Like any cocktail enthusiast worth her margarita's salt, I know the difference bitters make in drinks. In fact, my home bar is stocked with 14 different varieties, including a citrus trio I made myself.
Despite my ardor for the botanical-laced infusions, I've often wondered if I'm measuring them correctly into my cocktails, because, what the heck is a dash, anyway?
How Much Is In a Dash? A Home Experiment
To figure this out, I set up a very scientific experiment in my kitchen. I made a batch of bourbon Old-Fashioneds, and I measured out each dash, using measuring spoons. Every dash I measured came out between 1/8 teaspoon and 1/4 teaspoon, sometimes coming closer to one or the other, but not varying greatly. And the Old-Fashioneds each tasted pretty much the same, no matter the exact dash.
What's In a Dash? The Expert Perspective
While my scientific experiment proved thirst-quenching, it didn't seem precise. Seeking more knowledge, I turned to two of my favourite experts behind the bar, Trevor Schneider, Reyka Vodka's U.S. brand ambassador, and Elliot "The Major" Ball, co-founder of London's hot new drinking establishment, The Cocktail Trading Company's The Development Bar & Table.
"The original cocktail manuals are full of strange, volumetric descriptions from ponies to wineglasses, but the dash is arguably the least precise of them all," Elliot told me, adding that a dash can vary from one bartender to the next.
It's like shaking a bottle of ketchup. "You have a bottle with a single, narrow opening, which acts both as where the air goes in and the liquid comes out," he continued. "Granted, bitters flow faster than ketchup, but there is just one hole so only so much can come out with a single shake."
The variations, Trevor pointed out, can be explained through a combination of physics and chemistry, depending on the amounts of liquid versus air in the bottles, the amount of thrust from the bartenders, and even the angle of the bottle during the shaking. Still, the most accurate measurement of a dash in the industry is "a little less than one milliliter," he relayed.
Measured out in drops, using a precise, milliliter-dropper like the ones used to dispense medicine, a dash is about 10 single drops. Measured out in teaspoons, a dash would be 1/5 teaspoon, or as I discovered in my kitchen, between 1/8th teaspoon and 1/4 teaspoon.
What If Your Dash Is Not Their Dash?
So long as you don't add 20 dashes when only one or two would suffice, you probably won't ruin your drink. "It's a measurement for which it is deemed acceptable to be a little bit casual," Elliot told me. "Dashes are typically small volumes so that even at the peak of inconsistency, their flavors are not so powerful that the difference in the drink is enormous."
If you're not sure if you're adding enough or adding too much bitters to your cocktail, start with a single dash, then taste as you go. "You can always add more, adjust up, but like a haircut, you can't adjust down," said Trevor.
As someone who wears her hair long, I found that to be quite sound advice indeed.