What A 'Dram' Of Whisky Actually Means

Isn't a dram simply a shot of whisky? No, insists Whiskipedia, and there's a reason for that: The dram you order in Scotland can vary from the one you order in America. Let us explain.

The word itself is derived from the Ancient Greek "drackhme," a term that was originally used to describe coins and treasure, notes The Single Cask. The word came to refer to the weight of objects in Old English before it was eventually used by apothecaries to measure medicine in one-eighth-ounce servings. Even Shakespeare used the term, describing Romeo as calling out for a dram of poison that could kill, LitCharts notes.

Now how exactly the word skipped from the category of medicine to whisky is unclear, but leave it to the Scots to label the amount of whiskey you could swallow in one go as a dram, per Cocktail Society. And, of course, there's a range: from a wee dram to a hearty dram and everything in between. The amount of whisky in an actual dram will vary depending on where you are and who is standing behind the bar. Though the term is common vernacular throughout the U.K., the actual measurement is less clear.

It never hurts to befriend the bartender

Sound Brewery notes pubs in different regions will measure out drams according to different standards (unless, of course, the bartender is mixing an actual drink with whiskey). Cocktail Society points out the "Distance to London rule," which means the further away one travels from London, the more whiskey is contained in a dram.

When you step up to a bar to order a dram of whisky in Scotland, you'll be served either an ounce or one and a quarter fluid ounces by the bartender, per The Whiskey Wash. Americans use the United States Customary System to spell out exactly what a dram represents; they've kept the association with apothecaries, but it isn't much of a pour: a dram is one-eighth of a fluid ounce, which is less than a teaspoon, reports The Single Cask. You'd have to put a few servings back to feel much of anything. Regardless of where you're ordering drams, it never hurts to buddy up to the bartender in hopes of receiving a more generous pour.