How Much Does It Cost to Make a Cocktail?

Calculate liquor pour cost and the price of drinks

Controlling the cost of liquor poured is important for a successful bar

Jens Schott Knudsen / Moment / Getty Images

Cocktails are made by mixing a variety of ingredients, and each of those comes at a price. Have you ever thought about how much it actually costs to make your favorite drinks?

It's a necessary discussion in professional bars because businesses need to set prices to cover expenses and make a profit. Home bartenders can apply these calculations to help maintain a personal budget. It's also interesting to know how your homemade drink costs compare to the price of ordering cocktails at a bar.

What Is Pour Cost?

The pour cost is the actual cost of the ingredients used while pouring a drink or cocktail. It is expressed as a percentage of the sale price and is an important factor in professional bartending. Pour costs are used to set the price for individual drinks and track inventory.

To calculate the cost of a drink, you need to know how much it costs to pour each of its ingredients. The most expensive ingredients are the bar's liquors, so they're the primary concern when figuring out how much each drink costs to make.

How Much Does a Liquor Shot Cost?

A "shot" of liquor is either 1 1/2 ounces (standard for many cocktails) or two ounces (the typical straight pour of liquor). Calculating the cost of a shot requires some simple math. Of course, a professional bar pays wholesale prices, but we'll use retail prices for these examples.

  • A 750-milliliter bottle of Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky retails for around $30.
  • The average two-ounce pour results in approximately 12 shots per bottle.
  • With these numbers, each glass of Maker's Mark served on the rocks costs $2.50. 
Size of Shot 750ml Bottle Cost Shots per Bottle Cost per Shot
2 oz. $30 12 $2.50
1 1/2 oz. $30 16 $1.88

While that 62 cent difference may seem insignificant when pouring an extra half-ounce of liquor, it can add up at a busy bar. That's why bartenders and managers must maintain accurate pouring and agree to the size of shots that everyone pours.

What Is the Cost of a Cocktail?

Let's take that same Maker's Mark example and use the bourbon sidecar recipe to estimate a cocktail's cost. Things get a little more complicated because the total needs to account for two liquors at different costs and the drink's other ingredients.

  • The sidecar is made with two ounces of bourbon, one ounce of Cointreau, and three-quarter ounce of lemon juice.
  • The bourbon's cost is known: $2.50
  • To calculate Cointreau's cost: The average retail price is $36 for a 750-milliliter bottle, so the cost for a one-ounce shot is $1.44.
  • If a fresh lemon costs $1, and the juice yield is 1 1/2 ounces, the amount needed for the sidecar costs 50 cents.
Ingredient Amount Needed Cost per 750ml Bottle (or 1 Fruit) Shots per Bottle (or Juice Yield) Ingredient Cost
Maker's Mark 2 oz. $30 12 $2.50
Cointreau 1 oz. $36 25 $1.44
Lemon Juice 3/4 oz. $1 2 $0.50
Total Drink Cost $4.44

The average cost of making a bourbon sidecar is less than $4.50. This is a perfect example of how little it costs to make a top-shelf drink for the home bartender. It can make you feel better about spending hard-earned money on a higher-end bottle of liquor in order to improve the quality of your cocktails.

How Drinks Are Priced in Bars

You cannot go to a bar and expect to pay $4 for a drink. There are many costs associated with running these establishments and keeping bartenders and staff employed. To stay in business, professional bars need to mark up the cost of each drink.

In the bar industry, it is standard practice to calculate pour costs. A form of inventory control on the liquor stock, it's a percentage calculated based on average sales. Most bars seek to maintain a pour cost between 18 percent and 24 percent.

To make this example easy, let's go back to the straight pour of Maker's Mark: If the house is seeking a 22 percent pour cost, it takes the total price of ingredients (in this case, $2.50) and divides it by the desired pour cost percentage (.22) to get the bar patron's cost.

Cost per Shot Pour Cost Price to Consumer
$2.50 .22 (22%) $11.36

Most bars will round this up to the next full or half-dollar, making it likely that this drink will sell for $11.50. Cocktails will, of course, cost more; at this pour cost, that $4.50 sidecar may cost $21.

The Value of Bar Drinks

Before you complain about the high cost of bar drinks, look around your favorite establishments. Everything inside required an investment of money. That bartenders and servers need to earn a living wage as well.

You can indeed make the drink at home for far less, but you're also paying for the atmosphere and the staff's skills and service. There's value in that. It's no different than going to a restaurant when you could make a meal at home for a fraction of the cost. Have fun on your nights out, and when you're home, you now know how to keep your own cocktail costs in check.