Do you want to create your own layered shots like the B-52? You will need to know the density of the liquors you want to use and a specific gravity chart can help.
The History of Layered Drinks
Around the turn of the twentieth century, beautiful pousse-cafes were being created all over the world, especially in Europe. People enjoyed these captivating layers of spirits and syrups in their everyday lives.
These layered drinks could get quite extravagant. At times, drinkers would be treated to a pousse glass filled with 10 or more carefully layered ingredients. Sadly, this trend has taken a dive and pousse-cafes are rarely seen today.
The 1960's and 70's brought the technique back to life in the form of colorful layered shooters like the Irish Flag and B-52. These fun, vivid shots remain a hit at parties and they are a fun way to show off your advanced bartending skills.
How to Layer Drinks Using Specific Gravity
The key to creating perfectly layered drinks is to pay attention to how heavy each ingredient is. The weight of each liquid is measured by its specific gravity.
In the drink world, we compare the density of water (with a specific gravity of 1) to the liquid we are measuring to get its specific gravity.
- For instance, a thick syrup like grenadine is very heavy and has a specific gravity of 1.18. That is why grenadine sinks when added to a Tequila Sunrise.
- Likewise, most of the base distilled spirits that contain no sugar are lighter than water and have a specific gravity somewhere around 0.95. This allows high proof rums to float on top of drinks like the Flaming Dr. Pepper when we want to light it on fire
In order to create a layered drink, the heavier ingredient needs to be added to the glass first. More liquids are added in the order of their weight with the lightest ingredient on top.
The best layered drinks are poured over the back of a barspoon to restrict the flow so the ingredients will float.
Specific Gravity Chart for Popular Liquors
We tend to use general measurements for the specific gravity of various liquors and those are listed in the chart below. This list includes common distilled spirits that are used in layered drinks. They are in order from lightest to heaviest as you work down the list.
Keep in mind that brands of the same style of liquor may vary in their specific gravity. For instance, most coffee liqueurs are lighter than Kahlua, which is the most popular brand of that flavor.
|151 Rum||0.94||Light Amber|
|Plymouth Gin||0.94||Clear||82.4 proof (higher proof is lighter).|
|Rum||0.94||Clear or Amber||Will vary slightly by brand and style.|
|Tequila||0.94||Clear or Amber||Silver tequilas are slightly lighter than gold tequilas because of the additives in the gold style.|
|Whiskey||0.94||Amber||Includes most whiskies, but will vary based on brand and style.|
|Southern Comfort||0.97||Pale orange|
|Vodka||0.97||Clear||Will vary by brand, but this is typical.|
|Grand Marnier||1.03||Pale orange||Lighter than most orange liqueurs.|
|Cinnamon Schnapps||1.04||Clear||May vary by brand.|
|Cherry Liqueur||1.04||Red||Does not include maraschino (see below).|
|Coconut Rum||1.04||Clear||Malibu Coconut Rum, though others may differ slightly.|
|Cointreau||1.04||Clear||Considerably lighter than other triple secs. The higher proof makes a big difference.|
|Irish Mist||1.04||Light amber|
|Peach Liqueur||1.04||Dark amber||May vary by brand.|
|Peppermint Schnapps||1.04||Clear||90+ proof is lighter (approx. 1.02)
30 proof is heavier (approx. 1.07)
|Sloe Gin||1.04||Dark red||May vary by brand.
Homemade sloe gin will vary as well.
|Amarula||1.05||Creamy light brown|
|Baileys Irish Cream||1.05||Creamy light brown||Other Irish creams may vary.|
|Midori Melon Liqueur||1.05||Light green||Other melon liqueurs may vary.
Marie Brizard Watermelon is the same, but red in color.
|Rock and Rye||1.05||Amber||Varies. Hiram Walker is 1.09.
Homemade rock & rye will vary greatly.
|Fruit Brandy||1.06||Varies||Includes most apricot (amber), blackberry (dark purple, cherry (dark red), and peach (amber) brandies.|
|Limoncello||1.06||Pale yellow||Will vary greatly by brand, some may be considerably heavier.|
|Peach Schnapps||1.06||Pale orange||Higher proof peach schnapps (90+) will be lighter (approx. 1.04) than this, which is standard for a 30-proof.|
|Benedictine||1.07||Pale amber||B&B is 1.02.|
|Amaretto Di Saronno||1.08||Dark amber||Other amarettos will vary and are heavier. Typically around 1.11|
|Orange Curacao||1.08||Orange||May vary by brand.|
|Root Beer Schnapps||1.08||Brown||Will vary by brand, this is typical for 30-proof. Higher proof schnapps will be lighter.|
|Apricot Liqueur||1.09||Bright amber||May vary by brand.|
|Sambuca||1.09||Clear||May vary by brand.
Sambuca comes in many colors, including black green, red, gold and white.
|Tia Maria||1.09||Brown||Lighter than most coffee liqueurs, especially Kahlua (see below).|
|Triple Sec||1.09||Clear||May vary by brand.|
|Blackberry Liqueur||1.10||Dark purple||May vary by brand.|
|Blue Curacao||1.10||Blue||May vary by brand.|
|Maraschino Liqueur||1.10||Clear||May vary by brand.|
|Banana Liqueur||1.12||Yellow||May vary by brand.
Most are between this and crème de banane (see below).
|Green Crème de Menthe||1.12||Green||May vary by brand.|
|White Crème de Menthe||1.12||Clear||May vary by brand.|
|Strawberry Liqueur||1.12||Bright red||May vary by brand.|
|Coffee Liqueur||1.14||Brown||Most brands though Kahlua is heavier (see below).|
|Dark Crème de Cacao||1.14||Brown||May vary by brand.|
|White Crème de Cacao||1.14||Clear||May vary by brand.|
|Crème de Almond||1.16||Amber||May vary by brand.|
|Crème de Noyaux||1.16||Bright red||May vary by brand.|
|Anisette||1.17||Clear||May vary by brand.|
|Crème de Banane||1.18||Bright yellow||May vary by brand.|
|Crème de Cassis||1.18||Dark purple||May vary by brand.|
|Grenadine||1.18||Bright red||Homemade grenadines may vary.|
|Butterscotch Schnapps||1.22||Golden||May vary by brand.|
Tips for Layering Drinks
If you are interested in specifics, the best chart I have found is in Gary Regan's The Joy of Mixology book. In it, he lists specific flavors from most of the popular liqueur producers, including Hiram Walker, Marie Brizard and DuBouchett.
Here are a few general tips to get you started:
- The more sugar a liquor has, the heavier it will be. Syrups and heavy liqueurs are considerably heavier than whiskey, rum and vodka, which contain no sugar additives.
- The higher the proof, the lighter the liquor is. This is a generalization, but orange liqueurs are a good example. Notice that in the chart, the 80-proof Cointreau and Grand Marnier liqueurs are considerably lighter than the average triple sec or blue curacao. The same can be said for high-proof peppermint and peach schnapps.
- Choose layers with a big difference between them. As a rule of thumb, the greater the difference in specific gravities between two layers, the easier it is to keep those layers from mixing into one another.
Use these tips to create your own custom shots and have fun playing with the color and flavor combinations that are available.