How Much Does It Cost to Make a Cocktail?

Calculating liquor pour costs and and price of a cocktail

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

Jens Schott Knudsen / Moment / Getty Images

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 in both setting the price for individual drinks as well as for inventory purposes. 

What Is the Cost of a Drink?

To calculate the cost of a drink, we need to know how much it costs to pour each of its ingredients. The most expensive ingredients are the bar's liquors. This is our primary concern when figuring out how much each drink costs.

The Cost of a Straight Pour of Liquor

A straight pour of liquor is the easiest example so let's begin with that. Of course, a professional bar will pay wholesale prices, but we will use retail prices for this example.

A 750 mL bottle of Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky retails for around $30. The average straight shot of liquor poured is 2 ounces and that gives us approximately 12 shots per bottle. With these numbers, we know that each glass of Maker's Mark served on the rocks will cost $2.50. 

Size of Shot 750ml Bottle Cost Shots per Bottle Cost per Shot
2 ounces $30 12 $2.50
1.5 ounces $30 16 $1.88

While that 62 cent difference may seem insignificant when pouring an extra 1/2-ounce of liquor, it can add up at a busy bar. That is why it is important that bartenders and managers maintain accurate pouring and agree to the size of shots that everyone is pouring.

The Cost of a Cocktail

If we were to take that same Maker's Mark example and use a cocktail recipe like the Bourbon Sidecar, things get a little more complicated. We need to account for two liquors at different costs and the drink's other ingredients.

In this instance, we use 1.5 ounces of bourbon, 1 ounce of Cointreau, and .5 ounce of lemon juice.

We already know the cost of the bourbon and can calculate the cost of Cointreau easily. The average retail price for Cointreau is $36 for a 750 mL bottle and the cost for a 1-ounce shot is $1.44.

To keep the math simple, let's assume that we buy a fresh lemon for $1 and get a juice yield of 1.5 ounces. That would mean that the 1/2 ounce we need for the Sidecar costs around $.33.

Ingredient Amount Needed Cost per 750ml Bottle
(or 1 Fruit)
Shots per Bottle
(or Juice Yield)
Ingredient Cost
Maker's Mark 1.5 ounces $30 16 $1.88
Cointreau 1 ounce $36 25 $1.44
Lemon Juice .5 ounce $1 3 $0.33
Total Drink Cost $3.65

As you can see in the example, the average cost of making a Bourbon Sidecar is less than $4.

For the home bartender, this is a perfect example of exactly how little it costs to make a top-shelf drink. You can use this knowledge to feel better about spending hard-earned money on a higher-end bottle of liquor. It gives you the freedom to enjoy the quality of making great drinks at home.

How to Price a Drink in a Professional Bar

Of course, we cannot go to a bar and expect to pay $4 for a drink as businesses need to mark up their costs to account for overhead and make a profit. Let's look at how professional bars calculate the cost of a drink.

It is a standard practice in the bar industry to calculate pour costs. This is a form of inventory control on the liquor stock and a percentage calculated based on average sales. Most bars seek to maintain a pour cost of between 18 and 24%.

To make this example easy, let's go back to the straight pour of Maker's Mark. We already know that a 2-ounce pour will cost $2.50. 

If the house is seeking a 22% pour cost, it will take the total price of ingredients (in this case, $2.50) and divide it by the pour cost percentage desired (.22) to get the cost to the bar patron.

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.

Final Thoughts on Pour Cost

All this is basic information that is a starting point for realizing and controlling the costs incurred when mixing cocktails.

If you are a bartender or bar manager and want to dig deeper into calculating and controlling pour costs, Jeffrey Morgenthaler has fantastic information and spreadsheets available on his website that you will find useful including how to price a cocktail menu and how to take inventory and calculate pour cost.

Edited by Colleen Graham