The Wash Line Equation
So, if you decide you want your wash line to be in that 10-15% goldilocks zone where it appears full but doesn’t spill, you need to consider the four parts of the wash line equation:
This last item is for cocktails that are served on the rocks, or with a garnish that displaces some of the liquid volume of the drink. A big brandied cherry, a set of cocktail olives on a pick, or any other sizeable garnishes fall into this category.
Finding Your Glass Volume
To find your glass volume, simply fill up your cocktail glass with water, dump it in a measuring cup, and observe. Take this number and subtract 10-15%, and that’s the volume you want to hit if you’re aiming for a great wash line. So for a 6 oz cocktail glass, you’ll want a drink with around 5 oz of liquid volume.
Calculating Your Drink’s Volume
Or, let’s say you’re starting with a cocktail and you want to figure out the perfect glass to serve it in. All you need to do here is measure up all the ingredients, add the dilution, and determine if any ice or garnish displacement will occur.
If we use our featured cocktail – The Last Word – as an example, that means we take four oz of liquid ingredients and add on about a 20% dilution factor from shaking and zero displacement from ice or garnishes. That measures out to about 4.8 oz, which is right around that Goldilocks wash line zone for a 6 oz glass. So what you learn here is that it would be totally unfeasible to serve this in a five oz glass because that would result in spillage, but that you certainly wouldn’t want to put it in anything larger than 6 oz because then the glass starts to feel a bit empty.
Measuring Ice or Garnish Displacement
Let’s say you have a standard ice size for the cocktails you serve on the rocks. In my case, I use 2” square ice cubes, but that’s a dimensional measure, not a volumetric one. I find that the quickest way to figure out how much liquid volume your rock will displace is to place your rocks glass in a bowl, fill it up with water – all the way to the top – and then place your ice cube in so that it displaces liquid. Remove the rocks glass, measure how much water was displaced, and voila! That is what you need to factor into your wash line equations for drinks served over ice.
As you can see, just like the wash line sits right where the drink meets the glass, it also sits right at the intersection of form and function, technique and aesthetics. Yes, we want our drinks to look really nice, but most of the details and recommendations in this episode have dealt with standardization and execution.
To this end, the last and really critical point I want to make about wash lines is what they can signal to a bartender who is paying attention. If you’ve done the work to carefully choose your glassware with a nice full wash line in mind, you should be highly suspicious of any cocktail that doesn’t fit that appearance. As often happens, bartenders need to multitask. At a high volume cocktail bar, this means stirring two drinks at once while trying to remember the next order. And in the home it means you might need to answer the door or stir something on the stove right in the middle of building your drink.
So if you’re like me and you’re prone to making a mistake every couple years, it’s good to know you can take one quick glance at your glass and be able to tell if you left out one of the ingredients, or perhaps you shook the drink for too long. This brings us full circle to the cautionary tale of the Sazerac at the beginning of this episode. Even though I wasn’t the person who constructed this drink, I could tell right away that there was probably something wrong with it.
That confidence – that fullness – that triune intersection of liquid, glass, and air – is the difference between a cocktail that you can be fully present with, one you can soak in using all your senses, and a cocktail that will – more likely than not – disappoint.