You’ve most likely noticed a surge of low- (and no-) alcohol cocktails on bar menus of late. Yet how a bartender achieves that lower alcohol content can be tricky. By using vermouth or liqueur as the base spirit, say. Or one may simply reduce the size of the drink.
Scaled-down cocktails aren’t new, exactly. Konrad Kantor, a partner in Manolito, a Cuban-inflected bar in New Orleans, says he first served shot-sized drinks on occasion early in his career while working at one of the city’s high-end restaurants, typically free of charge. “It was usually for VIPs,” he says, “or when something went horribly wrong.”
He liked this wink of hospitality, though, and from time to time will send out amuse-bouches of his bar’s noted daiquiris in small enamelware cups. “For us it’s always been a nice gesture,” Kantor says, “and we always offer it complimentary.”
The mini drink has also become something of a secret “industry handshake”—bartenders serve visiting bartenders wee cocktails as a welcome and to show off a bit of plumage. Dutch Kills, a New York City bar, often gets credited for, around 2010, dubbing its take the “snaquiri,” a name that, for better or worse, has stuck for the types of tipples Manolito doles out.
As often happens, this back-of-the-house ritual has now made the jump to public cocktail lists. At the new Little Sparrow bar in Atlanta, you’ll find on offer Le Petit Martini—a highly chilled classic about half the size of a regular martini. “It gets you off on the right foot but doesn’t put you down,” says Allison Lovelace, the beverage manager. “And it’s an opportunity to taste what the bartender can create.”
Just east, in Decatur, No. 246 features a Tiny Negroni weighing in at two and a half ounces that it delivers ice-cold—for under five dollars. “It serves a lot of purposes,” says Clarke Anderson, the beverage director for the spot’s owner, Rocket Farm Restaurants. “A lot of people are looking for moderation not only in what they spend, but in how much they consume. And not everyone wants to drink a full Negroni before a meal.”
Unlike many past bar trends—smoke, foams—this one easily adapts to home entertaining. Make one drink. Serve it in two or three glasses. The practice allows the best of both worlds: restraint in intake; the full flavor of a full-proof cocktail.
You may, however, need to get creative with glassware. Serving a half drink in a full-drink glass might lead your guests to suspect you’re grifting. Anderson reports he turned up some cunning mini-martini vessels while in search of limoncello glasses, and they’ve proved ideal for his tiny pours. Or perhaps you’ve got a set of shot glasses acquired as an enthusiastic if ill-advised purchase while traveling. Bring them out. Dust them off. Put them to good use.