Baptists for Bigger Bottles


When I moved to South Carolina in 1988, I was puzzled by all the tiny liquor bottles–the sort you usually see only on airplanes and in hotel rooms. It turned out that the popularity of minibottles was due not to some charming local custom but to state law, which limits the size of liquor containers in bars and restaurants to 50 milliliters (1.7 ounces). Now South Carolina is on the verge of repealing its minibottle mandate, which was established when the state legalized the sale of liquor by the drink in 1973. The rule was originally intended to discourage excessive consumption, Cox News Service reports, but

now, as laws against driving under the influence have tightened, the standard shot size nationwide has shrunk to 1.25 ounces. So South Carolina bartenders pour the nation's stiffest drinks, by nearly half an ounce.

That has prompted the state's Baptist Convention to join a minibottle repeal coalition that includes the tourism industry, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and a bipartisan majority in the General Assembly.

I had thought the bottle limit was ridiculous, but now I'm starting to have second thoughts.

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  1. Jacob Sullum,

    There is a mini-bottle fetish amongst some Southerners; at least from what I’ve seen of Kentucky Derby fans there is. 🙂

  2. Strom Thurmond croaks, and there’s trouble with the jiggers.

  3. “But now, as laws against driving under the influence have tightened, the standard shot size nationwide has shrunk to 1.25 ounces. So South Carolina bartenders pour the nation’s stiffest drinks, by nearly half an ounce.”

    Out of curiosity, when did the standard drop? I know it has been 1.25 oz for at least 11 years. Anyway, I suspect the mini-bottles probably don’t reduce the bar’s profitability very much. The bottles may cost a little more, but minis reduce the bartenders’ opportunity to steal money from the bar by giving big tippers extra long pours.

  4. If there’s a more stunning indictment of how the nanny-statism of the left can be just as oppressive as the puritanism of the right, I can’t think of it.

  5. This reminds me of what happened during a 1993 trip to Europe. I like dry martinis, but apparently there was (is?) some kinda stoopid EU law about the minimum amount of any particular liquor that can be sold, so a martini consisted of equal parts vermouth and gin. (gasp! ptui!) I solved the problem by toting my own mini-bottle of vermouth around, and adding the whispered amount, to my straight gin order.

  6. Ray,

    “some kinda stoopid EU law” is redundant. a mere “EU law” would suffice. 🙂

    cheers, prost, salut, kipis, sk?l,

  7. Contrary to what the story says, I see considerable variation in the definition of a standard liquor serving. Most sources call five ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer a standard “drink,” but some equate this with 1.5 ounces of liquor, while others say 1.25 ounces, and still others say one ounce:

    The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, interestingly, seems to prefer the 1.5-ounce definition. See, e.g., and

    Judging from the figures given at, these varying equivalencies may be based on different assumptions about liquor strength; it looks like 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor has roughly the same amount of absolute alcohol as the “standard” beer and wine servings, while for 100-proof liquor 1.2 ounces is more like it. (Beer and wine vary in alcohol content too, of course.)

    For what it’s worth, the shot glasses I bought a couple years ago hold 1.5 ounces, which is also the definition of “jigger” in the Mr. Boston bartender’s guide (63rd edition, 1988). It calls a one-ounce serving a “pony.”

    Others call 0.75 ounce a “pony,” one ounce a “shot,” 1.25 ounces a “large shot,” and 1.5 ounces a “jigger.” See

    I’m not sure how any of this translates into the actual practice of bartenders, but the implication of the story is that drinks in bars and restaurants have been getting weaker.

  8. America’s various states have the weirdest laws covering alcohol. And I’m still scratching my head over the drink-a-day-will-make-you-healthier phenomenon.

  9. The stoopid EU law gives you the cool look of upside-down bottles all over the walls in European pubs. It’s kindof pretty.

    If I were a European, I’d write my EU representative about how stoopid the law is and . . . Oh, right: no democracy.

    Seriously, if you live in the EU, how do you get this fixed? Is there anyone you can talk to?

    At least here in MN, our bars can now stay open til 2 am. (it was 1am until yesterday.)

  10. I don’t know diddly about EU law, but firsthand experience tells me that Spanish bartenders aren’t working under the same rules as everyone else . They serve some bigass gin & tonics & whiskeys with coke – although they do give you an almost full bottle of soda on the side, which might get around whatever rule there is. Anyone know what the exact rule is?
    I know in France & UK I have to order triples or quadruples just get a decent drink.

  11. Your title is good for a chuckle here in Arkansas. If you go fishing with a Baptist, you should take two of them. Why? If you take just one, he’ll drink all your beer.

  12. Give me the metric system and give me a 50ml shot to chase it with!

  13. Back in the mid 80’s I was passing through SC and was taken aback over the mini bottles. Upon querying the proprietor, it was explained to me that this was tax issue. Every sale of liquor required that a tax seal be broken.

  14. You contact your EU Member of the EU Parliament. *duh* People who know nothing about the EU really ought not to talk about it; of course that won’t keep them doing so. 🙂

  15. Gee, Croesus, does that mean that people who know fuck-all about being an American should shut up about America, too?

  16. “You contact your EU Member of the EU Parliament. *duh*”

    Uh, actually, no, that would be a complete waste of time. In Britain, at least, ever since the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair decided on yet another of his “modernizing” reforms, MEPs have been elected by proportional representation, which means that they are invariably party hacks with no real accountability to any local institutions. Constituency work amongs MEPs is practically unheard of.

  17. Kevin,

    Thanks for a great laugh. I’m an ex-Baptist, and your joke is dead-on accurate.

  18. Yes, it is useless to contact MPs in Brussels that way. Since it is not that direct, first-past-the-post representation by district, rather it is by party, finding your “own representative” can be rather difficult. However, this is not to say that the democratic process in Europe (Parliamentary/Party Democracy) is a sham. While the European Parliament and structures are, from my perspective, it is better than, say, Albania.

    Different countries react to alcohol, too — in Sweden, drinking slightly fermented orangejuice could cause you to fail a breath-test. It is that strict. And buying hard alcohol is through a state-store (I saw one of those in Ohio, too). However, there is not that hysteria about youth drinking or about smoking as much. It is a balance.

    But Mr. Croesus, I do feel that the rather snide comment by Mr. AMR does actually reflect some of my experiences in ploughing through the Eurocrats.

    Thank you.

  19. Little bottle, schmittle bottles. Come to Pennsylvania for weird liquor laws.

    1. All wine and liquor by the bottle must be purchased at a state-owned liquor store.
    2. All beer by the case–and case lots only–must be purchased at a privately run beer distributer.
    3. Six-packs can only be purchased at a tavern or restaurant. You can only buy two at a time or one twelve pack.

  20. Pennsylvania doesn’t beat Utah for stupidity.

    1) All liquor and wine is sold through state owned stores which aren’t open on Sunday and close by 9 PM on Saturday night. Better stock up!

    2) The largest quantity of beer you can buy is a case. No kegs unless you are a bar. The Coors ‘party ball’ disposeable keg, which can be purchased across the border in Wyoming, is quite popular as an illegal import.

    3) All beer is 3.2 % alcohol max (surprisingly many beers are sold as 8-packs instead of six. Imagine that…).

    4) ‘Beer’ bars can only sell beer. The wine coolers are made especially for the Utah market with some small % of malt added so they meet the technical definition of ‘beer’. If you want one you’ll have to ask for a ‘beer cooler’.

    5) If you want a stiffer drink you need to go to a private club, where you can buy a membership for the whole year or just for a week or two (basically a cover charge) – although I did get an automatic membership in one based on the company I worked for. It apparently has something to do with exclusivity (not open to the public) in order for them to serve mixed drinks or shots. Once you’re in, I remember some of them being plenty strong for my tastes.

    6) Some restaurants can serve mixed drinks but they have to bring the minibottle to your table separate and you have to mix it yourself.

    It’s been twelve years since I lived there, perhaps something changed esp. with the winter Olympics (I can only wonder what the freedrinking Europeans thought of the ridiculous rules). But that was the state of it then. Anyone from Utah out there that can comment on the state of current Utah quasi-prohibition?

  21. Qui dedit benificium taceat; narret qui accepit – Let him who has done a good deed be silent; let him who has received it tell it. (Seneca)

  22. EMAIL:

    DATE: 12/11/2003 01:37:52
    What else can i say after all this ?!

  23. EMAIL:
    DATE: 12/21/2003 03:09:27
    It is never a mistake to say good-bye.

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