The Case for the Small Cocktail


These aperitif glasses from a 1929 book on etiquette hold 3 ounces.

In bygone times (as recently as, say, yesterday evening), some imbibers would be caught kvetching as they inspected the cocktail in front of them. “Do those glasses seem small?” “Hmm, not so generous on the pour.” Those comments irk me, and here’s why. A new generation of bartenders at quality-focused and Prohibition-style bars has realized that bigger is not better. In that regard, they’re actually doing us a favor. Truly, who hasn’t cringed at the prospect of choking down those last few ounces of a lukewarm Martini or Margarita. Not so tasty.

Looking back through decades of cocktail history, the super-size cocktail is a relatively new invention. The return of the Martini in the 1990s in retro pop culture was accompanied by a shift to bigger drinks, leading to a doubling and tripling of the cocktail that once made up part of a “three-Martini lunch.” But back in 1950s, it was possible to have a three-Martini lunch because those drinks measured in at about three ounces apiece. These days, a Martini is closer to 10-12 ounces at some bars (often those that advertise specials like 2-for-1 Margaritas and green-apple Martinis). That’s a lot of booze, and it doesn’t taste great without a chill. In fact, there are few cocktails I’d recommend drinking lukewarm. Maybe none. So that’s why I’m in favor of smaller glasses, lighter pours, and a return to a more elegant style of drinking (plus, you’ll get to drink more cocktails). Salud!