Why only "a dram"?

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Why only "a dram"?

Postby mikey » Wed Jan 18, 2006 9:31 pm

Has anyone ever found out where the expression "dram" came from? One dram is only 1/8 of an ounce, which isn't more than one or two tiny sips. Who in the world actually sits back to enjoy a nice Scotch by having only ONE dram??? What quantity do you typically savour? Do you often have more than one type of whiskey in an evening? Thanks for your thoughts.

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Postby voigtman » Wed Jan 18, 2006 11:47 pm

I always get a laugh out of that silly "1 dram = 1/8 ounce" conversion factor that pops up from time to time. I have always assumed that dram definition is some obsolete apothecary measure, like a scruple. But just enter "dram" in the search function here and it comes up with "a glass of whisky in Scotland." Ah, much better! Personally, I define a dram as 50 mL, same as a mini. A light dram is 1.5 ounces (aka a shot and a half) and a good pour is 2 oz. Sadly, some of our European friends have to put up with bar/pub drams that are a mere 35 mL or even a mean-spirited 25 mL! And, of course, they have to tolerate those runty 70 cl bottles and relatively many standard bottlings available at only 40% ABV. The compensation is that they have much better selection and purchase options (e.g., mail order and internet order) than here in most of the USA. So, enjoy your dram in whatever size you please and welcome! Slainte, Ed V.

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Postby Mr Ellen » Thu Jan 19, 2006 12:04 am


A typical dram for me is approx. 50 ml or the size of a miniature bottle. But, as with everything, there is no rule without exceptions. Sometimes I pour a very large (XXL) dram(?!) to enjoy the whole evening. A typical whisky evening for me can consist of several different whiskies and also from different regions.


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Postby Paul A Jellis » Thu Jan 19, 2006 1:33 am

To me a dram is just a 'shot' of whisky, be that 1.5 ozs, 50ml or half a bottle.

It's one pouring, no mater the size.



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Postby robs42 » Thu Jan 19, 2006 1:52 am

I don't measure out my drams, but 35ml suits me fine, and using 25ml shots means that I can just get more evenings of enjoyment out of my bottle. It also means that I'm happier trying more than one or two whiskies in a session. I like whisky, I like it on most nights of the week, but I also appreciate a working liver and healthy bank balance. In my opinion, if you cannot get half an hour's worth of enjoyment out of 35mls of good whisky then you're just not using your nose properly.

However, I really don't care what you do with your whisky - I hear it mixes particularly well with green tea, but that's your call to make.

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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Jan 19, 2006 9:34 am

There are actually several different technical definitions of "dram",depending on context. None of them mean anything in this context. It simply means a serving, however large you think is appropriate. For me, it's between an ounce and an ounce and a quarter.

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Postby Ize » Thu Jan 19, 2006 10:24 am

Referring to texts above I say:"That's why it is a dram otherwise it would the dram". ;)

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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Jan 19, 2006 6:05 pm

"Dram has two meanings referring to fluid measure: one is the specific one, 'a fluid dram', equal to 1/8 of a fluid ounce. The far more common meaning is the broader 'a small drink of liquor'.

These meanings derive from the use of dram as a unit of weight, equal to 60 grains, or 1/8 of an ounce, in apothecaries' weight (3.88 grams metric), or 1/16 of an ounce in standard avoirdupois weight (1.77 grams metric; apothecaries' and avoirdupois ounces are not identical).

The original weight from which this measure comes is the ancient Greek drachma, which was both a unit of currency and a unit of weight. Drachma, going through Latin and French, ended up in fourteenth-century English as dragme. Since this is somewhat difficult to pronounce, it was phonetically reduced to the form dram, which is what we use today.
:? :roll:

BOOOOORRRRIINNG! A dram is as much as you want it to be, usually measured as "decent sized", good" or "measly"! :lol:

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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Jan 19, 2006 6:14 pm

Pardon me for butting in. Mrs Crieftan here. Just thought I'd let you all know Crieftan's idea of a dram gets bigger every time he pours one. :roll: My G&T's always stay the same though :evil:


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Postby Iain » Fri Jan 20, 2006 11:03 am

I think the best way to describe a dram is to think of it in terms of its "foreign" equivalents.

Our English friends (at least, those of you who knew Denis Thatcher!) will be well acquainted with the term "a snifter", or a tincture, a refresher, a reviver, a snorter etc. In each case, a measure of spirits (usually gin, in a g&t?) which depends on the drinker's mood, or the host's generosity.

So far as I'm aware (our US cousins can put me right on this), an American "shot" is an unquantified measure of spirits too - it's size determined by the pourer's mood, or the situation in which it is poured. I'm not sure if the Canadians use this term, or have their own equivalent.

In Lowland Scotland, many folks (usually older folks?) still refer to "a wee goldie" - a glass of whisky which is often anything but "wee" in quantity.

There must be a French equivalent for such a term - can anyone tell us what it is? Ditto the Aussies.

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Postby Lee » Fri Jan 20, 2006 10:26 pm

For those of you who have been lucky enough to have a distillery tour, what do they give out as a dram?

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Postby Mr Ellen » Sat Jan 21, 2006 12:06 am

That is all depending on distillery, season, the people serving the dram, the size of the visiting group etc. I would say there are no strict rules here. I have been to distilleries where they just put the bottle on the table in front of you and say...Taste!!
At other distilleries they pour you a shot of 20 ml and that's it. So it varies a lot.
If you're a small group and you start to socialize with the people serving the samples you can practically spend a lot of time and also taste a lot of whisky.


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Postby MGillespie » Sat Jan 21, 2006 2:38 am

The standard US shot glass usually has a measuring line at 1.5 ounces...but there's room at the top for a more generous pour.


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Postby Bob & Jill » Sat Jan 21, 2006 8:02 am

In answer to your question Mikey:
My “dram” is 3/8 of an oz. (10ml). And I typically have 3 different whiskies in an evening because I like to do comparisons. Also I like a lighter whisky before I try a smoky peaty one. It seems to enhance the smoke--which I enjoy. I like to have a light fruity malt after the evening meal. I limit myself to 1 oz. or less of spirits since I also always have a small glass of red wine with dinner.

I have boarderline osteoporosis and therefore, have to watch my intake of alcohol. Interestingly enough, a little alcohol is supposed to stimulate bone replacement but more than a moderate amount hinders it.
Bob & Jill, Colorado

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Postby Ize » Sun Jan 22, 2006 11:51 am

Stereotypically (based on laws that exist still few years ago), in the bars in Finland "one shot" is 20ml and double is 40ml, but my personal whisky dram size is 40ml. But when I make head-to-head tasting session I use half a dram (20ml).

Hmm, should there be a poll to gather statistics of this matter among WM forum readers? Options would be in "metrics" 10ml, 20ml, 40ml or "something else", or should there be more options?

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A dram is? ...

Postby Muskrat Portage » Sun Jan 22, 2006 5:24 pm

Ize: For tastings I set up the flight with 1 tbsp of each whisky, which is 1/2 oz (after 30 years I still rebel against "metric"), then cover with a watch glass against the depredations of "the angels". This ensures enough of a sample in the copita for nosing and tasting, yet not so much as to dull mental functions too quickly.

As we generally do 12 whiskies, this translates to 6 oz over the course of 3-4 hours, which is tolerable to the body. There is a snack at the mid point and a driver is always laid on to ferry the participants home. It is what a "reasonable man" would always do especially in light of Ontario DWI legislation.

For dramming in my whisky lair, it's whatever you wish to free pour, which generally falls into the 1 1/2 oz range. Moderation is important, eh? Musky P.

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Re: Why only "a dram"?

Postby WhiskyBill » Fri Aug 20, 2010 11:51 pm

old thread but came up in google searching as do many other threads in Whiskymag when searching for answers to questions.

I too was looking for the meaning of dram. After reading this thread am I correct in assuming a dram is more of a slang word being used meaning a "little bit"? And does it only apply more to whisky or all spirits? And is the word dram used more in Europe (UK) or is it used in all the whisky circles including the US?

Next time I walk into a bar I'm going to call out for a dram of whisky and see how the bartender reacts. :)

I'm in the learning stages off all this so excuse the lame questions.


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Re: Why only "a dram"?

Postby irishwhiskeychaser » Sun Aug 29, 2010 4:38 pm

An interesting subject .. why Dram? when Dram is technically such a little measurement ... I have a theory on this and that is all it is as I have nothing to base it on only the charachter of a people. That charachter would be of both the Scotch and Irish people which in ways is so closely linked but with obvious differences.

Both cultures are generally known for their warmth, welcoming and joviality. But there is also another charachter which is not as obvious. It is an understated politness amongst themselves which was very much present in the bygone days.

In Ireland we use the word drop and probably can be directly swapped for Dram in Scotland, but it is not used as much nowdays like Dram is. But my grandfathers era whould always use drop especially in regards to a "drop of the craythur" :wink:

Example would be if people were visiting for whatever reason it was always seen as polite to offer a drink to you visitor ... however it was also polite to retort "only a small drop" ... so in Scotland I would imagine it would end up a person saying something "only a wee dram". However the politness would be returned once again by pouring a drop which ended up being a large one. Hence the dram was always much more than the actualy physical measurement.

However there maybe a more sinister reason for all this politness. If there was any occasion being held by a family and the neighbours were invited there was always the presure of putting the best foot forward, especially with funerals (wakes) & weddings. Therefore it was expected of you to offer a visitor a drink and this became the norm. However the visitor could not be seen to be there for the free drink and would reciprocate in the politest of fashions by asking for a small drink and not look like a greedy so and so infront of all the other persons present. But the final presure was how generous one's drop would be ... nothing like small town chat from your neighbours to put on the pressure. :wink:

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Re: Why only "a dram"?

Postby WhiskyBill » Tue Aug 31, 2010 1:47 am

WhiskyBill wrote:Next time I walk into a bar I'm going to call out for a dram of whisky and see how the bartender reacts. :)

OK - we go out for dinner to a nice restaurant/bar that seems to have a good selection of whisky's - it's a full bar. I ask the a waitress for dram of the The Macallan 12, shes says huh - what's a dram? I said just tell the bartender and he will know. I end up getting a Brandy snifter with about 1oz (a shot) of whisky for $25USD :evil: . I would have suspected double of whisky amount after Goggling the retail price on my iPhone and finding the local retail price at $45 for 750ml. It was a smooth and light drop however and bought a bottle (NOT at the bar).

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Re: Why only "a dram"?

Postby Onefortheditch » Sat Sep 18, 2010 11:22 am

I suspect the definition of a dram is so small because Scots didn't have a lot of whisky, or anything else, in the distant past. In Inverness, a dram in a bar is 25/35 ml and a dram at a friend's is between 50ml and 150ml, depending on how fast you remember to say STOP!! :shock:

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Postby Maccy » Sat Sep 18, 2010 4:18 pm

Paul A Jellis wrote:To me a dram is just a 'shot' of whisky, be that 1.5 ozs, 50ml or half a bottle.

I still like this view by Paul from 2006!

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