What’s a Dram of Whisk(e)y?

If you’re like me, you want things to fit into nice, neat, definitive definitions. What’s that you say? Definitions are definitive. I would have agreed with you until last Monday, when I spent half a day researching “dram” and its etymology, usage, and definition. Trying to nail down a definition for “dram” is like trying to hold a crazed feral cat during a fireworks display.

So does that mean I can’t answer the question? No, I’ll answer it. I’m just going to put a tranquilizer dart in this feral cat first.

Instead of repeating every possible meaning of dram in this article, I’m going to give you a few of my favorite and most useful definitions. If all the other possible uses and minutia of dram interest you, then I assure you, there is plenty of fodder for research.

In the U.S. a fluid dram is a unit of measure equaling 1/8th of an ounce. For all intents and purposes I hope this is not the definition you use. If I asked for a dram of whiskey and got a 1/8th oz. pour I would be severely disappointed, to say the least. I feel like knowing this, though, could win you a bet sometime.

The Scotch Gaelic word “dram,” when translated into English literally means “a drink.” By this definition you could have a dram of anything, like orange juice for example. But why would you do that if you could have a dram of whiskey?

A dram is an amount of whisky that is equally pleasing to both the person serving it and the person drinking it. While this isn’t the most precise definition, it’s certainly my favorite. It evokes warm feelings of a perfectly balanced friendship.

There’s a silver lining for those of us who would prefer one concrete definition of “dram.” What is it? Because “dram” is open to personal interpretation, using the word allows your friends to freely express their generosity toward you, and vice versa. How so?

Consider, you’re at a friend’s house. She offers you a list of things to drink, one of which is whiskey. Instead of asking for a specific amount – like two fingers or even a shot – you simply ask for a dram of whiskey. She can now pour you whiskey out of the goodness of her heart, and you’ll both be happier for it.

What’s your favorite definition of dram?

Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

— Zac Smith

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