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What’s a Whisky Dram? Depends on Who’s Pouring.

Ah, the dram. This delightful term emanates from Scotland, where it’s used to refer to a single serving of whisky. How big a serving? Well, it depends on who’s pouring. In practice, there’s no firm definition of a dram. It can be, truly, a wee dram, nothing more than a light splash of whisky to lift the spirits. Or, it can be a hearty serving, a double-glug of something special to anchor after-dinner conversation or fortify yourself against the Hebrides’ driving rain. (Incidentally, that second option may also be referred to as a “wee dram,” wee-ness being a trait that can, it seems, only be measured in the eye of the beholder).

The dram does, however, have a precise definition in the United States Customary System, the set of rules that defines the length, size, and volume of units like foot, acre, and cubic inch. However, for most whisky drinkers, it’s not a particularly practical definition. It refers to one-eight of a fluid ounce, less than a teaspoon, or barely enough whisky to get the sides of your glass wet. When you’re enjoying a modest pour of your favorite whiskey after dinner, you’re probably drinking more like eight or 10 textbook drams, and a cocktail at a fancy bar might contain something like 16 drams of spirit.

Mindful whiskey tasting
(image via Matt Wunderle/flickr)


The definition of a dram is further complicated by the rules governing on-premise sales around the world. In Scotland, if you order a dram of whisky at a pub, you’ll get one of two things: either a 25 milliliter pour, just a hair under a single fluid ounce; or a 35 milliliter pour, about one and a quarter fluid ounces. Order a double, and you’ll get twice the amount, either 50ml or 75 ml. The units are set by the United Kingdom’s National Measurement and Regulation Office, which requires that bars and restaurants serve spirits in a “normal measure.”

Those Scottish drams feel like a pretty small pour, especially for Americans who are accustomed to the jigger, our standard bar pour of 1.5 ounces, or just over 44 milliliters. However, a small pour does have its perks: the ability to try more whiskey in a single sitting!

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