Category Archives: Cocktail Calculus

Cocktail Calculus: How boozy is your poison of choice?

There’s a perception out there that if you want to get less drunk, you’re better off sticking with something low in alcohol content, like a beer. But considering that beer, wine and cocktails all are served at different volumes, how does one consider the per ounce alcohol content of a given beverage for a true comparison? With math, that’s how.

Let’s meet our contestants:

  • Beer: A typical 12oz beer, at 6% ABV (alcohol by volume)
  • Wine: A 5oz glass, at 12% ABV
  • Margarita (Shaken Cocktail): 2oz Tequila Blanco (80 proof), 1oz Cointreau (80 proof), 1oz Lime Juice, ~5.3oz after shaking if following a 25% dilution rule*
  • Manhattan (Stirred Cocktail): 2oz Rye (90 proof), 1oz Sweet Vermouth (33 proof for a Carpano Antica), 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters (~1/16oz at 91 proof), ~4.08oz after stirring*

*25% dilution rule = ideal amount of ice melting should result in a drink whose final volume is 25% water

First, let’s calculate, in ounces, the alcohol content of a standard serving for each of our beverages:

  • Beer: 12oz x 6% = .72oz of alcohol
  • Wine: 5oz x 12% = .6oz of alcohol
  • Margarita: (2oz x 40%) + (1oz x 40%) + (1oz x 0%) + (1.3oz (dilution) x 0%) = 1.2oz of alcohol
  • Manhattan: (2oz x 45%) + (1oz x 16.5%) + (0.0625oz x 45.5%) + (1.0125oz (dilution) x 0%) = 1.093oz of alcohol

A ranking clearly emerges, with the only surprise being that Margaritas have more alcohol than Manhattans (though you don’t notice it as much thanks to the juice). But things get more interesting when you consider how much of any beverage you’re likely to drink.

For instance, a bottle of wine is 750ml, or 25.36oz. That’s roughly 5 glasses of wine, which is ~3oz of alcohol. A pitcher of beer is roughly 60oz, which again is 5 servings or 3.6oz of alcohol.

Now, I don’t know about you, but a bottle of wine or a pitcher of beer is… a bit much. I can enjoy maybe 3 glasses of wine or 4 beers in a night without really regretting it (and even then, it’s sure to stay with me). Oddly enough, my limit with cocktails is a bit higher — around 3 or 4 — which, as you recall is, somewhere in the neighborhood of 3oz – 4.8oz of alcohol using the calculations above.

So why is that three Manhattans don’t hit me the way an entire body of wine would?

I chalk it up to volume of liquid. With the Manhattans, that’s just ~12oz of liquid as opposed to ~25oz with the wine. That difference (for me, anyway) is usually made up with water, thus keeping me hydrated. Beer and wine just leave less room for that.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure which is better. But I can say I’d rather have three Manhattans than a bottle of wine or a pitcher of beer. Just…. slowly :]


Cocktail Calculus: Dissecting the PDT Book

One of the rewards of having been a massive nerd in college is that I get to tell people that I’m a published theoretical mathematician. And one of the side effects is that any time I stumble across a large collection of numbers — such as the recipes in the PDT Cocktail book — I’m compelled to pick it apart and try to analyze it.

I spent a few painstaking weeks transcribing the PDT recipes into a spreadsheet format that included columns (“fields” as us analysts say) for drink, ingredient, amount used, how it’s used and how the drink is prepared. From there I was able to discern a few things:

  • Not including infusion guides, there are 304 cocktail recipes.
  • And there are a lot of unique ingredients too. 440 to be exact (once you adjust for inconsistencies between brand names).
  • ~50% of ingredients are only used in one drink. ~70% are only used in two drinks.
  • The top five most commonly used ingredients are: Lemon Juice (84 times), Simple Syrup (63), Lime Juice (58), Lemon Twists (44) and Angostura Bitters (41).
  • The top five most commonly used spirits are: Plymouth Gin (29 times), Benedictine (19), Rittenhouse Bonded Rye Whiskey (17), Dolin Dry Vermouth (16) and Hine V.S.O.P. Cognac (16).

I also used a very rudimentary weighting system to pull up a list of cocktails that could be easily made from some of the most common ingredients. The top five of these are:

Southside: 2:1:1 (click here if you’re rusty on your ratios) of Plymouth Gin to Lemon Juice & Simple Syrup, with 4 muddled mint leaves. Shake and fine-strain into a chilled coupe.

Vieux Mot: 6:3:2:2 of Plymouth Gin, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup and St. Germain. Shake and strain into a chilled coupe.

Champs-Elysees: 8:3:4:1 of Hine V.S.O.P Cognac, Lemon Juice, Green Chartreuse and Simple Syrup, with 1 dash of Angostura Bitters and garnished with a Lemon Twist. Shake and strain into a chilled coupe.

French 75: 2:1:1 of Tanqueray Gin, Simple Syrup and Lemon Juice, topped with Moet Imperial Champagne and garnished with a Lemon Twist. Shake all but the champagne and strain into a chilled champagne glass, then top.

Bee’s Knees: 8:3:3 of Plymouth Gin, Honey Syrup and Lemon Juice. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled coupe.

By now I’m sure you’ve noticed an abundance of Gin, Lemon Juice and Simple Syrup. The reason there’s so much clustering towards these ingredients is that:

1) the PDT book uses specific bottlings
2) there isn’t that large of a spread across the types of Gins used

If you consider ingredients by “class” (i.e. “Whisk(e)y” as a whole instance of Buffalo Trace Bourbon, for example), you see there are more Whisk(e)y drinks than Gin drinks, followed by Brandy, Sugarcane (Rum/Rhum, Cachaca, etc), Agave (Tequila, Mezcal) and, finally, Vodka.

And, if you’re looking at Liqueurs, Fortified Wines, Aromatized Wines and Bitters (as in Amari, not Angostura) you see Benedictine leading the pack, followed again by Dolin Dry Vermouth, then Lillet Blanc, the Chartreuses (Yellow & Green), Cointreau, Luxardo Maraschino, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, St. Germain Elderflower and Aperol.

So, what good is any of this information, you ask?

Well, the long term goal is to do a bit more standardization work on the ingredient list so that it’s easier to find the smallest number of ingredients which can make the maximal number of drinks. Not that one must strive to meet an exact recipe, as we discussed last time.

In the meantime, I’m simply sharing a few insights into PDT’s cocktail compositions. Having been recently, I can attest to the quality of the real thing and wonder how the facts I’ve come up with, in combination with their menu at any given time, relate to their business logistics.

Hmm, maybe I’m still a massive nerd.

P.S. And yes, more cocktail recipe analysis from the PDT Book (and others) is coming.