"Perfect," you might think. "A bottle of Jack Daniels that's just the right size for my third grader's sack lunch." But would you believe that there are at least a few other reasons for purchasing a bottle this small?
Yes, that's a joke. But I'm betting that you've probably been dismissive of these little guys, as I once was. Most people see liquor miniatures as goofy, gimmicky little gifts that you can maybe throw into a Christmas stocking, but there's a surprising number of things you can do with them that transcend mere novelty. I'm going to see if I can sell you on why I enjoy them.
1. Exploratory purchases.
I'll lead with what I think is the single biggest reason for why miniatures exist and why you should care about them at all.
In the past, I've advocated trying something at a bar even in spite of a tremendous mark-up simply to see whether your like something enough to buy an entire bottle. A mini is that same experience, but even more convenient: it's a little bit more than a 1.5oz shot of liquor bottled for your convenience to drink and appraise whenever you want. And without the experience of some dude yelling "YEAH!" at the volume of a jet taking off because the Packers kicked a field goal.
Minis are one of the biggest reasons I can cover so many different products here at Spirit Animal. With my local bottle shop having a surprisingly vast amount of miniatures, I can oftentimes write a review for about six bucks or less. A few readers have asked if I'm just constantly spending money on good booze, imagining me perhaps as some kind of drunken Uncle Pennybags. Don't I wish.
In truth, miniatures make branching out a lot less of a hit to the wallet, especially for a guy like me that wants to try everything at least once. Sometimes the taster sucks—c'est la vie. Other times I find a new favorite.
2. Home Bar Practicality
Some people don't have guests over frequently. Maybe they only keep a bottle of _______ around for that one cocktail mom likes to have around Christmas. If so, minis are a good way to save space if you've ever noticed that you've had the same bottle of gin on your shelf for the last decade. Each little baby bottle contains enough spirit for about a shot's worth of a drink.
Given that most cocktails are often built around the standard 1.5oz shot size of hard liquor, a 50ml miniature approximates that amount well enough to entertain. It's technically about 1.7 ounces, but you'd have to be paying pretty close attention to notice the extra difference in something like a Greyhound or Screwdriver where recipes generally conclude with "...and then add booze."
From this perspective, you have the ability to cultivate an entire home bar in a volume of space that could easily fit in a drawer or small box. Stocking every common go-to cocktail base (that is, tequila, vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey) should run about $30, assuming you buy two of each type of miniature for $3 each.
It won't get you all that far if you entertain a lot or have a diverse set of tastes, but at least you won't get caught shorthanded if you have the sudden urge to make some kind of esoteric tiki drink that needs that one last thing, or if that last lime you no longer need for dinner now seems most at home in a mojito.
3. The (Few) downsides
Really, the only hard drawback I can think of is availability. Most typical liquor stores will have a fairly paltry amount of miniatures, and when they do exist there's little variety. Still, if you're curious as to what Johnny Walker Red Label or Jack Daniels tastes like and you haven't yet tried them, it's almost a no-brainer to roll the dice on a mini rather than splurge on a full-sized bottle. Especially if you have a suspicion that the spirit might not be that great.
Having said that, I've been surprised by what's out there since I started looking. In mini form, I've found a very impressive number of single malt scotches, small-batch gins, and a large number of (good) tequilas and rums.
Of course, miniatures are always going to be more money than their full-sized counterparts in terms of a dollar-to-liquid ratio, but that's the price for the convenience of having a one-and-done experience with a very small shelf footprint. In virtually all cases, I've felt the trade-off has been more than justified.
All things considered, take a more critical look at the miniature section when you're at the liquor store next. If you see something you've never had, you might be surprised by how easy and cost-effective it'll be to step outside of your comfort zone.