Home Our Community

Measuring whisky: a guide to the dram

There’s more than one way to order a glass of whisky. And most times, we don’t call it a shot. A nip, a sip, a toot or tot. Even a snifter. But the most popular phrase in the world of whisky is a dram. 

Here we share what a dram actually means and how this term came about. So next time you’re ordering The Glenlivet, you can do it in style.

Where does the term ‘dram’ come from?

A ‘dram’ originates from the term ‘drakhme’, the Ancient Greek name for coins or treasure. The word later evolved to ‘dragma’ or ‘dragme’ in Latin during the Roman era, describing the weight of the coin, before being translated through Old French and Old English. 

During this time the meaning shifted to a weight of medicine, which we know from Shakespeare’s reference to a dram of poison in Romeo and Juliet. 

“Let me have a dram of poison, such soon-speeding gear as will disperse itself through all the veins that the life-weary take may fall dead.”

Romeo and Juliet

At some point over the years, it came to Scotland and was used to measure liquid. And with whisky being the most popular drink, it didn’t take long for a wee dram of whisky to become a well-known phrase.


How much liquid is in a dram?

The amount of whisky you get in a dram depends on where you’re ordering. Some bartenders will pour what they fancy, whereas others have a slightly stricter measurement in mind.

If you order a dram in Scotland, you’ll likely get a bartender’s pour or a large . But elsewhere in the UK, it tends to be either a 25ml or 35ml serving. In Ireland you can expect closer to the 35ml range.

Across the pond, you might get more lucky. A standard pour of a dram, otherwise known as a large jigger, is often 1.5 ounces, equivalent to just over 44mls.

What is a “wee dram”?

The endearing phrase “wee dram” is a Scottish term that is simply used to refer to a single measure of whisky. This is typically around 25 to 35 millilitres, although a wee dram of whisky is often poured quite liberally! The word “wee” is Scottish slang for “small” or “little,” and so asking for a ‘wee dram’ is essentially a request for a small drink of whisky. 

How many drams are in a bottle of whisky?

Depending on how you measure your dram will depend on how many drams you get from your bottle. The standard size bottle of whisky in the UK is 700ml, so assuming you measure a wee dram at 25ml, then you’ll get 28 drams. If you go for a larger pour of 35ml, you’ll get 20 drams. In the US, you’ll get a tiny bit more, with standard bottles being 750ml.

How to order a dram of whisky

As we know, there’s no strict global measurement when it comes to a dram so your best bet is to order a ‘wee’ or ‘hearty’ dram for a smaller or larger drink.

If you’re ordering a dram of whisky in a bar, it’s going to come neat. That means a room temperature serve with no ice; a great choice when you want to really taste those individual notes. 

But if you want a chilled drink, you’re better off ordering a scotch on the rocks. This will get you a dram of whisky with ice which can help to elevate the spirit’s flavours at a cooler temperature.

Other variations include with water, which dilutes the whisky’s burn, and with a twist, which includes a lemon or orange peel garnish for extra citrus notes.

It’s also good to know your whisky. And by that we mean the bottle you like to drink from. You’ve got lots of different types of whisky to choose from, but if we’re choosing, it has to be scotch. Scotch can only be made in Scotland, so if you’re ordering a dram as the Scots do, you’re better off going for a smooth single malt like our collection at The Glenlivet. Find out more about how to drink whisky your way and check out the best whisky for beginners.

Of course you don’t have to go straight. If a dram of whisky is too strong for you, or if you fancy a mixed drink, why not try a whisky cocktail instead? Try a classic Old Fashioned that accentuates the whisky’s flavour with bitters and sugar. Or mix things up with a fruity drink such as a Scotch Mule or Pineapple Smash

Now that you’re well versed in drams, you can go and order yourself a whisky. But whilst you’re here, why not learn more about the world of whisky with our go-to guides? Discover how scotch is made and how to taste whisky at home.