“Making cocktails is a lot more like baking than it is like cooking.” I hear this all the time from bartenders, the point being that precise measurement is vital to making balanced drinks. A bit too much citrus, too little vermouth, and your finely crafted, expensive cocktail isn’t is as good as it should be. This is why we encourage bartenders and home mixologists to use a jigger. It’s more consistent and delivers better results than “free-pouring” as the bartending academies instruct.
But at the heart of this adage is a lie. We pat ourselves on the back saying we’re as precise as pastry chefs, without acknowledging the obvious fact: Pastry chefs know better than to measure by volume. Volume is inconsistent. Is your jigger held perfectly level? Do you pour to the meniscus every time? Have you taken into account the effects of humidity and elevation on the local atmospheric pressure? Is the Manhattan you make in New Orleans identical to the one you make in Denver? No, it is not, and it’s time for us to catch up with our flour-dusted friends in the kitchen. It’s time to start weighing our cocktails.
This requires some adjustment, but it can be done. I’ve already seen it accomplished in some coffee houses, where baristas measure their water in grams. I’ve seen wine poured this way. Mixology is lagging behind. As hard as we’ve worked to get people to use jiggers, it’s time to throw them away and replace them with digital scales.
It’s a simple set-up, really, using no more space on the bar than a set of jiggers. Place the shaker or mixing glass on the scale and tare it to zero. Pour in the first ingredient to the desired weight, then tare again. Proceed until all the ingredients have been added.
Measuring by weight entails rewriting our recipes. Take the Last Word, for example, a cocktail in which the right balance of flavors is crucial. Here’s the recipe in the out-dated, traditional form:
3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz Chartreuse
3/4 oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz lime juice
Since each of these ingredients has a different density, converting the Last Word into a weight-based recipe looks like this:
17 g gin
19 g Chartreuse liqueur
22 g maraschino
21 g lime juice
Yes, this is harder to remember than the volume-based recipe with its convenient equal parts, but keeping an encyclopedia of obscure data in one’s memory is part of the bartender’s art. With a little practice the adjustment comes easily.
Another benefit of weight-based bartending is that it allows for objective quality control. The finished cocktail can be weighed after being poured into the glass to make sure that it has been diluted by the proper amount, eliminating the inconsistency of testing by taste. The finished Last Word, for example, should weigh between 105-115 grams. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t get served.
Weight-based bartending also allows us to eliminate that embarrassment to the craft, “the dash.” Dashes of bitters are terribly inconsistent, varying with the amount of bitters left in the bottle, the size of the hole in the cap, and the hand of the individual bartender. Mixologists, save your sprezzatura for your wardrobe! By setting a standard — I suggest .33 grams — we can finally get this right. Thus the previously mentioned Manhattan can now be made like this:
53 g rye whiskey
29 g sweet vermouth
.66 g Angostura bitters
See, it’s easy once you get the hang of it.
A final reason to adopt this system is that it will ease communication between those of us accustomed to measuring in fluid ounces and those who use the metric system. Sharing recipes between the U.S. and Europe requires conversion, which is rarely done with any precision. Measuring by weight solves the problem by creating a universal standard. Just remember: “Dram for dram, a gram’s a gram.”
I don’t doubt that measuring drinks with gram scales will initially be met with resistance, but eventually it will prevail on the merits. Within five years, we will look at bartenders using jiggers the way we now look at bartenders free-pouring, and think maybe we should just have a beer instead of taking our chances on a cocktail. That is why starting today, April 1, all recipes on this site will henceforth be given in grams instead of ounces. I hope that the rest of the industry will follow suit and finally give our craft the precision it deserves.