The measurement dash is often used for very flavorful ingredients like bitters or absinthe. Their job is to enhance or complement the flavors of a cocktail, bring additional accents, and impart a deeper flavor profile to your drink.
And many of the cocktail recipes nowadays ask for a dash of bitters. -And for the record, cocktail bitters really make an impact. Just try a Whiskey Sour without the three drops of Angostura bitters. - But when it comes to measuring a dash, confusion arises.
The term dash appears in cocktail books for ages. It's as old as mixology itself. But it probably is the least precise measurement in bartending. Whatever cocktail you make, a dash of something can make a huge difference for the end result. A dash of Angostura bitters brings a depth of flavor, a dash of Absinthe adds hints of anise and fennel, and a dash of Maraschino Liqueur brings a subtle sweet note to your drink.
What is a Dash?
A dash is more or less the bartending equivalent to a pinch. A dash of bitters is seasoning your drink like salt is seasoning your wagyu filet. And if you think about it like that, you can understand why the term is approached so differently. So above all, it is a matter of taste if you apply more or less seasoning or bitters. But I won't leave you hanging with a vague answer like that.
First, to define the measuring unit, you must know that bitters and other things usually dosed in dashes traditionally get stored in so-called dasher bottles. Those bottles only release a bit of the liquid they contain at once.
But the mystery isn't solved with the dasher bottles alone. Some advise that a hard and quick shake of the dasher bottle will release a dash, while others suggest a slow approach to let the liquid out of the bottle drop by drop.
For cooking, there are those tiny measuring spoons that should help to measure a dash. But measuring with them is really hard as the liquid from the bitter bottles is not so easy to control. At least if all of the bitters should end up on that tiny spoon.
But for all you scientists and number aficionados, there is a defined measurement for a dash. One dash equals 0.92ml, which is not much. Converted to oz, this equals 1/32 of an ounce or 1/8 of a teaspoon. You see, even if you know the numbers now, there's almost no way to measure them. So standardizing the dash is really tough. Which in turn leads to slight differences in taste when different persons make the same drink.
But that is not necessarily a bad thing. Think of it as a part of your unique way of making drinks. The way you hold the bottle and measure your dash will most likely be different from others. Appreciate that, and just make sure that your cocktails taste amazing. And if they are, your understanding of a dash can't be that bad.
A way to measure a dash more consistent
If you still feel unsure and don't have enough experience, you might search for a way to measure your dash anyway. And I can understand that. And the plastic tops of the bitter bottles you can buy are usually more in the direction of not-so-precise. Lucky you, there is a solution for that.
Some of the top bars around the world also noticed the dash-gate and started acting on it. Many of them use only special dasher bottles, mostly Japanese ones. These elegant little bottles are a lot more precise. Death & Co bar in New York experimented with them and found that one dash of a plastic-top bottle equals three from a Japanese dasher bottle.
My advice is if you're feeling unsure, get one of these dasher bottles. The dashes will not only be smaller but also more precise and consistent. And consistency is crucial, especially when you're just starting to learn how everything works together.
What happens if my dash isn't their dash?
First of all, you shouldn't worry about the difference taste-wise. Despite everything, a dash is a small amount. And as long as you only use a small amount, chances are high you don't ruin your cocktail.
And making cocktails is like any other craft you learn. It takes time and practice. If a recipe asks for a dash, use a Japanese dasher bottle and taste your drink. Then add another one and try again. As you keep on experimenting, you will find the right way to apply your dash measurement. - Or the one your like best (at least with a particular cocktail).
The dash is a very unprecise measuring unit and nothing you can measure with a jigger or any other bar tool. To get it perfectly right, it requires some practice and experience. But even if your measurement is slightly off, it won't affect the quality of the result in a super significant way.