the Aviation was that Embury's contribution was what drove it toward being especially tart. I guess I need to read up a bit more on that one.

                            The Manhattan and Martinez are both interesting examples here because they began life with a lot more vermouth -- and of the sweet variety -- and then dried out later. Perhaps the conclusion is that there is no conclusion?

                            1. re: EvergreenDan

                              The original published Aviation is in Hugo Ensslin’s 1916 “Recipes for Mixed Drinks.”

                              1/3 Lemon Juice
                              2/3 El Bart Gin
                              2 dashes Maraschino
                              2 dashes Creme de Violette

                              Shake well in a mixing glass with cracked ice, strain and serve.

                              1. re: yarm

                                Perhaps Mr. Ensslin was referring to Meyer lemons <g>

                                1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                  The first Meyer lemon tree would have made its way to the United States 8 years earlier (1908) so joking as you were, it is still the right time frame. But doubtful that the few they had propagated had made any influence until many years later.

                                  But there were plenty of examples of unbalanced Sours in the 1860-1920 time frame.

                                2. re: yarm

                                  Another source of quantity ambiguity.

                                  So if my bar has itsy-bitsy glasses, and I use 1/2 oz lemon and 1 oz gin, then four (possibly big) dashes of sweet ingredients might not be that sour.

                                  Or if my bar has big ole glasses, and I use 1 oz lemon and 2 oz gin, then it will be, roughly, twice as sour.

                                  It creates imprecision when recipes which include ingredients measured by ratio also include absolute measurements.

                                  So how big is a dash from a non-dasher bottle? Googling will give different suggestions. And pouring a "dash" has got to be pretty imprecise, too. Maybe Hugo thought that someone reading this would realize that 2 dashes is, say, 1/4 oz. Now this recipe is at least reasonably balanced, if you use 1/2 oz of Lemon.

                                  Surprisingly, I think I've brought this off-topic tangent about sweet vintage drinks back into the original topic. Is this an internet first? :)