Savoy Cocktail Volume

Sorry, things have been on autopilot for the last few days. I set those posts to go up while I was in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail.

Things should be back on track this week.

In any case…

Along with, “Why on earth are you doing this?” and, “What are the best bars in San Francisco?” one of the most common questions I get asked is, “What was the volume of liquid used in a Savoy Cocktail?”

Most of the cocktails are written as fractions instead of absolute volumes. Usually Eighths, Sixths, Fourths, Thirds, or Halves.

They look like this:

The Abbey Cocktail
1/2 Dry Gin.
1/4 Kina Lillet.
1/4 Orange Juice.
1 Dash Angostura Bitters.
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

Most of the time these fractions add up to a whole, but sometimes they do not.

First off, some cocktails are written in “glasses” or “Wine Glasses”. Usually, but not always these are what I call “Party Cocktails”. Cocktail recipes written for 4-6 people.

According to a post from David Wondrich on eGullet:

The “wineglass” used to be a standard unit of measure, and it was 2 oz. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, as it fell out of use, some people interpreted it as an actual wine glass, and considered it to be 4 oz.

At the same time, and I’m sure not coincidentally, the 2-oz metal jigger was introduced, and soon became the standard bartender’s measure. Around 1900, this got supplemented by the 1 1/2 oz jigger, for cheapskates or lightweights, and even the 1 1/4 oz jigger, which was popular, we are told, in the bars around Wall St, as brokers liked their drinks small, but frequent.

So after making a few of these party cocktails based on a 2 oz “glass”, it is pretty easy to start to get a feel for the size of the average Savoy Cocktail.

The Jewel Cocktail, for example, makes the math pretty easy:

Jewel Cocktail
(6 People)
2 Glasses Green Chartreuse.
2 Glasses Italian Vermouth.
2 Glasses Gin.
1/2 Dessertspoonful Orange Bitters.
Shake thoroughly and serve with a cherry, squeezing lemon peel on top.

6 glasses of 2 oz each makes 12 oz of liquor before dilution. That makes an individual cocktail portion 2 oz per person.

In addition, Robert Vermeire, a continental contemporary of Craddock’s, wrote his cocktail recipes based on fractions of a half gill total pre-chill volume. A half a gill is a bit more than 2 oz.

So this really makes most cocktail math pretty easy.

Say, for the following:

Jeyplak Cocktail
1 Dash Absinthe.
2/3 Dry Gin. (1 1/2 oz Gin)
1/3 Italian Vermouth. (3/4 oz Vermouth)
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel on top.

That’s a total volume of 2 1/4 oz before dilution, pretty close.

The following volumes then work for most cocktails in the Savoy:

1 glass or Wineglass is 2 oz
2/3 is 1 1/2 oz
1/2 is a generous 1 oz
1/3 is 3/4 oz
1/4 is a generous 1/2 oz
1/8 is a generous 1/4 oz

I have to admit Sixths are a little tricky. 1/2 of 3/4 oz is kind of hard to figure out in absolute volume or in fractions.

But it isn’t hard to get close using a 3/4 oz jigger.

For dashes, I also defer to Vermeire, who called them at 1/3 of a teaspoon for his 1/2 gill cocktails.

Interestingly, the bartender who succeeded Craddock as head bartender of the American Bar at the Savoy, Eddie Clarke, went on to write a few cocktail books. In his book, “Shaking in the Sixties,” he bases his cocktails on a pre-chill volume of “2 measures”. In the introduction, he gives the following direction, “Public Warning! Measures referred to in all recipes are ’6-out’ containing 5/6 Fluid Ounces.”

Oh man, my nemesis fractions! I’m starting to get clammy hands and I can hear Richard Hell singing “Lowest Common Dominator” in my head.

Am I right in saying 2 x 5/6 ounces is 10/6 or 1 1/3 oz total, before chilling?

Whew! About the same!


edit-damn it! Sylvan pointed out that 2 5/6 ounce measures would instead add up to 1 2/3 oz, rather than the 1 1/3 ounces I proposed. Which isn’t really the same as a half gill cocktail anyway. Not sure what I was thinking. Maybe 2 1/3 ounces?

Anyway, if my head is feeling a bit replaceable, or a cocktail seems particularly appealing, I admit I’ll cheat and go with a larger volume. But usually, it’s better just to make two!

11 thoughts on “Savoy Cocktail Volume

  1. Thanks for the lowdown — I was thumbing through the Savoy the other night, and trying to answer the question, “What’s the deal with these measurements?” was making my brain hurt. Good at drinking, not so good at math.

  2. “Am I right in saying 2 x 5/6 ounces is 10/6 or 1 1/3 oz total, before chilling?” No.
    10/6 is 1.66 or 1 2/3 oz.

  3. Let’s see, a half-gill would be 2 US fl oz in US gills (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gill_%28unit%29). 1.66 oz isn’t too far off, but even a little farther on the small side for today’s tipplers. Most ‘cocktail glasses’ I see (new) in the stores are like 8, 10 or even 12 oz! I’ll stick with the older glasses I have and the approx. 2-3 oz pre-chill volume – after all, you can always make another drink ;-).

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  5. At first I thought they were ratios of some sort, which made me wonder why they didn’t present the bitters etc. in similar ratios. I’ve been reading the Savoy Cocktail Book and The American Bartender and am becoming fascinated by the many odd measurements they find to use.

    • I think they used to measure in Gills in the UK, but yeah, definitely different, and probably smaller.

      For the ‘bar glass’ I would use the same as wine-glass, around 2 ounces.

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