Measuring up – the optimal cocktail measures

Words by Simon Difford

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A cocktail may be excellent and the proportions of one ingredient to another perfect, but the recipe may suck. What measures are chosen in a recipe to express the proportions used will impact not only how easily and faithfully that recipe can be followed, but also the potential success of that cocktail.

This is complicated by some using the metric system, some fluid ounces and others 'parts'. And further confused by different-sized standard spirit measures around the world. A request for a "shot" of whiskey in a bar in the UK, USA and Germany will produce three different measures of liquid.

A UK bartender used to working with a 25ml standard measure is likely to work in fractions of that measure. E.g. half a measure = 12.5ml. Meanwhile, the American used to working in ounces with 1½ ounce a standard measure, would interpret 25ml as roughly five-sixths of an ounce and 12.5ml as two-fifths of an ounce - so from an American perspective, neither 12.5ml or 25ml are particularly user-friendly measures.

To produce a cocktail recipe that has the best chance being faithfully replicated in bars all around the world, the measures expressed in that recipe should be universal. Equal parts is perfection - that's why the Negroni has done so well.

There a trend in Europe for recipes to be expressed to the nearest 5ml, something that would seem to offer the necessary degree of accuracy whilst also presenting a recipe that's easy to follow. The 'sweet spot measures' are those 5ml increments which neatly convert from millilitres to ounces, as either whole ounces or commonly used fractions of an ounce.

Follows a conversion table with those measures I consider 'sweet spot measures' marked in green. Those in amber are also easy to follow in either millilitres or ounces, while those in red are best avoided.

Note: When we refer to "spoon" as a measure in our recipes we are referring to a barspoon (see below).
1 US fluid ounce is actually equal to 29.5735296ml but for simplicity, we round up to 1oz = 30ml.

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When replicating cocktail recipes on Difford's Guide we try to cater for all measures with conversions from oz to ml to cl and "shots" - simply click on your preferred scale below each recipe.

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