Why is a measure of whisky called a dram? (2024)

There are lots of names for a measure of whisky. They include: a nip, a toot, a tot, a snifter, and a wee dram. But the most common name for a measure of whisky is a dram. What does that name mean? And how big is a dram? In this article we're going to take a closer look, while sipping on an... ahem, you get our drift.

What is the official dram definition?

Oxford's dram definition is: "a small drink of whisky or other spirits". Similarly, The Cambridge English Dictionary defines a dram as: "a small amount of a strong alcoholic drink, especially whisky". Both dram definitions are simple, but lack detail. If we look at Merriam-Websiter dictionary, their dram definition is definitely more detailed. They say: "a unit of weight in the apothecaries' system equal to one eighth of an ounce".

But, let's look a little deeper, while drinking a dram.

Where does the word dram come from?

If we look back at the history of Ancient Greece we can find the word 'drackhme'. In the Ancient Greek language this meant coins. You can find the term in the bible, where it meant a unit of treasure. As the Roman's took over the Greek empire, 'drackhme' became 'dragma' in Latin. As the word went through Old French, and then into Old English, it evolved further. During this time the word meant the physical weight of an object. Finally, the shortened and Anglicised word "dram" started meaning a measure of whisky.

Shakespeare's favourite drink was scotch

OK, we may have made that fun fact up. But the word dram appears in Romeo and Juliet. Romeo says "Let me have a dram of poison. Such soon-speeding gear as will disperse itself through all the veins. That the life-weary take may fall dead." Here we can see the term dram, which was one-eight of an ounce, used for something that was being drunk. Please don't drink poison, though.

If we look at the 'modern translation' in No Fear, Shakespeare translates that line into "Let me have a shot of poison." So, again the language is becoming closer to what we may recognise today.

How big is a dram of whisky?

So, enough of the history. How much is in a dram of whisky? Well, it does depend on who is pouring the whiskies. You can have a 'house dram', which can be as large as you like.

Now, I have heard that a dram is the amount of whisky that can fill someone’s mouth. But, this definition is subjective and inadequate. Although somehow it sounds less disgusting than drinking by the gill, which is how we used to drink in the UK.

A gill was a useless measure because it was too small for beer and too large for a whisky. Whiskey came in a sixth, a fifth or a quarter of a gill (or 23.7, 28.4, 35.5 in ml). There could be regional variations in dram size. The amount usually becoming bigger the closer the drinker was to London.

In the 1970s, Ireland and the UK chose to adopt the metric system and spirits came in millilitres. In Ireland, a standard dram remained at 35.5ml (the same as a quarter gill). In the UK, publicans can choose whether to serve a dram of either 25ml or 35ml.

Some people to say 25ml should be a ‘dram’ or 'wee dram', and 35ml should be a ‘large dram’. But there isn’t an official definition of a dram in the UK.

Why is a measure of whisky called a dram? (1)

Dram meaning in the United States of America

The United States Customary System do define a dram in the US. This system sets the definitions for length, size and volume units like foot, acre and cubic inch. Interestingly the drams meaning in America relates to the apothecaries’ system, you can read more about the health benefits of whisky here.

But, for most whisky drinkers, it’s not a useful definition. It refers to one-eight of a fluid ounce, less than a teaspoon. Hardly enough whisky to get the sides of your glass wet. If you’re having even a modest whisky, you’d have 10 drams, and a co*cktail might have as many as 16 drams.

In the UK, we could revert to DrinkAware says that 25ml of 40% ABV whisky is 1 unit so that a dram meaning could be 1 unit of alcohol. But, 25ml of 48% ABV whisky is, according to DrinkAware 1.2 units of alcohol. So that’s not a good meaning of a dram either.

How many drams of whisky are there in a bottle?

The standard size of a bottle of whisky in the UK, and most of the world, is 700ml. If you're measuring a dram, or wee dram, at 25ml then there are 28 whisky drams in a bottle. If you're measuring larger drams at 35ml, then there are 20 large whisky dramsin a standard bottle.

In the US, whiskey bottles are 750ml. So that makes 30 drams of whiskey at 25ml a dram. Or, 21.4 drams of whiskey at 35ml a dram.

But remember folk, enjoy your dram drinking responsibly. It's about quality, not quantity.

What does dramming mean?

Dramming is the act of drinking a dram. It's an endearing term whisky fans using while enjoying whisky drams with one another. Often, conversation while dramming will turn to the drams themselves. People will share their thoughts, or tasting notes, on the whisky drams.

So, why is it called a dram of whiskey?

Let's recap: The word ‘dram’ comes from the Ancient Greek Word 'drackhme’. The term referred to coins and appeared in the bible to mean a unit of treasure. Drackhme evolved into Latin, Old French and Old English. Finally, it entered the modern lexicon. No one is sure exactly when it started meaning whisky, rather than medicine. But I like to think that whisky is medicine. So, let’s say that’s how it made the change. The amount of whiskey in a dram isn’t defined, but we can all agree that the first pour is hardly ever enough.

So, whatever you're dramming. Whether it's a small dram, or a double measure. A nip, a toot, a tot, a snifter, or a wee dram. We're raising a glass of scotch to you all - happy dram drinking!

Slainte, Evan

Further reading

If you enjoyed reading this article, here are a few more:

Why is a measure of whisky called a dram? (2024)


Why is a measure of whisky called a dram? ›

A 'dram' originates from the term 'drakhme', the Ancient Greek name for coins or treasure. The word later evolved to 'dragma' or 'dragme' in Latin during the Roman era, describing the weight of the coin, before being translated through Old French and Old English.

Why is whiskey called a dram? ›

It evolved through Latin as “dragme” and Old French as “drame” before becoming “dram” in English. Historically, it measured small quantities of precious substances and in the whiskey world, it signifies a small, enjoyable serving.

How many Oz is a dram of whiskey? ›

Expert consensus seems to be that a dram of whisky can vary from one "finger" (about an ounce/30ml) in a rocks glass, to a "standard" pour of 1.5 oz/45ml, to "two fingers" or around two ounces/60ml.

Is a dram equal to a shot? ›

Is a dram the same as a shot? No a shot is a standard unit of measurement while dram (in relation to alcohol) has never been an officially served quantity. Although the terms shot and dram are often used interchangeably to refer to a small serving of whisky, typically served neat (without ice).

How big is a dram of whiskey? ›

In Ireland, a standard dram remained at 35.5 ml (the same as a quarter gill) however, in the UK, publicans can choose whether to serve a dram of either 25 ml or 35 ml. Some people to say 25 ml should be a 'dram' and 35 ml should be a 'large dram'.

What is a glass of whiskey called? ›

There's more than one way to order a glass of whisky. And most times, we don't call it a shot. A nip, a sip, a toot or tot. Even a snifter. But the most popular phrase in the world of whisky is a dram.

How much is a nip? ›

Nip. The alcohol bottle size known as a nip is also called a mini and contains 50 ml of alcohol. That's about 1.7 ounces and approximately one 1.5-ounce shot. Nips are commonly sold in grocery and liquor stores.

What is a pour of whiskey called? ›

There are lots of names for a measure of whisky. They include: a nip, a toot, a tot, a snifter, and a wee dram. But the most common name for a measure of whisky is a dram.

What is a nip of whiskey? ›

“Nip is short for nipperkin. This was a small measure for wine and beer, containing about half a pint (285ml) or a little under.” So, while dram is perhaps the best known Scottish term for a drink of whisky, it certainly isn't the only word on the block.

What is a normal whisky measure? ›

Gin, rum, vodka and whisky. Either 25ml and multiples of 25ml, or 35ml and multiples of 35ml (not both on the same premises) Draught beer and cider. Third, half, two-thirds of a pint and multiples of half a pint.

What measure is a tot of whiskey? ›

A standard bottle of spirits is 750 ml, and holds, in theory, 32 tots. Inaccuracies in pouring and spillage mean that the barman is only obliged to account for 30 tots per bottle. Most standard spirits are 40% alcohol by volume (abv). That makes one tot an effective 25 ml of liquid, or 10 ml pure alcohol.

What is a measure of whiskey in Ireland? ›

A pub measure of spirits is served as a single (35.5ml) or as a double (71.0ml). In the off-licence sector, there is a much greater variability in alcohol container sizes for sale. Beers and ciders are generally for sale in the small can/bottle (330ml) and large can/bottle (500ml) sizes.

How much is a gill of whiskey? ›

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a gill as "a measure of liquids containing one fourth of a standard pint." Thus, at one-fourth of a pint, a gill equates to four ounces.

Why is whiskey called dram? ›

A 'dram' originates from the term 'drakhme', the Ancient Greek name for coins or treasure.

What's the difference between whisky and whiskey? ›

In Ireland, however, a whiskey is typically distilled three times before it begins the aging process. To make a long explanation short, whiskey (with an 'e') refers to grain spirits distilled in Ireland and the United States. Whisky (with no 'e') refers to Scottish, Canadian, or Japanese grain spirits.

Is a dram of whiskey good for you? ›

The polyphenols in whiskey have been shown to decrease “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and increase “good” cholesterol (HDL) levels, and reduce triglycerides, or fat in your blood. Bad cholesterol and triglycerides can clog your arteries, while good cholesterol helps to keep them clear.

What does dram stand for alcohol? ›

Historically, the term “dram shop” referred to any establishment where alcohol was sold; a dram was a measure of alcohol.

What did dram stand for? ›

“DRAM” stands for “dynamic random access memory,” and it's a specific type of RAM (random access memory).

What makes something a dram? ›

In the 16th century, English speakers began also using dram for a weight of fluid measure (also called a fluid dram) equal to 1/8 fluid ounce, and more loosely for any small portion of something to drink. Dram is also used figuratively for any small amount, in much the same way as grain and ounce.

Where did the unit dram come from? ›

A dram is both a unit of weight and a measure of liquid capacity. In either case, it's a small amount. Dram came from French through Latin and ultimately from the Greek word drachmē, meaning “handful.” As a unit of weight, a dram is 1/16 of an ounce (and an ounce is 1/16 of a pound).

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