Shot Tectonics – The Science of Layered Shooters

Layering shots is not only a pretty way to pour delicious drinks, it’s also a lot of fun. A bit of flavor mixology, some math, some experimentation, pretty colors… that’s always a recipe for entertainment!

It’s a shame that it seems to be a technique that’s gone out of favour – the fast paced environment of today’s clubs has put a kibosh on the previous popularity of layering. Bah! Let’s bring it back!

The keys to layering shots are:

1. Understanding the various specific gravity measurements of various liqueurs and spirits.
“Specific gravity” is a number representative of the density of a liquid. The lower the number, the less dense the liquid is. A few examples:

Water: 1.0
Grenadine: 1.18 (Heavier than water)
Southern Comfort: 0.97 (Lighter than water)

As always, Google is your friend! Just search “Specific Gravity” along with the name of an alcohol, and you’re bound to find the information you’re looking for. Write down the numbers of each alcohol you would like to play with, then arrange in order.

As a *general* rule of thumb, the alcohol content is inversely proportionate to the specific gravity. That is to say, the higher the alcohol content of a liquid, the lighter it is – and the lower the specific gravity reading will be. Like all rules, there are some exceptions to this. Also, cream based liqueurs tend to be lighter than non-cream based liqueurs of the same ABV. Again, there are some exceptions… experiment! It’s all in the name of science, afterall! 🙂

2. A careful pour
In addition to layering in order of density, you need to slow the pour of your liquids, as to not disturb the surface of the layer before it. There are several methods people use – pouring over the back of a spoon, pouring down the handle of a bar spoon, using a syringe, pouring over a cherry. My own preference incorporates a favorite style of pourer with spoon technique – see pictures and description below!

3. Mixing flavors in a pleasing way.
Each of the flavors that are incorporated into an individual shot will hit the tastebuds in rapid succession – you’ll want to pick flavors that go well together!

4. Choosing colors that contrast with each other.
All that effort figuring out the liqueur densities will be wasted if you layer liquids with a similar appearance. In addition to contrasting color, it can be really striking to layer clear liquids with cream based liquids.

So, now that you have the basic idea, let’s get started!

First, pick out a few liqueurs, spirits, and syrups (such as grenadine) in a variety of colors and ABV / Specific Gravity readings. Arrange them in order of specific gravity, from the heaviest to the lightest.

This photo shows my favorite type of pour spouts for liqueur bottles. It’s nice to have a bunch on hand, and they cost next to nothing. Pick them up at your local liquor store, or visit my favorite site for bartending supplies, Yes, the site is horrible.. but the products are great, there is a huge selection, the price is right, and they ship fast! No complaints here! Click here to go directly to this style of pour spout.

The thing that I like about this spout is that you can slow the flow of the liquid by placing your finger over the hole on the top side – gives you a lot of control!

Carefully pour your first layer, trying not to splash any on the inside of the glass, above where the top edge of the layer will be.

Position a spoon into the shot glass thusly. Yes, thusly. I know most places will tell you to pour it over the BACK (convex) side of a spoon, but that’s just crazy talk. Pouring down the concave INSIDE of the spoon gives you more control, IMHO.

Anyway, aim the spoon to be near – but not actually touching – the first layer of alcohol. The tip should touch the inside of the glass.

Carefully pour your second – lighter – alcohol on top. Keep the pour as slow as you can. I only had a teeny bottle of Bailey’s on hand for this photo – the small bottles like this are good for a slow, controlled pour. Otherwise, use the type of pour spout mentioned above, manipulating the speed by covering/uncovering the hole.

Continue carefully pouring your liquid until you reach the desired amount. This shot incorporated only 2 liqueurs – Creme de Menthe and Bailey’s, but 3+ layer shots are awesome too. Just divide up the height of the glass, eyeballing measurements as you go.

For a third – or subsequent – layer of liqueur, just repeat the above instructions, using a lighter liquid.

The photos below demonstrates what happens when you mess up a pour (banged the bottle off the lighting apparatus!). See how the shot corrects itself? This was over the course of about 2 minutes – given more time, it will have corrected to a sharp line, as if I hadn’t screwed it up. It didn’t last that long, though – it was tasty!

Pro tips:

– Chilling the ingredients changes the specific gravity readings. Liquids become less dense as they warm, and more dense when chilled. Feel free to play with this knowledge to make your desired creations work!

– If you mess up when trickling a layer into your shot glass, carefully finish pouring it, and set it aside for a few minutes. The layers should level out on their own. Hell, if you’re planning to serve a bunch of layered shots at a party or whatever, you can cheat a bit! Pour them ahead of time, not bothering to be too fussy about getting the layers perfect. Arrange the shot glasses on a platter and chill. They’ll settle out by the time you serve them!

– If you feel like adding some drama to your shot presentation, remember this: Your highest ABV liqueur/spirit will be on top. The higher the ABV, the more likely it’ll BURN! Yes! Feel free to light the top of your shots on fire! Use a lighter – not a match – to carefully light the top of the liquid aflame. Please observe basic fire safety common sense – hair tied back, no baggy clothes dangling into the flame, etc. Also, be careful with the flame – sometimes the flame can be hard to see!

– Give your spoon a quick rinse between layers if possible. Residue of previous layers can mess with your pour!

Ready to go? Try these traditional shot recipes, and stay tuned for some original recipes in the coming days!

Note: All ingredients are listed in order of pour. The first ingredient mentioned is poured first, etc.

Irish Cream
Grand Marnier

After Eight
Irish Cream
Creme De Menthe

Buttery Nipple
Butterscotch Schnapps
Irish Cream

Monkey’s Lunch
Creme de Banane
Irish Cream

Blue Eyed Blonde
Creme de Banane
Blue Curacao
Irish Cream

Green Eyed Blonde
Melon Liqueur
Creme de Banane
Irish Cream

Want to learn how to not only bake with liqueurs, but to make your own liqueurs at home? Check out our new cookbook, “The Spirited Baker – Intoxicating Desserts & Potent Potables! Click here for more information, or to order!

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