Ask the Bartender: For Cocktails, Small Really Is Better

Now put away your funnel.

Is it just me, or have martinis gotten huge? I feel like I have to order a beer in certain bars just so I don't get hammered. I remember being able to drink a single Manhattan or martini without much worry. Why would this be when glasses of beer and wine have stayed the same size?—Jeannie

You're hitting one of the main foundations of my soapbox. The Big Gulpification of the cocktail irks me because it misses the entire point of this category of drink, and seriously affects personal safety.A cocktail is a prescribed mixture of spirits and flavor adjuncts chilled and served in a pretty glass. Historically this glass could be anything—a coupe (a birdbath-looking thing), a small wine glass, or what has come to be the standard today: an inverted cone on a stem. (We now call it a martini glass, but it's really just a cocktail glass.)If you visit antique stores or watch old movies, these glasses were once quite small and sassy, comfortably holding somewhere in the neighborhood of three ounces of liquor that had been thinned out by a little melted ice. They barely wetted a cad's face when you threw it at him. Cocktails were designed for gaiety, not blotto—one drink would put you in the mood, not on your ass.I think cocktail glasses really started to grow in size when drinks like the lemon drop and the whole stupid phrase + "-tini" craze became the rage. These new drinks added ounces of fruit juice or mixer to the alcoholic base, so they needed extra room. You can still catch the look on many an old-timer's face when they spot an eight-ounce cocktail glass: something between fear and awe.This added volume means added cost, too. Smaller glasses mean smaller portions that would bring smaller prices and the ability to actually have another without putting yourself in the financial or physical danger zone. This is one of the benefits of the classic-cocktail revival: more appropriate stemware and sizing. But these bars are still the exception, not the norm.The main reason for keeping cocktails small is out of concern for patrons. Bartenders must take an alcohol-safety course in order to serve you, since we are legally responsible for your behavior once we do. Please reread that sentence. In this state-mandated course, you're reminded of the general consumption rate for men and women at certain weights, and how many drinks each can consume while staying on the right side of intoxication. This doesn't allow for those on medication, lacking sleep, or coping with anorexia.So don't mess with us when we give the "I'm the boss of you" look. We are. One drink is defined as a 12-ounce beer, a six-ounce glass of wine, or a one-and-a-half ounce shot of 80-proof spirit. So when you think you've had "one" drink from a big-ass cocktail glass, you've really had two or probably more. This means any average-sized woman should be cut off, temporarily at least, after one of those not-so-tiny 'tinis some bars love to serve. That's why I really hate large cocktail glasses; some things should not be super-sized.Got a question for the bartender? Send your boozy plea to

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