What Is a Dram Of Whisky?

If you drink whisky regularly, you really can’t avoid hearing someone use the word dram. With good friends in the pub, at a whisky show or when touring a distillery the volume always seems to differ making a dram seem to be a rather imprecise unit of measurement. So it’s high time to get to the bottom of the measure of dram.

The British Measurement System

Our first research impulse lead us to the Anglo-American system of measurement, which is still used today in parts of the former British Empire. From 1973 onwards, it was actually planned to slowly but surely switch to the metric system common in the rest of Europe. However, the old units of measurement (yard, mile, ounce, pound, pint etc.) continue to be so popular among the population that the changeover (especially against the background of Brexit) may never be completed.

The unit of measure, dram, exists both as a measure of weight and as a fluid dram. Liquid, that sounds good to us friends of good whisky. According to the definition, a dram in the old English system of measurement corresponds exactly to 0.003551633032809 l, which corresponds to approximately 3.55 ml rounded. This amount however is about enough to moisten the bottom of a glencairn glass. So there must be another definition.

Bar Measurements in British pubs

A dram is not an actual unit of measurement, but colloquially a small amount of whisky. A few decades ago (until a reform in 1963) it was common in Great Britain to pour 1/4, 1/5 or 1/6 of a gill (1 gill = 142 ml) , 35.5 ml , 28.4 ml and 23.7 ml respectively. So a dram was a smaller or larger schnapps.

The system was simplified in 1987, and the spirits poured in English bars have since been measured at 25 ml or 50 ml (double), in Scotland the 35 ml measurement, doubled at 70ml was the norm. However this is shifting inline with England.

A wee dram

A dram is a name rather than a measure in general. Even if a standard measure is defined exactly in the catering trade, the size of a dram can vary from tasting to tasting. On distillery tours you can be extremely lucky or unlucky with the size of the drams served, depending on who does the pouring. In a private setting, however, a dram will not be poured out with the greatest scientific accuracy, and oft as not get larger the more are poured.

The simple explanation is more poetic than exact in definition: ‘A dram is a lot of whisky, which is determined by the generosity and mood of the person who is pouring it out.’

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