What is a “Golden Ratio?”
What if you could make any sour cocktail from memory, and even create your own, because you knew the secret formula for sour cocktails?
This secret formula is called the Golden Ratio. It’s a sour cocktail template for combining a base spirit (like rum, whiskey, or tequila), sugar (simple syrup, triple sec), and a sour component (fresh lemon or lime juice). The Golden Ratio works for every sour cocktail from the Daiquiri to the Whiskey Sour to the Lemon Drop to the Margarita. Or use it to create your own, like I did with the Infection.
The ratio of ingredients is important to create a drink that’s not too sweet, but not too sour either. And you want to compliment the base spirit without overpowering it.
For over a century, Mixologists and bartenders have been searching for this Golden Ratio. While many claim to have found it, they don’t all agree! As usual, taste is subjective.
Well, if you really start doing your research, you’re going to find that there are about a thousand different recipes out there for a whiskey sour. Check the Internet if you don’t believe me.– Jeffrey Morgenthaler, The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique, 2014.
While there may not be one Universal Golden Ratio, there are several that have proved highly popular. Let’s break down the most popular Golden Ratios from history and see what we can learn.
Popular Golden Ratios
Several popular formulas emerged in cocktail literature throughout the last century. They’re expressed as ratios of alcohol, sour, and sweet, but they don’t always place those elements in the same order. Confusing!
This table breaks down the formulas so they’re easy to compare. I also included what a classic Daiquiri recipe would look like with each of the formulas, but you could imagine a Margarita, Whiskey Sour, or your favorite sour cocktail.
|Golden Ratio||Alcohol Parts||Sour Parts||Sweet Parts||Daiquiri Recipe with this Ratio|
|2||1||1||2 oz (60 mL) Rum|
1 oz (30 mL) Lime Juice
1 oz (30 mL) Simple Syrup
David Embury Ratio
|8||2||1||2 oz (60 mL) Rum|
1/2 oz (15 mL) Lime Juice
1/4 oz (7.5 mL) Simple Syrup
Difford’s Classic Ratio
|8||3||4||2 oz (60 mL) Rum|
3/4 oz (22.5 mL) Lime Juice
1 oz (30 mL) Simple Syrup
Gentleman’s Companion Ratio
|8||4||2||2 oz (60 mL) Rum|
1 oz (30 mL) Lime Juice
1/2 oz (15 mL) Simple Syrup
Home Cocktail Craft Ratio
|8||3||3||2 oz (60 mL) Rum|
3/4 oz (15 mL) Lime Juice
3/4 oz (15 mL) Simple Syrup
Let’s explore each ratio a little further.
The Common Ratio – 2:1:1
I dubbed the 2:1:1 ratio “the Common Ratio” because it’s the most prevalent. I can’t find a definitive origin for this formula, but it’s prescribed by The Cocktail Maven, Wine Enthusiast, Alcademics, Wine Mag, and countless others. It was recommended by “genius mixologist” Gabriella Mlynarczyk in an article for FastCompany – a business site! The 2:1:1 ratio is literally everywhere, not just in cocktail literature.
This formula is two parts base spirit, and one part each of sour and sweet. In this formula, unlike the others, the base spirit is listed first.
The Common Ratio is sweeter than many of the others, because of the equal balance between sour and sweet. This ratio appeals to a lot of people. If you’re just starting out in mixology, try the 2:1:1 ratio first and adjust from there. Let your own taste be your guide.
David Embury Ratio – 1:2:8
In the 1948 classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, author David A. Embury recommends 1 part sweet, 2 parts sour, and 8 parts base spirit for any sour cocktail. While he prefers this ratio, Embury also says to follow your own taste over any prescriptive formula.
This ratio does two significant things: First, it emphasizes the base spirit, as there is four times as much spirit as sour. Secondly, it cuts the sweet component to half the sour, resulting in one of the more sour ratios on this list.
Difford’s Classic Ratio – 3:4:8
Difford’s Guide researched the fascinating history of sour cocktails, tracing their origins back to a handwritten recipe from 1856. Simon Difford includes a recipe for a Classic Formula Whiskey Sour based on this ratio. In the 3:4:8 ratio, sour comes first – 3 parts sour, 4 parts sweet, and 8 parts base spirit.
The Difford’s Classic Ratio is easily the sweetest formula on the list. It’s the only one on the list with more sweet than sour. If you were to take the 2:1:1 Common Ratio and reduce the sour component by 1/4, you would have Difford’s Classic.
Simon Difford himself actually prefers the next formula on our list – the Gentleman’s Companion Ratio.
Gentleman’s Companion Ratio – 4:2:8
The Gentlemen’s Companion, written by Charles H. Baker and published in 1939, has quite a lot to say about the Daiquiri. From the two entire pages devoted to the “Tropical Daiquiri,” and with a little math, we can extract what I’ll call the “Gentleman’s Companion Ratio.”
2 tsp of sugar […] About 1/2 to 1 average small green lime gives acid aplenty. We always allow 2 ounces of rum.– Charles H. Baker. The Gentleman’s Companion: Being an Exotic Drinking Book or, Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask. 1939
2 tsp of raw sugar equates to about 1/2 oz of 1:1 simple syrup. An average small green lime gives about 1 oz of lime juice, and 2 oz of base spirit is specified. So, that gives us a ratio of 4 (sour) to 2 (sweet) to 8 (base spirit).
If you remember algebra, you know we can reduce the fractions to an equivalent ratio of 2:1:4. But that just makes it harder to compare with the others, so let’s agree to call it 4:2:8.
This ratio produces quite a sour cocktail, as the sour component is brought forward to half of the base spirit, and the sweet component is reduced to half of the sour. It’s the most sour formula on this list.
Now Baker allows for as little as 1/2 a small lime, which would yield 1/2 oz lime juice – equal to the amount of sugar. With the same 2 oz of liquor, that would produce a 2:2:8 ratio, or 1:1:4 if simplified by algebra.
Home Cocktail Craft Ratio – 3:3:8
My preferred ratio is 3:3:8 – equal parts sweet and sour, but both slightly reduced from the 2:1:1 Common Ratio. This brings the base spirit forward a little more, but still produces a sour cocktail with a nice balance. I like to taste my base spirits, because I buy nicer stuff than what’s in the well of the average bar.
I’m definitely not the inventor of this ratio, but it’s not referenced as prominently as the 2:1:1 ratio. Bon Appetit calls it the Basic Sour Formula and Whiskey Watch gives it a nod while recommending the 2:1:1 ratio.
For lack of a well-documented history or a better name, I’ll call it the Home Cocktail Craft Ratio.
What’s the Best Golden Ratio for Sour Cocktails?
So which of these ratios is the best one? Which one should earn the “Golden Ratio” title?
Let me tell you a story.
My wife and I celebrated a wedding anniversary with a trip to Austin, Texas. While walking around South Congress, we stumbled upon the Courtyard Bar at Joann’s, a fantastically retro outdoor bar in the courtyard of the 1950s style Austin Motel. I asked for “two classic-style Daiquiris” at the bar, hoping the bartender would pick up on the signal that I didn’t want some frozen monstrosity from the blender. He did. With a wink and wry comment, “the 90s have a lot to answer for,” he mixed our first round of exquisite Daiquiris.
Now, we’d been drinking Daiquiris all summer, and I’d been making them with the 3:3:8 ratio. On the first sip, we knew these were more tart than the ones we’d been drinking. Sometime between the second and fourth round, I had the idea to watch him measure while we chatted. He was clearly using the 4:2:8 Gentleman’s Companion ratio! A “classic-style” Daiquiri indeed!
My wife and I enjoyed a fabulous evening, sipping Daiquiris under the stars in the Courtyard Bar, reminiscing about all the great adventures of our relationship. It was a perfect anniversary!
Here’s the point of my story: At any time that night, I could have told the bartender exactly what ratio I preferred in a Daiquiri.
But I didn’t. Why?
Because the best ratio for a cocktail is whatever tastes good in the moment.
Sitting in the motel courtyard in Austin, looking at the stars, eating guacamole, and watching guests stroll by on the way to the pool, those were the perfect Daiquiris. Somehow, they fit the vibe of Joann’s Courtyard Bar and I wouldn’t change a thing.
So, if you need a place to start, try the 2:1:1 Common Ratio. But don’t be afraid to experiment and discover what tastes best to you. That’s the fun part of making cocktails.