Tonight's Negroni #11: Ratios Are Golden

FYI: This is an archive of my Tonight's Negroni email newsletter.

Something a lot of people don't seem to realize about mixing drinks it that it's all about ratios. Maybe I'm just old enough to remember people talking about cocktail recipes in terms of "parts"? (e.g. One part gin, one part Campari, one part sweet vermouth == Negroni!) It doesn't seem like that's as common now as it once was, but it was clever practice.

The beauty of thinking about drink recipes as a ratio of ingredients is many fold. You can mix a drink with any sort of measuring device, be it a jigger, a shot glass, or a soup spoon. You you will also be more readily able scale the recipe or even convert units of measurement.

Suppose you want to barrel age a batch of Boulevardiers? The ounce-based recipe reads as:

  • 1.5oz Bourbon
  • 1oz Campari
  • 1oz Sweet vermouth

Well, that's interesting... A typical bottle of bourbon is 750ml, which I have come to recognize as 1.5 x 500ml. So if I think of 1 ounce from the recipe and translate that to 500ml, that means I can mix a full bottle of bourbon with 500ml (2/3 of a full bottle) of each Campari and sweet vermouth, and just like that I've got a 2.25l batch of Boulevardier cocktails. It so happens that I use barrels that are around two liters in volume for aging cocktails, so I end up with just the right amount left for a couple rounds with my Special Lady Friend.

It's a good thing.

At first, trying to think of recipes as ratios can seem a little distracting, like it's slowing you down. It's really only a slight shift in perception, though. Pay less attention to units and more attention to the amounts as they relate to each other.

It helps if you regularly make cocktails for two (or more advanced, three!) people at a time. The next time you are entertaining friends and need to make four cocktails at once, grab that little juice glass in your cabinet and pretend it is the proverbial "ounce" referenced by the recipe you are following. PROTIP: If you end up with extra, you can always take a swig from your own glass and top it off!

("Dashes" for ingredients aren't much of an issue until you get to a much larger scale, like a two liter barrel. If the drink calls for two dashes and you are making a batch of four, you give it eight dashes, obviously.)

If you want to read someone smarter than me talk about cooking with ratios, you really should pick up Michael Ruhlman's book titled, simply Ratio (there's also an app). It is excellent and definitely started me down the path of looking at all types of recipes in these terms.


If you actually happend to click the second link above, you'll already know I've also barrel aged a batch of a cocktail called theMartinez.

My favorite recipe is from 1884 and is reproduced in the PDT Cocktail Book:

(Rephrased in the light of tonight's topic, that's: 1 part Old Tom, 1 part vermouth, 1/6 part Luxardo. Or 6:6:1 if you're making a pitcher of the things. Who am I to judge?)

  1. Stir with ice
  2. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass
  3. Garnish with an orange (or lemon) twist

I've seen a lot of suspect history for this drink. Some say it was a progenitor of the Martini. Others refer to it as a "gin Manhattan". More likely, it was just one of many cocktails that followed the same formula of a spirit, a vermouth, and something bitter (consider the classic Manhattan or the Boulevardier we already discussed). It is certainly a very old recipe.

More interesting is the use of a particular kind of gin called "Old Tom". Old Tom Gin fits somewhere between London Dry gin and Genever on the juniper-infused spirit spectrum. Ransom makes one - based on consultation from David Wondrich - that will knock your socks off.