How teeny tiny cocktails became a really big deal

From one-shot drinks to scaled-down versions of the classics, miniature cocktails are having a moment. Millie Milliken asks what’s driving the trend and picks out five of the best (and cutest) to try

Words by Millie Milliken

tiny cocktails on the bar at the george
(Photo: Lateef Photography)

I believe it was Aesop (the Greek fabulist, not the luxury skincare label) that coined the phrase ‘good things come in small packages’. Whatever its origins, it’s fair to say that plenty of brands have cottoned on to the phenomenon; making teeny tiny dollhouse versions of their original products to capture the hearts of consumers (just look up pocket sriracha and keychain Tabasco if you don’t believe me). It seems that bars in the UK – and further afield – are now getting in on the action, too – giving guests the chance to try a whole range of cocktails in miniature.

cadogan arms tiny boilermaker cocktail with olive
The Cadogan Arms in west London is driving the trend with its menu of 'Tiny Cocktail Chasers'
(Photo: Lateef Photography)

It’s not an entirely new format (the cutely named ‘Snaquiri’ is a drink often served to bartenders when visiting their peers’ bars), but as consumers lean towards experimentation – and drinking fewer but better-quality cocktails and spirits – bars are increasingly giving the people what they want: mini serves at mini prices.

West London’s The Cadogan Arms is fast becoming known for its boilermakers. These small renderings of the classics (think Gibson Martinis and Tequila-based Toreadors) come in 50ml measures, are served frozen and are designed to be enjoyed alongside a pint of beer. The bar’s managing director Dominic Jacobs sees it as a way of engaging with customers who have a new-found interest in cocktails. ‘I think during lockdown people experimented more with cocktails at home and got more familiar with cocktails again,’ says Jacobs. ‘What we have are some of the classics but slightly away from what people may have tried. It means they are able to taste lots of different cocktails and can experiment more.’ The bar hopes to help punters sample more styles of mixed drinks without blowing the bank – or their ability to function the following day.

Tequila con Verdita drink served at Daisy Margate
The Tequila con Verdita served at Daisy, a bar that's pioneering special drinks in small measures in UK seaside town Margate

Felix Cohen, owner of Daisy in the UK’s seaside mecca Margate, agrees. Having had experience of serving ‘MarTinys’ (yes, tiny Martinis) at his previous London bar Every Cloud, he’s implemented small drinks on his new menu to give customers the chance to try what he describes as ‘weirder ingredients’, as well as spirits at the more premium end. ‘It’s a more approachable and much easier decision to spend £5 instead of £12,’ says Cohen. He also suggests that some cocktails work better in 25ml and 50ml formats – the logic being that the drink remains cold from beginning to end.

The use of the term “amuse booze” – a play on amuse bouche – to describe this style of drink is an apt nod to the restaurant world

Cohen uses the term ‘amuse booze’ (a play on amuse bouche) to describe this style of drink and actually, this nod to the restaurant world is apt. It’s something that Noel Venning, co-owner of east London’s Three Sheets, alludes to as well. ‘Restaurants would always have a lunch menu with smaller options,’ he explains. ‘It is the restaurant’s opportunity to explore more dishes and from a venue perspective, a really good way to experiment. From the guest’s point of view, having something smaller and cheaper [on the menu] means you will want to give it a go – it’s a new way of experiencing flavour, new techniques and new ideas,’ adds Venning.

jinro shots at three sheets london
East London's Three Sheets, which has a new menu of 'shots' on the horizon

At the end of the day, though, sometimes the aesthetic of a snack-sized drink is enough to make it desirable: something Jacobs noticed when anybody at The Cadogan Arms ordered a round of the Baby Guinness, a mix of vodka, milk, Origin espresso and clover that’s sadly no longer on the menu. ‘With cocktails, there is always the danger of things becoming too serious, so we knew these would be a crowdpleaser,’ says Jacobs. But maybe they were too cute? ‘It’s amazing, the snowball effect – when you saw one Baby Guinness going out, soon the whole place was having them.’

Five of the best tiny cocktails to try

  1. Japanese Slipper at The Cadogan Arms, London
    The ‘Tiny Cocktail Chasers’ section of the King’s Road pub’s cocktail menu may be its most thumbed. It lists four boilermakers on a rotating basis and one of its latest additions is a mini Japanese Slipper, a combination of Midori, Cointreau and – unlike the original recipe, which calls for lemon – lime. A refreshing melon and citrus accompaniment to a pint.
  2. Mini Irish Coffee at Dead Rabbit, New York
    New York City’s Dead Rabbit may be getting bigger, rolling out to new locations across the US, but the bar’s mini Irish Coffee remains wonderfully dinky. A scaled-down version of its signature blend of Bushmills Original Irish whiskey, rich demerara sugar syrup with molasses powder and freshly ground and brewed Sumatra Mandheling coffee, topped with freshly whipped cream (and an optional dusting of nutmeg), this mini version is the ideal option for people who want to try the bar’s famous serve without too much of a caffeine kick.
  3. One Sip Martini at Tayēr + Elementary, London
    The clue’s in the name with this cult cocktail from Monica Berg and Alex Kratena’s east London bar Tayēr + Elementary. Using Tayēr’s own vodka, Martini & Rossi Reserva Speciale ambrato vermouth and Una Palma fino sherry, this small but memorable sipper is rounded off with a blue-cheese-stuffed olive. It’s become an almost ritualistic part of the Tayēr + Elementary drinking experience.
  4. Secret Jinro shot at Three Sheets, London
    As part of its monthly ‘secret Jinro shot’ series, the Three Sheets team will be introducing its twist on a Limoncello next month (June 2022). Inspired by Korean drinking traditions, and in partnership with soju brand Jinro, the team will be replacing the usual Italian lemons with yuzu (or yuju, in Korean) for a taste of Asia. The series ends in October, so you can expect different iterations each month until then.
  5. Tequila con Verdita at Daisy, Margate
    Booze meets virtue with the Margate bar’s mini Tequila-based cocktail, a drink served in two parts. Guests can choose between El Jimador or Fortaleza Tequila to sit alongside a small serving of pineapple, jalapeño, coriander, lime and cucumber. Mix them together, shoot them one after the other or sip on rotation – however you imbibe it, it’s a fun and delicious way to get the palate going.
writer millie millliken drinking from a tasting glass
By Millie Milliken

Millie Milliken is a freelance drinks writer and winner of the IWSC 2022 Spirits Communicator of the Year, sponsored by Chivas Brothers.